Our New, Low Cost Experimental Online Catalog PC

OPAC PrototypeIn my position as manager of information technology here at White Plains Public Library, there are times when my job goes beyond being merely enjoyable, times when it truly becomes a source of excitement. This is one of those times.

The reason for the excitement is a modest little device no bigger than four by seven inches. One that will set you back a grant–a $50 bill, that is, not one from a charitable foundation–and , when connected to a monitor, keyboard, mouse and the internet, is very well-suited to using cloud-based applications such as web-based email and other online apps.

OK, so it's not exactly suited for your average consumer. After all, it doesn't even come with a protective case of any sort; it's simply a circuit board outfitted with the necessary components and jacks. But it's not only something a geek could take to heart here and now, but I see it as a harbinger of things to come, not just in terms of such devices, but in terms of ushering in a new age of electronic tinker toys and erector sets.

But I digress, so we'll save that subject of even more exciting “tinker-tech” for a later post.Prototype APC OPAC

Back to our little device…. it's the APC from VIA Technologies, billed by them as “a bicycle for your mind.” It comes with the Android operating system installed, 512MB of RAM and 2GB flash RAM. Connect a monitor, keyboard, mouse, give it a connection to the internet, and you're off and running. For our purposes here at the Library, I saw it as possibly being well suited for use as an OPAC (Online Public Access Catalog), those systems only needing to provide browser access to the Library's online resources, primarily the catalog. Another possible use would be as a low cost express email kiosk system for public access.

For the purpose of this post, I'll spare you the geeky details as to how I installed a flavor of Linux called Raspbian on a bootable microSD card and set it up on the APC to run Chromium, a version of the Google Chrome web browser. For those of you interested in duplicating such an exercise (which really wasn't difficult at all), you can read about it here.

The next time you visit us, be sure to check out our new low cost OPAC prototype based on the APC. It's set up in front of the Reference Desk–you'll see it to the left as you enter from the lobby.  I encourage you to use it to search our catalog, browse our website and by all means, let us know what you think.

Categories: Homepage and Library News.


    • John Lolis

      For some reason, there’s a common misperception circulating that it was a Raspberry Pi that I had implemented (I’ve commented on a number of articles that erroneously mentioned the Pi as the device we are using). Rather, it was an APC from Via Technologies (http://apc.io/). We later purchased a Raspberry Pi Model B, and I too found it to be lacking as far as performance goes. I’m now working with the top of the line model from Via, the APC Rock, and its specs are twice as good as the model 8750 which is the low end model that has already withstood the test of time for us. The only drawback with the Rock model is that there is not yet a truly working Linux distribution for it; however, simply running the pre-installed Android OS is very promising, as there are kiosk apps available for it. It will most likely serve as our OPAC kiosk system of choice, and we may also roll some of them out to serve as express use public access kiosks. I’ll blog about it as soon as I have the details worked out on it and have made it available for evaluation by our patrons. The APC may be a bit more expensive ($50 for the 8750 and $80 for the Rock), but they both come with VGA out (in addition to HDMI) and a power supply which the Pi lacks.

      And as far as kids learning how to use an inexpensive small board computer, yes, that’s an excellent idea. In fact, we’re planning a summer course for teens in which they learn how to use the APC with the Android OS out of the box as well as how to have it boot from Raspbian Apricot Linux. As a bonus, they’ll get to keep the APC once they complete the course (grants are a wonderful thing :-).

      By all means, let me know if you’d like further information.

      Best wishes,

  1. DJ Wyrick

    I agree with the new age of tinkering comment. I’ve been on the Arduino and Teensy platform for some time. This is a great addition to the hobby and I’m surprised I missed it coming out.

    Great work!

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