Public internet access in libraries is a well established service nowadays. Indeed it’s been in existence here in Bristol for so long that one hardly ever gives it a thought. However, the other day Jules, the Bristol Wireless Treasurer, emailed the chief scribe with a tale from Albany in Oregon, where he’s currently sojourning.
Jules takes up the story below:
Well, I have just been putting the finishing touches to the Helmore & Hunt website this weekend, so Monday comes and I decide it is time to test it with the dreaded Microsoft Internet Explorer (affectionately known to some as Idiot Exploiter or Internet Exploder. Ed. ). Living in an Ubuntu household, this is a bit of a challenge – so as the North West USA is the assumed land of Microsoft, we decide to visit Albany (Oregon) City Library to give the new website a thorough drive on Exploder.
Imagine our surprise when we log in to one of the many public library terminals to be confronted with Firefox running on Ubuntu! It is everywhere, proving that even our American cousins know what is really good for themselves …
Jules spies a quartet of machines tucked away in a corner sporting Windows log-ons, with a big sign saying: “These computers are for special and longer tasks only, such as job applications and government transactions. Ask a librarian before use.”
It is here that the story takes a curious turn, as Jules continues:
We attempt to explain our predicament, in that we actually ‘wanted’ to use Windows (purely for compatibility testing of course), to which the Librarian responds: “Aren’t all the other machines good enough for ya?” Grudgingly, she agreed to our request and the already W3C-compliant new H&H website rendered pretty good, even in Exploder.
Jules concludes by saying:
The question remains though as to just what job applications and government transactions mean that Albany City Library still feels the need to keep an island of Windows machines in an otherwise Ubuntu-run ocean.
The chief scribe thinks – and concurs with Mr Treasurer – that the experience of Albany has lessons for our own dear Bristol City Council. Internet access is available in Bristol’s libraries. However, all the public access machines in use in Bristol’s libraries use the same proprietary operating system as the machines Albany sees fit to quarantine and whose use it makes subject to approval by a librarian. What is more, due to Windows’ inherent vulnerability and insecurity, our informants report that not all the public access machines are always available, meaning there are always queues.
Perhaps someone from Bristol City Council’s libraries and IT departments might like to arrange a visit to Bristol Wireless to discuss installing Ubuntu on library public access machines or even the adoption of thin client LTSP systems. Bristol Wireless has installed LTSP public access machines in both Easton Community Centre and St Werburghs Community Centre.