The Media Center
We've Been NIMDAed!
by Mary Alice  AndersonLead Media Specialist, Winona Middle School, Winona, Minnesota
MultiMedia Schools • March/April 2002 
Three months later we were still coping with the consequences.
NIMDA, the fast-spreading worm that affected primarily PCs and ISS servers, arrived at our school September 19 last year. Fortunately, our network specialist acted fast and "pulled the plug" on our servers. That quick action saved us from total disruption of all workstations. As we are primarily a Macintosh school, individual computers were not affected. The disruption instead was to servers, instructional capabilities, and staff morale. We were not alone.

Thousands of Web sites were knocked out; thousands of computers were attacked. Thousands of teachers were without grading systems. Countless students lost access to files and online databases. And, hundreds of administrators and office staff could not access student records. Three months later we were still coping with the consequences.
 

De-Circ'ed
Our first noticeable impact was the online catalog and circulation system. Thinking the problem would only last a day or two, we began writing down patron and material bar code numbers as students checked out materials. By the third day we switched to entering information in an Appleworks database so we would have a searchable record.

A Missouri media specialist tried to remedy the loss of a circulation system by using a portable scanner, but was cautioned that more viruses could result and eventually stopped circulation for a while. Wichita media specialists turned to ALEC (Alternative Library Electronic Checkout), a Microsoft Access program system designed by their district office. Other media specialists reported discontinuing any circulation until the problem was solved.That was not an option for us; materials are there for students to use. The inconvenience is minor compared to the loss when students cannot check out materials.

Some positives actually came of our inconveniences. Since students could not search the online catalog, they asked for more assistance in finding resources. Media staff devoted more time to helping students locate books. The increased interaction with students turned out to be a nice side effect, and it was important to maintain a sense of humor. After all, we were doing something that had been done manually for centuries. Since I have experienced a few other technology traumas, I knew everything would work out.
 

Instructional Down Time
The problem was more widespread than the automation system. The biggest impact in our school and in many others was lost instructional and productivity time. Reggie Buresh, a Minnesota media specialist, said, "No one was allowed to go on line while staff spent a whole week going to each computer in the district, installed 'fixes' and cleaning things up. This really disrupted teachers' plans for using the lab and media center for research and word processing. Hardest hit were business and IT classes."

Without access to our servers it became difficult to manage instructional activities, some of which had been planned and scheduled for months. An art teacher attempted to have students complete a project utilizing scanners and photo-editing software. Without the server to save to, the project was too difficult to manage. Students were disappointed, but a little disappointment was preferable to a teacher's frustration destroying any remaining sense of faith she had in technology. Less complex instructional activities—creating a small database and word processing—continued, since students could complete and print their projects in a class period. Like students attending a Washington high school, our students could not take their online STAR Reading assessment. One teacher chose to cancel his scheduled activities rather than cope with problems. I became concerned about the fallout of cancellations, knowing it would be difficult to reschedule and perhaps more difficult to convince teachers not to stay away.

Like Reggie Buresh, I felt "kind of smug" when kids realized they had to depend on books for their research needs. Students in the midst of an extensive research project combed the shelves and contributed to the "stock pile" of reserves. Others browsed through back issues of magazines instead of searching the online database. But browsing through piles of magazines is cumbersome in today's electronic information age; we had to go online. Within a few days the router allowed us to "get out" even though our own Web server and its curriculum resources were unavailable. Searchers could access InfoTrac databases, and we directed science classes to World Book Online rather than "regular" Web sites linked from our school Web site. Three weeks later, the new virus protection had been installed and students were able to use all resources and save files to their server space.
 

Moving On
We moved forward with a teacher's wish: "May all the computers be working and we can access our folders." That turned out to be wishful thinking. With lost instructional time, the younger students were not yet comfortable accessing the server. Teaching students how to access the server at the same time they were doing research and creating multimedia presentations was challenging. Many were still not always able to save their files properly, a situation that required individual attention.

The fallout continues. Teachers all over remain frustrated with the lack of ongoing technical support and servers that still do not work properly. Barbara Allen, a library services program analyst from Tucson, said continuing problems include Web pages and z39.50 transfer protocols that no longer work, and research sites that were accessible are now blocked. A New York teacher reported ongoing bad feelings "on the part of some staff members and students because, to prevent future damage, we are blocked from using Hotmail andAOL mail." A California math teacher is gun-shy and not anxious to work on additional projects.

Three months later we still are trying to cope with theintermittent inability to save to the server; teachers are asked to document every occurrence. Our Web catalog is inaccessible and a long-time wish for increased resource sharing is on hold. I cannot access our district Web server remotely or trash outdated Web files. As both district and school Webmaster, I face a major job cleaning up outdated files when the server is 100 percent in order. Student keyboarding data is corrupt, a problem we realized after spending too much time trying to figure out what we were doing wrong. A public folder that holds applications and utilities is no longer accessible, causing frustration for teachers accustomed to doing their own installations. Some problems will continue until our server is rebuilt with Windows 2000.
 

More Support
With our network specialist and technician busy handling district-wide server and network problems; I knew it would be weeks before computers that had been down since before NIMDA's arrival would be repaired. I expanded my technical support role, and we also hired outside technical support. Outsourcing was expensive, but my principal and I were determined to have the 100 media center computers fully operational and accessible to students. We also mended a few teachers' computers. It was all part of regaining trust and hoping to avoid a decline in staff use of technology. A kind word and good service can go a long way. In the process, I learned a few new technical skills that have come in handy.

Many media specialists grumbled that administration and central office people did not have to wait for their support. Barbara Allen said, "On the administrative side, each site was partially down less than 3 days.... Any attempt to get [media center problems corrected] is answered with one word, NIMDA." I too, was frustrated, but when logic set in I knew that the school district could not function without access to attendance, grading, financial, or food and transportation system data. While teachers and media center staff were frustrated, our stress level was quite likely less than that of the support staff and consultants trying to solve the problems. It was important to keep everything in perspective. At least we had a server and most of our computers worked. This could not be said for many other schools including some in our district.
 

Fewer Resources
NIMDA took a major chunk out of our too-small district technology budget. Kevin Flies, our district information systems director, said recovery costs, including a consultant and new virus and server protection software, have cost $25,000 to $30,000. I used a small chunk of media center capital money to buy more Zip drives and encouraged people to be more vigilant about keeping current backups. It would be impossible to accurately calculate the cost of staff time spent on troubleshooting, problem solving, and reinstallation. The hours of instructional time lost cannot be completely regained, although Plan B substitutions were adequate in many situations.

Of course we learned from our experience. Along with additional technical skills, I acquired more patience and a strengthened philosophy that disaster often results in improvement. As Kevin Flies noted, we all acquired a greater"realization of the required investment in an infrastructure; how weak our infrastructure was and how we are improperly staffed to manage the environment. We were lacking in a firewall, security, and up-to-date virus software." We gained an improved infrastructure.

Other districts came to appreciate the value of their UNIX servers and Macintosh workstations. Some said they had become lax about virus concerns because of their confidence in Macs not being susceptible to virus attacks. Many of us developed a greater appreciation for multiple backups. When a teacher's local hard drive crashed and she could not access duplicate copies on the server, she was in trouble. Amy Hart, a Massachusetts media specialist, noted, "I am running a backup nightly and storing it on my PC in addition to the tape backup. We are religious about anti-virus updates and scans now. We have made contact with our community's MIS staff and hope to continue working more closely with them." Other people learned the importance of a good printer cartridge as they decided it was wise to print out hard copy of daily circulation transactions. All of us need to be prepared.

NIMDA reminded me that media/technology programs exist for kids. They were still able to check out books and did not suffer greatly when they couldn't access their server space or online databases. The instructional time lost was an inconvenience and disappointment; some activities cannot be made up, but the total instructional impact is likely to be negligible. Our teachers are generally resilient and able to move on to Plan B. Life goes on with or without our now-routine access to technology. Technology is great. I would never want to manage a media center that is not automated, use paper indexes, or work in an environment that is not technology rich. But we need a perspective on what is important.

Note: I would like to thank the many media specialists who contributed their NIMDA stories, especially: Barbara Allen, Tucson, Arizona; Julie Anderson, Renton, Washington; Reggie Buresh, Mahtomedia, Minnesota; Barbara Currier, Fresno, California; Amy Hart, Lexington, Massachusetts; Lori Loranger, Kirkwood, Missouri; James Lyon, Lynwood, Washington; Margaret Owens, Long Island, New York; and Meg Schimmels, Wichita, Kansas.
 

Post-Virus Fallout

I have become more skilled and confident in reinstalling a computer's operating system. I have learned how to burn a CD. I have become more conscientious about documenting repair processes so we have information to refer to in the future. Of course, there's a "Yeah, but ..." to all this. It raises many questions.

Are my increased skills worth the decreased time I'm spending with kids and instruction? Maybe, maybe not. But . . . if the technology doesn't work, the teachers and students will not be able to use it. What incentive will the district have to staff all of our media centers with media specialists or hire additional technical support staff? What incentives do teachers have to learn minor troubleshooting if we media specialists take care of their needs?

These are issues facing all media specialists. We need to do what is best for our teachers, students and programs.

    —M.A.A.

Mary Alice Anderson is a frequent contributor to professional journals, a conference presenter, and an adjunct instructor in the College of Education at Winona State University. The Winona Middle School Media/Technology Program has received both state and national recognition and awards. She is also the lead media specialist for the Winona Area Public Schools and was a Library of Congress American Memory Fellow in 1999. Communications to the author may be addressed to Mary Alice Anderson, Media Specialist, Winona Middle School, 1570 Homer Road, Winona, MN 55987; e-mail: maryalic@wms.luminet.net.

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