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Students create self-checkout program at local library

ATHENS, Ohio (Feb. 8, 2005) -- Students in the Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ College of Engineering and Technology at Ohio University have designed a self-checkout system that has allowed the Athens branch of the Nelsonville Public Library to go high-tech.

The system allows patrons to scan their library cards at designated computers, check out their own books and print a list with all of the books they have out as well as the books' due dates.

The Ohio University students wrote the computer program for the new system as part of a newly re-designed computer science course focused on service learning.

"It's a software design and development course," said Chang Liu, assistant professor of computer science and the course's instructor. "It teaches students how to develop large programs - very different from doing small programs."

Students in the required, senior-level class are grouped into several teams that compete to come up with the best program to suit clients' needs, such as those of the library.

The logic behind the service-learning approach is simple: students gain valuable, real-life experience working with clients in the community, and the clients receive valuable technical work free of charge.

Nelsonville Public Library Director Stephen Hedges said it took patrons a little while to adopt the new, faster service.

"It was like the self-check out at Kroger. It took a little time to get people to stop walking around it," he said.

The Ohio University students designed a program that the library's computer programming staff would never have had time to do themselves, Hedges said.

This fall, Liu's students worked on an online, internal employee evaluation form for the library, as well as a screensaver with a built-in RSS, or real simple syndication, reader. RSS is a conduit for live information feeds between computers. In this case, the library wanted the students to design a screensaver for members and donors that use an RSS feed to display the most recent library news on users' computers.

According to Hedges, RSS feeds are a "hot topic in the software world, but the students had never worked on them."

Now, the students can add this cutting-edge project to their resumes, bolstering their competitive edge over other job seekers when they graduate.

And from the library's perspective, the students are doing great work. Hedges expects to continue working with Russ College students and Liu for the indefinite future.

"As long as we (the library) don't run out of ideas to give to the students, I see this arrangement continuing indefinitely," Hedges said.

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Media Contact: Russ College Director of External Relations Colleen Girton, (740) 593-1488 or girtonc@ohio.edu, or Media Specialist Jack Jeffery, (740) 597-1793 or jefferyj@ohio.edu

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