Digital Signage on the Cheap – Another Alternative

An alternative to the Chromebit option mentioned in Chuck’s post on the digital signage deployment at his library is a free, open-source solution called Porteus-Kiosk. This (1) OS paired with an (2) old PC or Thin Client, even with minimal hardware specs, (3) a 4GB flash drive, and a (4) monitor, be it a spare computer monitor of a desirable size, or large-screen TV with VGA or HDMI ports, will serve handily as an in-house digital signage solution to promote library events and services.

Here at the Hooksett Library, we were fortunate enough to acquire most of the necessary hardware at no cost, since their previous owners had no more use for the equipment. This included several HP Thin Clients that are the size of a standard router and both a 22” computer monitor as well as a dated 42” TV screen. The only thing that I had to expend was the minimal cost of two wireless USB adapters ($10 ea.) and two 4GB flash drives ($5 ea.). I had VGA cables on hand already. Armed with this equipment, I was able to deploy two digital kiosks, one at the front desk and another on the staff desk in the Children’s Room. Repurposing older, somewhat obsolete hardware like this is a great way to recycle.

Once you have the necessary equipment in hand, as outlined above, your next step in the setup process is to visit the Porteus-Kiosk website where you’ll get the free software that will serve as the operating system for the kiosk. This linux-based system literally runs off of the flash drive’s RAM, which is why you can use any computer with even the modest of system specs. In order to install the Porteus-Kiosk OS onto the flash drive, you’ll have to use another computer and a bootable media, such as a CD, DVD or flash drive that will mediate the installation process. The Porteus-Kiosk website provides useful instructions for the entire installation and deployment process, along with an installation wizard for the customization of the kiosk deployment. Customization options include default browsers, Chrome or Firefox, scheduled actions, like auto-shutdown, auto-refresh, power-saving, and network protocols, just to name a few of the host of available parameters.

The final step in the process is to determine the URL source of the content that will be displayed on the digital display. I’ve chosen to use Google Slides to create the content, since slideshows therewith are not only easy to create and update, but there is a “publish to the web” option, meaning that you can point to the slideshows with the published link. I’ve configured the kiosk software to auto-refresh every 15mins, so that, if I make any changes to the slides during the course of the day, the display will capture and reflect any updates within the 15min refresh intervals. Another advantage to using Google Slides is the fact that they adapt pretty well to both wide or standard displays, depending on the chosen page setup options for the slides. Of course, you can also jazz up the slideshow with some fancy animations, too!

In closing, I should mention that Porteus-Kiosk can also be configured in PAC station mode, to serve as an online catalog station, which I’ve also done here in Hooksett, but that’s a subject for another post.