For Better or Worse

Our library was a pioneer in providing access in the early days of the Internet, through a partnership with Tallahassee Freenet. Even before the advent of the World Wide Web, Freenet was offering users free shell accounts with e-mail and dial-up Internet service.

In-library public access Internet computing began with two separate projects in the late '90's: in Tech/Media Services on the first floor, where Tallahassee Freenet originally had its office, a computer lab was built with funding from the Gates Foundation, and on the second floor in Adult Services a pilot project was installed with 10 "thin-client" workstations running on a Sun server using the Hot Java browser. Yes, the Microsoft v. Sun war in miniature!*

If you ever tried the Hot Java browser, then you know how unsatisfactory it was. It was never anything like a contender when the main browser battle was between the revolutionary Netscape browser and Microsoft's Internet Explorer. To give it credit, though, it was the first browser that could render Java Applets, and all modern browsers now support Java.

At some point, exactly when I am not sure, (I was in those days still roaming country lanes in my bookmobile), the Sun Java Stations were replaced by Windows 95 PC's. The workstations that you can see around and to the left of the big white pillar in the photo are their successors.

From then on we struggled to meet demand, trying to close the much talked-about "digital divide". More PC's were installed outside the Gates Lab downstairs in Tech-Media. Library catalog telnet PC's and obsolete dedicated CD-ROM PC's upstairs in Adult Services were converted to Internet workstations.

When I came up to Adult Services in 2000 the situation was pretty hairy. Keeping the PC's free of viruses, malware and patron-installed programs, and managing session reservations was exhausting the staff. Centurion Technologies' CenturionGuard and Envisionware's PC Reservation saved our sanity. Anyone remember Bonzi Buddy?

The divide is now, in 2008, much narrowed. We provided free wireless Internet access in 2005, and today you can see all kinds of people online with laptops in the library. Public access PC usage has actually declined over the past year.

*(Edit 01/03/2008: Media staffer and former Freenet liaison Susie John tells me that they had a few dumb terminals for the use of Freenet shell accounts in the early '90's, before the arrival of the Java Stations and the Gates Lab. Freenet at that time ran on Digital UNIX.)

No comments: