An Open Letter to the IT Department about Firefox

I just submitted this to the IT Help Desk. I wanted to share it here to see if other folks have had a similar experience on various campuses. I want to make an even-keeled case for giving my LIS students access to another broswer on their student accounts – how did I do? What else could I say?

I am especially happy that the toolbar group in LIS768 wants to make a toolbar that will help our students with their coursework. I can’t wait to blog about that!

Hello!

I am following up on some requests from my GSLIS students in my LIS753 and LIS 768 classes. We’re wondering about getting access to the Firefox browser for student computers. I was told recently that Firefox is “not allowed” on campus computers. This lead to some lively discussion with my classes about security, access and opportunity in libraries. I promised my classes I would follow up with IT about this matter.

In LIS753, my beginning HTML coders want to compare and contrast how their web work looks in another browser. For the past few semesters we’ve been using my mac and other student laptops for this comparison. I was asked this semester why students cannot use another browser on their own accounts.

Some also asked about the campus edition of Firefox:

http://www.downloadsquad.com/2007/08/29/firefox-campus-edition-download-for-students/

We’ll be in Parmer Hall for two more weekend classes. The next weekend is too soon — October 20 & 21 — but it would be most useful if my class could look at their work in multiple browsers in December.

In LIS768: Library 2.0 and Social Networking for Libraries, we are exploring 2.0 tools weekly. For group projects, we spent some time exploring various issues and technologies and I guided the students into self-selected groups. One group is going to create a Dom GSLIS Toolbar for Firefox. Toolbars are a growing innovation in many tech-savvy libraries. I was very happy the group decided to take this exploration on and give something back to the school. From their group wiki at http://gslistoolbar.pbwiki.com/ :

“The gslistoolbar wiki will help us plan and develop a Web browser toolbar for the Dominican University Graduate School of Library & Information Science. The toolbar will be designed to provide one-click access to GSLIS resources on both the dom.edu domain and the World Wide Web. The toolbar will also establish a persisitent Dominican/GSLIS presence on Web browsers both on and off campus. For our class presentation, we plan to demonstrate how to install and configure the GSLIS Toolbar on the Firefox browser. We’ll also show the class how we created the toolbar.”

I would really like for the class to be able to experiment with the toolbar on classroom computers. For example, we cannot experiment with the following library and Firefox innovations:

http://vielmetti.typepad.com/superpatron/2006/02/inserting_libra.html (Google Books Ann Arbor Library Lookup.)

http://libraries.mit.edu/help/lookup.html (MIT Library lookup)

http://www.mundell.org/2005/07/07/seattle-public-library-greasemonkey-script-part-2/ (Seattle Public Library & Timberland Greasemonkey scripts)

http://dream.sims.berkeley.edu/~ryanshaw/wordpress/amazon2melvyl/ (Mash up of Amazon and UC Berkeley Library catalog)

http://www.talis.com/tdn/greasemonkey/amazon-libraries (Talis, a UK library catalog developer & amazon)

As we move into a time where the browser is becoming the platform for such things as Google apps, image editing sites, and enhanced library catalogs– and more – I wonder if it might not be useful to offer access to multiple browsers on campus – and access to multiple new features. On a personal level, my course Web sites are all stored at WordPress.com this semester — the best editing browser for that site is Firefox. I use my MacBook Pro almost exclusively and use Firefox to edit the sites. Right now all of my students have blogs as well at WordPress. They use IE on campus and many use Firefox at home or bring their laptops to class to work around the student PCs.

http://l2course.wordpress.com/

http://lis753.wordpress.com/

If it’s not possible because of the difficulty of making Firefox work correctly in a networked environment, one solution my students discovered was loading Firefox on USB jumpdrives — see http://portableapps.com/apps/internet/firefox_portable We’d gladly explore this more. Please let me know if there are plans to offer Firefox in the future or if there are other work arounds we might explore.

M.

Michael Stephens, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Dominican University GSLIS

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9 thoughts on “An Open Letter to the IT Department about Firefox”

  1. Let me predict their answer. Firefox is an open source browser and could be hacked thus negating any security we have placed on networked computers.

    (Answer I received when trying to place firefox on public library computers.)

    Portable apps off a flash drive work on our public access computers. If the firewall is too restrictive, they may not allow it. Furthermore, the latest firefox upgrade (to correct a bug in quicktime) further requires a lowering of the firewall. Causing other problems.

    Try the portable apps route. It works for us here and we sell flash drives. Easiest workaround so far. Plus if students personalize it, they can take it anywhere.

  2. Hey Michael-

    As the “IT department” at my library we offer both IE and Firefox, but also our computers are protected so that they allow *any and all* downloads until they are restarted – which then wipes the hard drive back to its original state. So, virtually any browser can be used. How does this help? Well it doesn’t – but it brings up another question that needs to be thought about: the relationship between the library/librarian and the IT department. A pivotal one in my humble opinion. If future librarians want to be successful in the digital realm, they’ll have to cultivate this relationship not with brownie points and luck, but with understanding of the ITs viewpoint. I think if you can foster a good relationship with IT, you’ll have further success down the road with anything from Firefox installs to MySql database help.

    As for your letter, I think it is spot on. Cordial and with some pedagogical reasoning for why your app needs to be installed. I good representation of how to spark a relationship with IT.

    ~Kyle~

  3. I once ran Firefox off a USB drive for a period of several years, while working for a company with an inflexible IT department. It worked very well, and I don’t think anyone was ever the wiser! Still, I hope your request is solved in a more satisfactory manner. For any kind of web development purposes, you really need access to multiple browsers.

  4. At our college you don’t see Firefox on staff machines ~unless~ you wander over to the IT building or into the server room. Does the same hold true at Dominican & other institutions? This familiarity on the part of the folks who matter seemed to ease its installation on at least a couple staff computers here.

  5. Since this is ongoing, I feel OK about commenting: I recommend mentioning the following to a) the IT people, and b) your boss:

    Why are IT services employed? To hinder valid work, or to provide support so that you can do your work? It isn’t up to IT services to decide how you will work with your students, it’s up to the teaching staff. It might be up to IT people to find out how to get the functions you want onto their chosen platform, but whining about security just demonstrates that they have made the foolish mistake of installing less-than-par operating systems that do not tolerate connection to networks.

    By dictating what a user can or cannot do when working, they are not doing their job, they are proving their inability to provide proper support to help users get their work done, as well as their ineptitude when it comes to IT management. Good enough reasons to give them the old heave-ho if this persists.

    [/invective]

  6. I am jaded and cynical. Until about five years ago the Public ibrary I work in had their own IT person. This person was a librarian as well as a self taught computer guru. That person was me. My attitude about my position as the IT person at the library was that I was there to help people do their jobs, to give patrons electronic access to information and to balance that mission with the need to secure the computers.

    A new town manager came in and decided that all IT should and would be done by the town IT department. My feeling is that a certain type of IT person wants control and is not interested in supporting the work that should and could be done. They also have such an exagerated idea of security needs that anything new or different seems like a threat to them. I have often said that if our IT department in town protected their houses as they protect our computers their houses would have bars on all the windows, triple and quadruple locks on all doors and the roll down metal door over the garage door.

    So we too had this same discussion about alternate browsers for testing our webpages. No luck it’s been 3 years at least. Logic does not work because you are operating on two different systems of beliefs. What seems logical to one system is dangerous in another.

    We have gotten to be experts at working around the restrictions placed on us by our IT department that does not understand our mission. we use http://browsershots.org/ to test our website in different browsers.

    We are talking about using Meebo to offer IM reference since we can’t install IM applications on our computers.

  7. I have no affiliation with this company, but my colleague uses this to circumnavigate IT services: http://portableapps.com It’s not just Firefox either, it’s lots of things; XAMMP on USB Flash memory, anyone?

    Otherwise, insist on using an operating system other than MS Windows, this seems to deter IT services from wanting to know you.

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