We’re really excited to share another post in our ongoing series of privacy success stories from librarians across the country. Today’s post is from Chuck McAndrew, IT Librarian at the Lebanon Libraries in Lebanon, New Hampshire. You might remember Chuck as the librarian with whom we worked to set up our Tor exit relay pilot just a few weeks ago. During our visit to Lebanon, we checked out Chuck’s fantastic GNU/Linux PC environment, and begged him to write up a why-and-how-to guide for this blog. We’re thrilled that he was gracious enough to oblige.
One quick editor’s note: at LFP, we try to make use of Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) whenever possible. The GNU/Linux distribution that Chuck uses is not totally “free”, hence his use of “open source” and not “FLOSS”, and some proprietary drivers and things like that were necessary to preserve the user experience. But we’re in agreement with what Chuck writes below: stepping away from completely proprietary software is a huge step for a library — especially considering how many libraries are dependent on restrictive Windows environments — and ideological purity around perfectly “free” software ignores the usability issues that sometimes come with free software. Chuck’s helping his patrons use software that’s more free than anything most libraries are using, and we think that’s pretty impressive.
We hope Chuck’s success and his helpful how-to guide will inspire other librarians to introduce GNU/Linux into their libraries. Got your own success story to share? We’d love to hear it.
Open Source Patron Computing
How I set up GNU/Linux computers for patrons in my library
Why open source?
Providing internet access to the public has come to be an important service that libraries provide, but it can be quite a challenge to do so in a secure, cost-effective way. Maintaining patron privacy on a shared, public computer is one of the problems that librarians face every day.
When I came to my current job, we had Windows computers with expensive, proprietary software to roll back any changes that patrons made. This software had many problems from my point of view. Not only was the cost a problem, but it actually allowed monitoring of what our patrons were doing online at any time. This is a huge privacy problem.
Additionally, the software was set up in such a way that it undid any updates except for Windows updates. This created major security risks as it forced our patrons to use old and vulnerable versions of Flash, Java, Chrome, Firefox, and more. My solution to all of these problems was to switch to an open source platform for our patron computing.
I have been an open source enthusiast for many years now in my personal life, but this was the first time that I had the opportunity to bring it into my professional life. It was exciting to be able to prove many of the arguments that I had been using to advocate for switching to open source software.