rPi Catalog Computer Case Study

Raspberry Pis as Catalog Computers
A Case Study on Energy Consumption and Reallocation of Funds of Catalog Computers in the Springfield-Greene County Library District
Sean Haupt
Springfield-Greene County Library District
December 20, 2017


As library budgets and fundings continue to be diminished, we must look for creative outlets to increase reallocation. Libraries should also look to increase their usage of Free Open Source Software (FOSS) when available and see how FOSS directly aligns with the views and policies of the library system. We are effectively able to integrate both monetary reallocation and the usage of FOSS by replacing old catalog computers with Raspberry Pis. This report will detail an estimation of the initial investment and future reallocation by using Pis as well as explain how using FOSS betters patron privacy and overall security.

What is a Raspberry Pi?

A Raspberry Pi is an affordable, credit card sized computer. It has the ability to do extraordinary tasks such as being a simple video game console to helping operate robots. Pis operate on low-energy, which will be one of the focus points of this report, while being able to perform all of its needed functions.


The information displayed was gathered after a survey was sent out to the reference managers of each library. From this data we can safely assume that catalog computers are not being used enough to support the cost that they use in electricity. A fair estimate of the number of catalog computers being actively used throughout the day is eight. This leaves us with ⅔ of catalog computers not being used enough to justify the $513.28 annual energy cost. However, to remove any of these underused computers would have a negative impact on patrons conducting research in certain areas of the branch and overall accessibility.

# of Catalog Computers
Catalog Only
Cost of Computers
The Library Center
The Library Station
Schweitzer- Brentwood

Physical security has also been seen to be an issue in terms of usage according to survey answers. Children have been stated to turn the PCs off multiple times a day resulting in staff having to go back and restart these computers. Children and patrons have also been reported kicking and hitting the PCs which could potentially cause damage to them. This problem can be alleviated by having Raspberry Pis in cases and having the cases mounted to the back of the monitor. Physical interaction with the Pi by patrons would thus be reduced due to the lack of visibility of the Pi. The Pi also has no direct on or off switch which will significantly reduce issues of the catalog system being turned off.

Energy Savings

Griffith University states that an average desktop computer runs between 80 to 250 watts of power. We can figure that the average cost to run a catalog computer in Springfield, MO is $0.0058/hr when we take a modest usage of 100W and combine this with the City Utilities (CU) cost for electricity in Springfield, MO ($0.058/kWh). If we use The Library Station’s weekly hours (80) and take into account that this branch is open for 50 weeks of the year then we can estimate that the yearly cost to run one computer is $23.2. However, this cost can be reduced significantly by using a Raspberry Pi.

Monday - Saturday: 0.0058 * 12.5 = 0.0725/day
     0.0725 * 6       = 0.435 (Monday-Saturday Total)
Sunday       0.0058 * 5       = 0.029/day
      0.435 + 0.029   = 0.464/week

      0.464 * 50     = 23.2/year

The Raspberry Pi generally runs for 24 hours as it automatically turns on and off depending on the flow of power to it. The cost of energy for a Raspberry Pi that would be running as a catalog computer 24 hours of the day is approximately $.0028/day (0.00017/hr.) This is found by using the 2W that the Pi runs at and multiplying by the CU electricity cost. This results in a $22.18 difference in energy expenses per catalog computer within The Library Station.

2W * 24 * 365 = 17520W
17520W / 1000 = 17.25kW
17.52kW * $0.058/kW = $1.02

We can then calculate the yearly reallocation in energy cost of an 80 hours work week by using the equation 22.18x where x is the number of catalog computers. The cost of each catalog computer in each branch can be changed simply by changing the amount of hours it is turned on for in the original equation.
The Library Center stands to save a significant amount as their computers run for 24 hours/day. If we use the same formula that we used for The Library Station and simply change the hours from 80 to 168 we calculate that each catalog computer at The Library Center costs $48.72. This expense can be reduced by $47.70 by switching the PCs to Pis.

Annual Reallocation Per Branch

These calculations are based off of the formula used above with the hours adjusted to each library’s open hours.

The Library Center: 10 Catalog Computers = $477.00 in reallocation
The Library Station: 6 Catalog Computers = $126.96
Midtown-Carnegie: 4 Catalog Computers = $66.68
Schweitzer-Brent: 2 Catalog Computers = $40.88
Republic: 1 Catalog Computer = $18.99
Strafford: 1 Catalog Computer = $14.93

Total: 24 Catalog Computers = $745.44 in reallocation


The majority of the coding for this project has been done and is available on the authors GitHub to see, edit, and distribute as wanted. This code includes:
  • Shell Script Permissions
  • Autostart script
  • Catalog shell script
  • Chromium shell script
  • Cronjob script
  • Inactivity shell script
  • Monitor off shell script
The needed software required for the project is listed in the README.me file.


Free Open Source Software

Free Open Source Software (FOSS) is simply software in which the source code that makes it up is publicly available. This allows for everyone to see it, replicate it, learn its strengths, and learn its vulnerabilities. The FOSS community is made up of a large amount of members and therefore whenever a virus begins exploiting a part of the code, or a hacker finds a vulnerability, the community quickly finds the issue and it is fixed as soon as possible. This is largely different than proprietary software companies, such as Microsoft, who have small dedicated teams that deals with these issues and it can sometimes take months to find out where the vulnerability is, if they ever find it at all.


Raspbian is a Linux distribution and is the most common operating system to use on a Raspberry Pi. Raspbian is open source, like most Linux distributions are, and therefore benefits from this in terms of security. Open source operating systems are less susceptible to viruses than their proprietary counterparts, such as Windows. Windows is constantly being exploited and Microsoft is often slow in releasing patches to fix these problems which directly gives incentive for people to create viruses and other security exploits. Raspbian is also free and there is no need to have to deal with potential licensing issues or having to worry about upgrading to the latest version of the operating system. Updates can be pushed through the Pi via SSH and do not affect the way in which the Pi would work as a catalog computer.

Cron jobs can be set up on the Pi to perform scheduled tasks.  One cron job that can be used is turning off the monitor it is connected to during the closed hours of the library and then setting up another cron job to restart the Pi upon the opening of the library to turn the monitor back on. While most workers at a library will make sure that the monitors are turned off and on at the appropriate times, this ensures that they are and allows the workers to spend their time and focus on duties and projects that are perhaps more important.

Chromium + Kiosk Mode

The browser which we will be using for the catalog Pis will be Chromium. Chromium is an open-source web browser which  Google Chrome draws its source code. This browser is designed to be lightweight and barebones and serves the function of a catalog computer well. The browser is also easily put into a kiosk mode in which the address bar and toolbars are not visible.

The F1-F12 keys have been disabled to prevent any interruption of the catalog functionality and to prevent people from using it for other purposes. The browser will automatically start itself if it were to be closed for whatever reason. The browser is also configured to restart itself if left idle for five minutes. All search history, cookies, or any other form of identifiable data is deleted upon closure to ensure patron privacy.

Patrons will still be able to access their library accounts to place holds, pay fees, renew items, and any other essential functions that are provided via the account page. Patrons are also able access links that are provided on the catalog website such as the SGCL website, Hoopla, Overdrive, etc.


While Linux is open source it is still susceptible to viruses and thus needs an antivirus software installed. ClamAV is a free, open source antivirus software program that is programmable to automatically update its virus databases and perform virus scans. The ClamAV virus database is updated multiple times every week and there is a newsletter that one could sign up for that informs people of their response times and actions. The best time to run the antivirus scans would be when library staff arrives shortly before opening the library. This ensures the minimum amount of time that the Pi is powered on as well as a way for it to not interfere with patron activities.

IT departments responsible for the updating of computers can also push updates to the terminals through SSH. Pis can be programmed to shut down and turn on at specific times which would allow someone to have the Pi turned on at any time in order to push out the updates on a specific schedule. The majority of card catalog computers are connected via ethernet and therefore the sometimes complicatedness or messiness of automatically connecting to wireless internet is avoided when the Pi is automatically turned on.

Security of the physical computer is also a concern. As stated earlier, The Library Station experiences young children beating on the computers 50-80 times a day which results in staff having to go back and turn on the computer. This is not possible with the Pi. The Pi will be secured in a case connected to the back of the monitor which means that it is inaccessible to anyone without the proper equipment to unsecure it and it is also out of the way where most people would not see it.

5 Year Plan: Expenses & Reallocation

Initial investment cost

While the Pi is the main focus, it does need other equipment to run properly depending on the environment it is being used in. The equipment needed for one Pi in this project is: Raspberry Pi ,  MicroSD Card , 3D Printed Case , Power Supply ,  HDMI to VGA . This gives us the total for one Pi to be $46.48 and the total for 24 Pis to be $1,115.52.

Reallocation of spending over 5 years

Springfield-Greene County Library District will be able to reallocate $745.96 annually by replacing all 24 of the current catalog computers to Raspberry Pis. SGCL will still have a $370.08 debt after the first year of in the installation of Raspberry Pis is accounted for. However, we see a positive balance of $375.36 in reallocation at the end of the second year. From the third year on we will begin to see the steady annual reallocation of $745.44. SGCL will stand to be able to reallocate $2,611.68 in energy expenses alone come the fifth year.


Energy Standard

Using Raspberry Pis as catalog computers will become a national standard. Springfield is fortunate enough to have a fairly cheap electricity price; however, many places have a much higher cost. In this example we will look at California, Rhode Island, and Hawaii.

Average Commercial Cost / State

California: $0.140 kWh
Rhode Island: $0.158 kWh
Hawaii: $0.264 kWh

Commercial Cost of 100W Computer 80 hours / week 50 weeks / Year

California: $56.00
Rhode Island: $63.00
Hawaii: $105.50

Commercial Cost / 100W Computer during 168 hour week (24hr/day)

California: $122.30
Rhode Island: $138.02
Hawaii: $230.63

Cost of Raspberry Pis / State.
California: $2.45
Rhode Island: $2.76
Hawaii: $4.61

FOSS Standard

FOSS and public libraries both have ethical foundations in the free flow of information, actively engaging in social justice, and being publicly available to anyone for free.  Public libraries should be welcoming FOSS because of this overlap rather than ignoring it or pushing it away. The benefits of using FOSS are many and public libraries will be able to give them a further sense of validity by exposing FOSS to their patrons.
FOSS naturally provides the backbone to the free and open flow of information. People of all backgrounds are able to directly see the code that makes up the software, learn from it, and customize it as they see fit without having to go through the barriers of copyright infringement. Libraries would also be able to give patrons specific programs, such as LibreOffice, to their patrons free of cost without any legal issues.
Many public libraries, such as the Kilton Library in Lebanon, New Hampshire, have already begun incorporating FOSS into everyday use. We already know that companies like Microsoft have actively worked with the NSA’s PRISM program and thus it makes no sense in attempting to protect patron privacy while using Microsoft products. The Kilton Library runs all of its computers on Gnu/Linux distributions which helps patrons opt-out of pervasive government and corporate surveillance. The Linux run computers were set up with patron privacy in mind and have been running effectively for over two years now.
The digital divide will be reduced by incorporating FOSS into the public library sphere and showing patrons how to download and use it from home. Phil Shapiro, an IT employee at Takoma Park Library, showed how he was able to repurpose an old laptop into a functional piece of equipment for just $20 by running it on FOSS. Shapiro goes on to repurpose laptops for patrons with the patrons only paying for how much Shapiro initially bought the used computer for.
Observing how patrons interact with Linux based catalog computers will be the first step in seeing the responsiveness to the operating system. Most patrons will not know they are using a Linux based system since the Raspberry Pis will be solely meant for catalog purposes. However, this serves to be a valuable testing grounds for the integration of FOSS in terms of an alternative to proprietary operating systems.