The computers at my work are more locked down than any I’ve used before. We cannot download any applications at all so that means the librarians and staff here do not use and cannot access Firefox, though it sounds like many of us do have that as our browser preference.
None of the computer workstations in either library have Firefox or much except the usual IE and Microsoft products as wel as some local databases. Our one saving grace is that we do loan laptops and a few of those have been designated “open access” which allows students to download whatever they feel like since it all gets deleted at the end of their session (or something like that). Now, Firefox is just one example of what is limited just because it is something a lot of people use.
Sneaky me has a way around this, for now. During the holidays my dad gave me a usb drive. At first I was a little ungrateful – why do I need another drive? But then I came to see its purpose. It’s got that ‘U3 smart technology’ on it. That means I can use Firefox at work as well as a few other things that I couldn’t before. I mentioned this to a couple coworkers and they stand by the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy since I mentioned asking systems if it was ok to use (yeah I’m too honest sometimes). So maybe down the road this will be blocked too, but for now it’s not, and I’m thankful. From what I’ve read on the internet, a lot of people don’t actually like U3, but it’s letting me use the browser I prefer so I’m happy with that.
This post started to take a different bend when I came on the reference desk today and tried to help two students use their laptops in our library. The steps required to use a laptop here are just ridiculous. The one student already had the wireless working, she just wanted to print from her laptop which in theory students can do, but after following all the instructions we couldn’t get it to connect. Fortunately she had a usb to jump onto an express station to print (and the ref desk keeps a usb drive for this purpose too).
The second student had a mac and again we followed all the instructions on the IT department’s guide – all of the windows popped up and looked the same as we were shown, but we still could not get it to connect. Since the libraries expect users “to be self-directed when using your laptop”, we’re not really supposed to spend much time with them. The IT helpdesk though is so far away so most students just give up. What is even more annoying is how so many of our students have also attended other universities where you can just walk in and turn on your laptop et voilà – internet.
One thing I liked about the University of Windsor (and there are many things I like about that school and library), is that IT actually hired students to provide computer help in the library. I remember there was a lower desk to the side of the ref desk and that’s where a paid student would sit in a brightly coloured t-shirt. Any printing or computer questions that came to the desk were directed to just hop over to that student for help. I thought that system worked very well. I know I brought it up at my last place of work and the manager was already working on it, just needed to run it by that IT department, so I was glad to see that they also were able to hire a student to provide computer assistance in the Learning Resource Centre (or is that Library Resource Centre now?).
I really think this is the way to go for academic libraries and probably public libraries too (at least the larger ones). Yes, librarians do need to have an understanding of technology and skills for troubleshooting, but I think having a dedicated computer help person creates a nice balance at the reference desk.