Deploying Remote Monitoring Devices in an Academic Library
March 7, 2008 8:12 AM   Subscribe

Which wireless internet camera would you recommend for deployment in a library? Also, does some form of wireless noise monitor exist?

My library is set up in such a way that staff lack a presence on two of three floors. Were this an older-style library and those floors were dominated by shelving this wouldn't be a big issue. However, these floors have tables, reading lounge areas, study carrels, and even group breakout rooms for student use. One of these floors is designated as a "quiet study floor" (but more on that later).

Recently, there have been a rash of thefts from these floors. We have asked, pleaded, and frequently reminded our students to be aware of their surroundings and not leave their belongings unattended. Of course, undergrads feel that nothing bad will ever happen to them and frequently ignore these warnings. And then they get upset when their iPods, laptops, and cellphones are stolen.

We don't have the staff or the budget to station people on these floors and so are considering acquiring some internet cameras that will play nicely with our wireless network. While the privacy issues involved nag at me, they do not nag at me as much as the safety issues. We're often the last people to know about what goes on upstairs and I'm concerned about what could happen. I hope that cameras would be both a deterrent and a way to help us assist students and campus security in recovering lost items.

So my requirements for a wireless internet camera solution are pretty tricky. I want a system that is:
- Able to play nicely with our wireless network, which is password protected.
- Able to record what happened for up to an hour, but then erases said memory unless we save it.
- Detailed enough to pick out identifying features, but not so detailed as to be able to read what people write or are reading.
- Able to be viewed through a single browser, but requiring a password to do so.
- Able to deal with multiple cameras. Shelving and corners break up a single view.
- Not stupidly expensive. We want to keep this affordable and in-house.
- Being able to pan and zoom would be neat, but not required.

Fake camera mounts would not work because we have students who work for the library, so word of their fakery would get out pretty quickly.

Ideally, I'd like to create a command center-like area behind the Circulation desk where staff can monitor the library from.

As a special bonus question, is there any such thing as a wireless noise monitor? The only models I've seen are for machine shops and I get the feeling that they deal in much louder sounds than a library. Keeping with the self-absorbed/unaware of those around them nature of the modern undergrad, we're constantly getting noise complains from the quiet floor, so some form of sensor that would trip an alarm/light at the circulation desk when things got too noisy on the quiet floor would be really cool.

Of course, any alternate solutions are welcome. I admit to being more prone to technological solutions, but we really don't have the staffing or culture to really come down hard on the students, whether its for noise or their own safety.
posted by robocop is bleeding to Technology (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Do y'all have a budget? I recently looked into pricing for 12 cameras and a DVR and am looking at around 10k (that's with "professionals" doing the installation).
posted by jmd82 at 8:18 AM on March 7, 2008

Response by poster: No budget as of yet. I'm sure there's money for it, but I'm blowing my big discretionary wad on moving the circ desk five feet to the left.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:30 AM on March 7, 2008

My experience with wireless cameras leans to the X10 variety, I know that they make some adapters that let you hook them into PCs, but I haven't played with that aspect, so I'm not sure what you could or couldn't do with the software side. On a good note, they are pretty inexpensive and can be deployed anywhere.

As to the sound issue, I would think that you could set up a standard PC microphone with some software like this, and just have it alert you when it hit a peak. It wouldn't be wireless though.

For that, you might need to look into something like one of those wireless presenter microphones where the base gets plugged into your PC and the mic itself gets positioned in the room you want to monitor. The only problem I can see with this system is that you will need to find some way to keep the mic's battery charged.
posted by quin at 8:39 AM on March 7, 2008

A baby monitor would let you listen remotely for noise, and there are many varieties out there with a range of features and prices. The one we have includes a LED display on the listening part of the monitor, so even if the volume is turned down the LEDs light up. If you will follow the link, you will see than there are video versions as well, although a simple webcam might be more cost-effective for video. You may want to look for nanny-cams as well. Do you want the monitors to be small and unobtrusive so as to catch people in the act, or large and obvious to act as a deterrent? Depending on the laws where you live, you may have to post signs warning your patrons of audio/video surveillance. Of course, those signs may be as much of a deterrent as the actual cameras.
posted by TedW at 9:15 AM on March 7, 2008

It sounds like you're on a school campus. In that case, I would expect there to be a pile of antiquated computers in a closet somewhere. If you're at a university with a computer science or computer engineering department and it's feasible to recruit some computer geeks, you might consider turning them loose on the project with free software like this or this and a mandate to do initial testing using someone's dorm webcam, a promise of funding for more expensive cameras if they get a prototype working.

And I personally think it would be worth it to put some R & D into an inflatable decoy librarian that could be remotely deployed to scare off would-be thieves.
posted by XMLicious at 9:30 AM on March 7, 2008

For a small deployment, Axis cameras are great quality, they have wide range of camera options, from low-res, low cost, to PTZ megapixel+ versions. All the networked (wireless or hardwired) cameras come with a web-server built in which can upload images to a FTP site if you want a small time-backup. For a more professional solution they offer a camera management software suite that will easily fit your needs.

As a bonus, if you ever have to move to a more professional management solution, Axis cameras are well supported.

Pelco also do great systems, loved throughout the industry. You'd only need a low-end DVR of theirs, a power hub (so you don't need to run power to each camera, you can just run the video cable). The DVR would be 1-2k depending on storage needs, power hub should be around 2-300 bucks and the cameras come in at 260bucks a piece (IS90, indoor, smoked dome jobby). The DVR and Power costs are estimates from the higher-end stuff I've dealt with-- the 16 inputs, 3TB storage DVR (DX461DVD-3000) (that's a lot of storage-time, even at good quality for 16 cameras, one month+ at a good res/fps) costs a touch over $6000, and the 16 power out hub is 600bucks (NV-16PS10-PVD).
The cameras are analog based, but the PVR gives you the digital access element. As the DVR is network accessible, so you can manage it from wherever, and therefore you can add DVR's as and when you need them to meet your needs. Also, while the DVR might seem expensive initally, using much cheaper analog cameras compared to networked tend to easily balance out the overall cost (and you don't need to dedicate a machine to store the recordings).
posted by Static Vagabond at 9:38 AM on March 7, 2008

Take a look at the product offerings from WiLife. The principal drawback (for me) is an unreasonable tie to Microsoft technologies. But their products have a good rep.
posted by mcstayinskool at 9:49 AM on March 7, 2008

When I looked a few years ago, most IP cameras were standard def 640x480, but there were higher resolution offerings. Panasonic has something in the 1280x960. As I recall, you could get them for about $750. They can be monitored via a web UI, upload to an FTP server and/or record to an SD card. If I remember right, they have a "ring buffer" recording option that let's you look at and store the last x minutes of video. Also, it supports pan and tilt and zoom (not sure if the zoom is optical or digital.

Other standalone cameras have similar featuresets.
posted by Good Brain at 10:02 AM on March 7, 2008

I work in a library. I know you said you dont have the funds but I think you guys should put it into the next budget to get a security guard. At my library (i am a network tech there) we have security guards that have paifor them selves. They help a lot with rude patrons, violent teens, things like that.

I feel 1 security guard would be much better then cameras.

Security cameras wont do anything if your staff doesnt monitor them all day and ignores them.
posted by majortom1981 at 11:55 AM on March 7, 2008

I really wouldnt do this over wifi. The transport is shoddy and you'll find that x10 and the rest are gimmicky low-grade home consumer crap that will not resolve anything useful especially wth those dinky lenses.

If you must got with IP cameras then you need to go with some pro grade stuff and run real cat5 cable. Now you need something to hold all this data. Perhaps you can get away with a cheap DVR but you'll need to split the signal into something it can record first. So now youre looking at some kind of monitor that'll do 4 cameras at once in split screen or by cycling through them.

I setup a simple system at my father's old business years ago by buying the camera kit at Sam's club, running the cable, and attaching that to a DVR. We paid a few hundred dollars and got the monitor, dvr, and two cameras. I was able to record a day at a time and could speak and listen through the cameras. None of this was browser based or anything. Just a plan jane camera system and a DVR. The cameras ran on cat5, which is easy to get and install.

If you need to archive something then use a VHS tape or spring for a capture card.

>Fake camera mounts would not work because we have students who work for the library, so word of their fakery would get out pretty quickly

You cam mix and match real cameras with fake one. Deploy four real ones and put fake ones in areas you are not able to see. Word will get out that you have a camera system, not a camera system with 4 real and 4 fake cameras. If people get too suspicious just say theyre broken or those get monitored off-site.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:17 PM on March 7, 2008

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