People's Network computers: early reactions from librarians and ICT managers.

Comments from the JISC website: February 2003

The full texts from which these highlights have been extracted may be viewed on the February 2003 list at  http://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/lists/peoplesnetwork.html. There is little attempt at ordering within this 'chatroom' so you just have to plough through. My comments by way of 'reply' are in purple.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
24 Feb. Robert Day, ICT Manager Cambridgeshire CC.
"The navigation of seered.co.uk is appalling but there are some interesting arguments put forward about the perceived success or otherwise of the People's Network project." Never mind the (adequate) navigation and artwork, concentrate on the content.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
24 Feb. Steven Heywood, Systems Manager, Rochdale Library Service.
I'm intrigued by the concept of "worthwhile purposes" in this context. There are interesting avenues of debate here: are the worthwhile purposes of a library limited to those in support of book-centred Scholarly Activities by Serious Readers? (I apologise to Dr. Wozniak if I caricature his position for the purpose of fomenting debate) How far can other functions and activities be accommodated without libraries losing their identity and focus? Serious questions when the government want us to be more like supermarkets.

Here's an example which may give food for thought: One of our libraries is in the middle of a shopping area where small groups of drug users congregate during the day. They aren't violent or aggressive or anything - they're too spaced out for that ! - but during the course of the day they gradually get more drugged up as they idle away the long hours. The library assistant took it on herself to cajole them into the library during a quiet period and got them looking up things on the internet - music, entertainment, etc. (we've got the drug promotion filter turned on for all our libraries) - and once she found a virtual pool game they were hooked.

So now they're in for an hour or two most days, taking their turns on the machines in between booked sessions. Some great turning point in their lives leading to their kicking the habit and going on to great things? No, sadly, probably not. Worthwhile? I'd argue yes: from a humanitarian and social economic point of view I'd prefer them to spend a few hours being distracted by virtual pool rather than sitting around shooting up expensive junk. Counted in any of the library performance tick tables? Absolutely not.
How do other people feel about libraries scoring points for 'social inclusion' by encouraging drug users onto the premises to play computer games? Would this detract from the attractiveness of libraries for mainstream taxpayers?
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
24 Feb. Mike Alexander, ICT Project Leader, the Moray Council.
Mr. Alexander has objected to any of his comments (some of which are variously silly or just plain illogical) being reproduced on this website. So if you are interested please visit the link above, but not before you have bothered to read and understand the arguments on the People's Network page of seered.co.uk( peoples_network_computers.htm ).
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
24 Feb. Jane (Jaz) Chappell, ICT Development Manager, Gloucestershire CC.

All those who think Dr Wozniak is barking please raise your hand - NOW. This comment caused a short email to be sent to senior officials at Glos CC and copied to dozens of elected Members. The required unreserved apology on behalf of Glos CC was duly delivered.

I just don't see a debate here, we are all the things one expects of a traditional library with the added value information provision, available at speed and for free! the system also enables a person to talk to and exchange information with government bodies. Coincidentally the conduit that delivers the information also gives access to email and pornography. It also gives snoops in local councils an unprecedented and largely uncontrolled degree of access to personal data.  To protect the children of our county and reassure their parents they are in a "safe" environment we have filtered PCs. We operate an AUP and this enables us to ban people from using the library's PC network for a given period of time if they abuse the AUP that they have signed up to. I do not see a problem in asking people to sign up to an agreement, if that agreement is broken there being repercussions. On the other hand it would not be out of the question for a member of the public being harrassed by a second party, who may be leaning over his/her shoulder to see what they are doing to ask the library manager to approach the second party and ask him/her to butt out! No problem..

In some of our libraries we have carousels that hold six computers, they give individuals room to work and have a good level of privacy because of attractive boards between one user and the next - but it doesn't stop particularly nosey customers looking over a users shoulder. We recently had a case of a PC user masturbating while looking at pornography in one of our major libraries. So what do we do? Give the guy more privacy? Erect booths that can be hosed down? I don't think so. As I said there is no debate!
As it happens, the debate has only just begun.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
25 Feb. Steven Heywood, Rochdale Library Service.
"I can't help thinking that had Dr Wozniak published an expose of the inhuman conditions endured by systems administrators in the People's Network slave camps he'd have received a more sympathetic response from this list."All I have ever asked is that people study the arguments and think before they condemn - which is more than Devon County Council proved capable of doing.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
25 Feb. Nick Morton, commissioning editor, SAGE publishing.
"Would someone be kind enough to post the link to Wozniak's site, I deleted it without thinking and need a good laugh". (Maybe Mr. Morton, in his profession as an editor, should read documents before passing judgement. The SAGE server subsequently downloaded over 50 webpages from seered, so maybe he found it interesting after all.)
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
25 Feb. Mike Alexander (responding to the comment about slave camps).
"Slave camps? My God, our lot were like kiddies in a toy shop with all the new goodies they had to play with!!" My feelings exactly: a bunch of kids with too much money to spend.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
27 Feb. Nick Dabanovic, Info Technology Supply Ltd.
"On the subject of Dr Wozniak does anyone remember seeing him on TV? I saw a program about Britain in Bloom ... he claimed he was creating an urban environment for wild animals. It is quite amazing to see this one man battle spill over on to the calm progressive shores of the People's Network!" The dolts in charge of this project at NOF and within DCMS have wasted many millions of pounds of 'good cause' lottery money. They have compromised both the ambiance of libraries and the privacy of UK citizens in the process. It is high time there was an open debate.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
27 Feb. Russell Hall, ICT Development Officer, South Shields.
"I too saw the Britain in Bloom programme. Dr Wozniak's idea of wild gardening involved having a Volvo estate gently rot away in your cold frame." I have never owned either a Volvo or a cold frame.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
27 Feb. Mike Alexander, Moray Council.
I cannot resist the temptation to reproduce this email in full - it is simply too amusing. It was followed by several others - see the JISC list for more details (and if Resource delete them I shall post full copies here). In the age of so called 'open government' Mike should be working for Devon County Council. His furtive, secretive and suspicious nature would be ideally suited for a senior post in their Command and Control bunker. For more details, see the Library dispute section of this website starting at top_of_library_dispute.htm.

"Regarding the discussions/comments regarding Dr Wozniak, a small word of caution to all on the list. It would appear that Dr Wozniak has some means of viewing the posts to the list, whether directly or (as is suspected) via a librarian who shares his beliefs.

Whatever the actual means, it is obvious we have some sort of "mole" associated with this list and so I would advise everyone to be very careful of what they say regarding Dr Wozniak and his web site. Of course it goes without saying that we should always be careful about what we say about others. However this does raise a wider issue of the "confidentiality" of the list.

Whilst I personally never post anything to the list that I would consider to be strictly confidential, I've always considered this to be a fairly closed list i.e. like-minded professionals working in the library/ICT environment and involved in or having a professional interest in aspects of the People's Network.

The fact that it is now fairly apparent that someone outwith this sphere of people - especially someone who appears to have no real positive interest in the true benefits and objectives of the PN - means that I for one will now think very very carefully about sharing *any* information regarding our PN implementation, for fear that such information may find its way into the wider public domain and used in ways which it was never intended.

It's regrettable that it has come down to this, as the principal objective of this list is (I had always considered) to be to allow people to share their experiences and ideas, that we might all then benefit from and ultimately provide a better service to our customers. If others feel as I do, then sadly the benefits and effectiveness of this list will be diminished.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
27 Feb. Abbreviated comments as sent by the author of seered.co.uk and kindly posted on the JISC list by Robert Day.


Responses to you kind people who were amongst the first to read my website, or part of it! The first comments, as usual, were from Robert Day in Cambridgeshire. Garish colours my foot.  The red is there for obvious reasons ...... .so is the big text. I may soften it a bit but there are as many views on colours and layout as there are geeks - rather like the old story of getting four different answers when you ask three economists the same question.

At least Steven Heywood used his brain before putting pen to paper (so to speak) and made comments that would be echoed by many librarians. I do know some by the way, in several parts of the UK! The navigation may not be typical of a website but this is not a typical site - the effort put into it was 90%+ content (substance) and 10%- artwork. Most are the other way around, if you are prepared to be honest. My site is meant to be read much like a book and hence the deliberate Arial text at size 4 - and knowing many people still use 14" screens even in the UK. Size 3 is just too small on a small screen if you have a lot to read.

The 4000 figure seems to have caused debate. It is merely normalising the data to a level where perspective becomes clearer (see my comments on the infantile First Findings report for an explanation). How many of you have lectured on this topic?? I stress in the text, for those of you who bothered to read it before running to your keyboards, that much of the on-cost must be for overhead and broadband infrastructure - even where it is not needed. There seems to have been no proper marginal cost benefit analysis in this whole project, just a one size fits all mentality. One question is whether 'good cause' money should be used to set up a part of e-government. It is all covered if you bother to sit down and concentrate for half an hour. As for social inclusion, try READING the arguments and doing the calculations. Do tell me if any of the sums are wrong. I am happy to stand by what I have written and to correct the site if and where it needs it. How about some of you?

One point I would agree is that the green top pages just don't look right. I'll change them soon enough, but for now, try reading and understanding what is placed before you. The site is intended for intelligent people who are interested in governmental processes. And for librarians! By the way, seered has now been accessed by over 1400 libraries. Some kind soul even sent it to Australia. Thank you to whoever that was! The European and US publicity has not yet started. Any sensible comments you have now can be considered for inclusion. It may not appear on search engines for weeks.

By the way, on the topic of Hotmail, Deep Freeze is used by Devon County Council - it is one of the few things they got right. Contact Roy Eden on reden@devon.gov.uk . And do please give him my regards.

Dr Stephen Wozniak
Sidmouth.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
27 Feb. Lesley Davies, Customer Information and Performance Manager, Herefordshire Library Service. Most of the text is reproduced here. The essential arguments have also been subsumed into the Smart Card page (smart_card_surveillance.htm).

"I  was pleased to see that Herefordshire got a fairly positive mention for its smartcard project.

However, one of the other major objectives of our smartcard was to increase security and privacy of information for our smartcard holders. Our aim is not to have printing able to be scrutinised by anyone but the user requesting it, not to have subsequent users able to see data inadvertently left accessible by a previous user, not to have users obliged to present their tickets at the counter for inspection..... etc.

Our smartcard holders do not have to interact with any member of staff whilst using any of the PN equipment including printers at our test site, indeed the equipment is used by the community as well as the local college to deliver ICT training when the library is closed, maximising the benefits of the investment by NOF. No personal data is stored on the card, simply a card number. The only objections we have had is to the photograph that appears on the card. However, the holder doesn't even have to take it our of his/her wallet/purse to use it at the library counter, the purse/wallet is placed near the reader, so nobody other than the card holder sees it.

We do log use but examine usage first and only link it to individual user data where it clearly demonstrates inappropriate use. Would Dr Wozniak prefer we harboured Paedophiles or people conducting illegal activities within our libraries? For one so apparently legally astute, is he not aware of our duty of care?
(I am all too aware of the denial of my right to privacy under the Human Rights Act by the snoops in Devon County Council !)

We operate a door entry system at our pilot site using the smartcard when the library is closed. I would prefer not to do this but are we not entitled to take steps to prevent people walking in and trashing the equipment? (which incidentally we describe as a community and not a library resource) and, more importantly for us, also protect the community volunteers that staff the facilities outside library opening hours? With smartcards, a small and previously quiet library is now a buzzing community building attracting resources from other agencies and organisations.

Dr Wozniak, we share many of the same concerns as you and we are trying our best to eliminate risk. However, if we adopted some of your principles, services would be compromised for the vast majority of our users at the whim of a few that can appear to be determined to spoil it for everyone.

Most of the above is eminently sensible. Herefordshire Library Service are to be congratulated on at least thinking about some of the issues. There is certainly a conflict between 'freedom of access' and security of equipment.

However, the more serious issue is the availability of huge amounts of data on local people being made available to other local people - who may not be as full of integrity as some (or most) UK librarians. It is simply not acceptable for usage data to be available to local 'controllers'. If snooping has to be implemented (and under the Council of Europe Guidelines this is doubtful anyway) the data should ONLY be available to vetted personnel who work at least 300 miles away, and preferably in another country. This would minimise the potential for misuse of information, whereas the present arrangements maximise the likelihood of misuse. There should also be clear guidelines for deletion of stored data after a short time period, and third party verification that the procedures are followed.

I remain grateful to Lesley Davies for her comments. They have moved the debate forward and sharpened some of my own thoughts. The crux of the matter (as highlighted in some of my early letters to Devon County Council which they rudely ignored) is the availability of usage data to local people and the ability of local 'snoops' (who may live in the next road or be members of an opposing local political party) to spy even on encrypted banking files accessed by library users. This parallels concerns about the RIP Act, discussed elsewhere on this website and on other 'privacy' websites.
 
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
28 Feb. Ian Ibbotson at K-INT.COM.  Some sensible remarks about accountability - but unfortunately they were posted on the last day of the month so few people may have read them, a new list being started on 1 March.

I suspect that this list is mostly populated by people who are in some way or another involved with PN projects? I also know how hard any kind of funding is to come by. Dr Wozniak seems to directly provoke a reaction "The program is not delivering best value" (My interpretation). Now, if you have just seen 5 or 25 or even 250 new PC's arrive in your library are you really about to complain to the community at large that it's wasting money and kill off any chance you have of repeat funding? I don't really think I would in such a situation.

There is one point on which I think I might agree with the Dr: I think [some] projects are only paying lip service [Some more than others] not only to the basic technical standards put down by PN and NOF, but to the principles behind those standards. I'm not talking about accessibility or font sizes here (Important though they are) but the basic ability to take content and reuse it in different situations.

There is, I think, an issue common to my anxiety about technical standards and the Doctor's concerns about the higher level action: Where is the genuine [independent] critical evaluation and review of PN and NOF projects? Who is there to say, yes, the project met all it's objectives and meets all mandated standards (In the real world, not just some flaky test environment). Never having been involved on the project management side of a PN or NOF project, such reports might exist. If that's the case I would have expected those reports be the best possible response to Dr Wozniak, rather than simply calling him barking mad? If someone does have a responsibility for critical evaluation of projects, I would very much like to see the reports.
So would I.

As someone largely on the outside of the PN these days, it's great to see things continue to move forwards, but yes, as an outsider I also sometimes see red, not because of a lack of progress, but because sometimes it feels like the same people continue to get away with the same large chunks of cash and then sweep the dirt of failure under a carpet of sloppy accounting.  Amen.

I'm not trying to upset anyone on the list, just to say that as an (almost casual) outsider, I think that there might be one or two projects that are having a complete laugh at everyone else's expense, and that many projects would benefit from a *real* technical review so that critical information can be fed back to the next round of funding.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
28 Feb. Peter Marshall, Project Development Librarian, Bexley Council:

I think Dr.W is making a valiant effort to write up what he sees as being the deficiencies of the project, and I think that some of the things he says, particularly on policy and PR issues, merit further thought. I fear that at times he is way off the mark, particularly with regard to the real cost per PC of installing and running such a network, and I suspect that this arises from a lack of practical experience of keeping such a show on the road (or negotiating a contract with the company which will do so), and in running a secure public service which anyone who is free to walk the streets has the right to use.

However even if we think that sometimes his views resemble those of Whatsisname who holds court daily in the bar parlour of the Dog and Duck, we should remember that a higher proportion of the population probably hangs on Whatisname's every last word than on ours.

We should realise that:

(a) his site may well express what a lot of people think (rightly or wrongly) about the PN, NOF, the Lottery, officialdom in general etc,

(b) with the arrival of the web, everyone has the ability to disseminate his/her views in a way not previously possible,

(c) as librarians we are under a duty to provide the facilities in our libraries for people to look at his website on an equal basis with other websites which may have a more charitable view of our efforts, and

(d) we would be foolish just to ignore it. Take a look at his "Questions the Minister may refuse to answer" . Are you satisfied that you could personally present an argument in answer to each of these questions which would lead the Dog and Duck Debating Society to buy your round?


Dr Wozniak does not  frequent the Dog and Duck any more than he frequents any other smoky den of iniquity.

Comments from the JISC website: March 2003

The full texts from which these highlights have been extracted may be viewed on the March 2003 list at  http://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/lists/peoplesnetwork.html.

Unfortunately there were no discussions of any merit during March. The illuminating discussion on copyright and 'publication' of emails may be useful if you have no access to sheep. Yawn.


Comments from the JISC website: April 2003

The full texts from which these highlights have been extracted may be viewed on the April 2003 list at  http://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/lists/peoplesnetwork.html.

14 April. Martin Brough (Inverclyde) A response to an email I posted on the list regarding filtering programs and their lack of effectiveness.

So Dr Wozniak is amused at the performance of filtering programs in public libraries. That's a shocker... No $h!t Sherlock... We *know* these programs are not infallible - but something has to be done.
I have agreed with that on my website: the point is (and remains) that filtering appears to me to be so amateurish that it is indeed laughable. It can result in unwarranted and frequent embarrassment for legitimate library users. Why not address the serious suggestion I made, and in a calm manner?

I accept your point that if in a public library you may not get much privacy when trying to do home banking etc. - but privacy hoods that they have in some US libraries would be abused. I appreciate you are a library user - but we know our customers better than you think we do. In an ideal world we could provide access with no filters and screens that you can only read straight on. I'm afraid our world is far from ideal.
It certainly is far from ideal in the PN library circle where open discussion is all but banned! My argument with DCC developed (in part) because they banned all staff from talking to me in an effort to cover up their inadequacies.

I find your idea that library staff are interested in snooping on the sites their customers visit offensive.
The problem is rarely as you suggest and if you read my website thoroughly I say specifically that local library staff are unlikely to be the concern. It is the retention of data at County Hall and its possible use or collation with other data that is one of the issues. I suppose staff have nothing better to do all day in their under funded, understaffed libraries than to see what sites people visit at a whim. Not all library staff will have access to the list of sites you have visited, usually (but not always?) only senior members of IT staff - who would only hand over this information after getting legal advice. You are mistaken. I have witnessed librarians taking phone calls from 'snooping HQ' where probably junior staff had been roaming over PC usage in 'real time' and come across a screen they felt was improper - and who are they to judge anyway? The fact that encrypted banking and other confidential sites are apparently not safe from these 'local snoops' is the main reason I advise people not to use PN machines for anything other than trivia. The problem is particularly acute in small towns and for anyone who is engaged in any form of 'political' activity where their every move could be of interest at County Hall. There are basic principles here that you seem not to understand. What about the shambles in Devon where confidential tax records (for example) could be reprinted from the iCAM system long after the user had left the library? The set-up is laughable. There is a real case (I will not say where) of a librarian who is also a director of a company in commercial dispute with a library user. Should his usage, including bank, share-dealing or tax print-offs be 'available' to her when she happens to be on duty? One major reason why people will not use the Internet for Tax Returns is the perceived lack of security. It is the stated government aim to encourage such use. Library systems are discouraging it, and in a big way. Maybe it's called joined up government.

You should perhaps be more worried about the powers the RIP Act (yes I know you've heard of it) will provide. These sort of powers cause more dangers to privacy than Libraries (and their staff) ever will.
It is a central part of RIP concerns that data collected by 'kindly' persons such as librarians can be combined with lots of other data to form a total information package on an individual that then can be viewed by a large range of snoops for no particularly good reason. Library snooping, and similar, forms a part of the RIP debate and has been ongoing for years. See for example http://newsletter.vnunet.com/news/1111030   for some links dating from 2000, or try the 28,000 references on Google.

Unfortunately Local Authorities fund libraries
(I agree this needs looking at, there is a good case for all computer issues to be handled competently and centrally rather than not very well 149 times over at considerable extra cost to the public purse) and therefore have different policies when it comes Libraries/IT/Filtering. Despite groups like CILIP we can only do so much. Nation/Eurowide policies are hard to implement and perhaps your efforts should be aimed at a higher authority than us. You're basically preaching to the converted here. (Am I ??) In a lot of ways our hands are tied.. YOU are being given the opportunity to comment before points are taken to 'higher authorities' as you put it. Don't complain later that I went above your heads ! Thank you anyway for responding - nice to know someone is still allowed to ! !


next page

back to top of section

back to home page