Wrapping up a busy 2019

This fall has been a very busy time for the MLBN team. We’ve been recruiting libraries to participate in our second year of data collection, building a community of interest around Internet measurement in anchor institutions, presenting about our work at multiple conferences, updating the software that runs on our measurement devices, and designing visualizations of the data collected by the measurement system. As we near the end of the calendar, we are excited to share our progress and plans for next year. 

Library Recruitment

Throughout the summer and fall, the MLBN team has been holding recruiting calls with staff at state libraries, research and education networks, and other “intermediary organizations” that serve public libraries. We’ve focused on recruiting libraries to participate in the study through these organizations because they already support libraries, and through their involvement, the community of interest around measuring and assessing Internet service is growing within existing networks of support. To date, we have spoken with contacts at 17 state or regional library commissions/departments, 10 regional Research and Education networks, and 6 other intermediary organizations who support or connect public or tribal libraries.

In all of our conversations with libraries and the intermediaries who helped recruit them, we’ve been encouraged and excited at their interest in this work and at their comments about the desirability of the measurement system we’re developing. We’re looking forward to completing the recruitment of our year 2 participating libraries in January!

Growing Community of Interest

The strong interest among libraries and the organizations that connect and support them has been very encouraging to the team during recruitment calls. Their comments and expressed interest is a validation that we’re doing something useful with and for libraries, administrators, and the organizations that support them. This kind of interest is exactly what we’d hoped to build during this project and will help build a foundation for a sustainable community of interest around measurement of Internet service in public libraries. 

One part of our sustainability plans has been actively sharing our work at various conferences. This year we have presented MLBN work at the 2019 iConference, CSVconf, Library 2.0, the 2019 AnchorNets conference, ISOC’s Indigenous Connectivity Summit, and the Community Informatics Research Network. For a complete list of our presentations and publications, please visit this page on our MLBN project website.

Many of the libraries and intermediary organization staff have wanted to place more measurement computers in more libraries than we’ve budgeted for in this research program. These moments have been very encouraging because they express how our partners see the potential for the measurement system on a wider scale, in advance of our research program. To help library partners who want to test out the system in advance, or who may wish to purchase and implement more measurement locations on their own, we’ve put together a bill of materials for a single measurement computer that we’re using in this program. The total cost per unit at the time of this writing is $84.15 USD + tax & shipping.

MLBN Measurement Computer, Single Unit Bill of Materials:

Measurement Software Updates & Visualization Design

On the technical side, a huge amount of work has gone into improving the measurement system software running on our devices in libraries. M-Lab is currently calling the software Murakami, which provides a series of configurable “test runners” in a Docker container to run on our measurement computers. Murakami can be used on many types of computers, and can be setup on a single device, or on a fleet of managed devices like we’re doing for our research. The software now can export all collected test results to one or more remote storage locations for archiving and/or analysis. 

The “test runners” we’ll use in the second year are:

  • M-Lab’s NDT test – both the current ndt5 protocol and/or the new ndt7 protocol version
  • Speedtest.net single stream and multi-stream tests
  • M-Lab’s DASH test (Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP)

The addition of the single and multi-stream speedtest.net tests is exciting because the single stream test result is more comparable in methodology to M-Lab’s NDT (ndt5) test. And the addition of the new NDT protocol version test (ndt7) will allow this test to operate in managed  networks where the ndt5 protocol version may have been blocked by network firewall rules. Murakami has also been designed to allow modular addition of new tests as they are identified or developed.

M-Lab is also developing the initial set of visualizations for libraries to view and interact with the data being collected. These will be ready by early February 2020, when we expect libraries will receive their measurement devices and training manual. Our intention is for library staff to provide feedback on the initial data visualizations, which will allow us to iterate and improve them for the final grant deliverable.

Preparing for Year 2 Measurement System Setup

We’re also ramping up preparations for managing the logistics of preparing and shipping ~100 measurement devices to libraries all around the country. Boring things like ensuring we have a FedEx account, materials, and workspace to assemble packages and deliver them. We’re thinking about post-paid return labels for year 1 libraries to return year 1 measurement computers and receive new ones for the second year, and of course we’ve already ordered the equipment in advance of the winter holidays in order to not have items on backorder. These details are fairly mundane, but absolutely critical to ensure we’re ready for a very busy set of tasks in January and February.

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