Facebook, Guests and The Draconian Librarian

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I found myself in a strange situation yesterday: I had to ask a student using one of the guest computers to move because someone wanted to perform a literature search. The guest computers at our library, it should be noted, are fully equipped with the standard suite of student software. The guy I asked to move was printing a term paper, and had left the computer.

Now, the guest computers have labels in both Norwegian and English that clearly state that the computers are to be used exclusively for literature searches (this isn’t strictly speaking true, and isn’t enforced unless there are a lot of people waiting). As our OPAC is the only source for finding literature in our collections, we’re duty bound to provide this service.

On the other hand, the guy doing the printing was doing legitimate academic work, so I still felt a bit bad about this. I felt even worse when I noticed that the girl behind us was using facebook. *Sigh*. This latter point raises a flag for me.

Walking around the PC labs during daytime will reveal that about 70% of all the users can be identified as those doing something other than “legitimate academic work” — unless they’re doing research into social media that is. I’m not a great believer in rules and regulations so banning users from doing things isn’t on, but the fact that the library pays through the nose for the PC lab — both in terms of the hardware and the really, really awful support — makes me wonder if the university IT department shouldn’t be paying the library rental for the space.

Why? Irrespective of how much “right-on”, “social”, “gaming” or “library 2.0” you want to be, the job of the academic library is still to provide high-quality services related to information. The PCs are surely there to provide access points to our digital collections, not access to facebook — and this ought to be pretty clear to everyone. (Oh sure, we have an OPAC search application in facebook…much used? I don’t think so.) If “general internet access” is the job of the university IT services, then facebook is surely their domain (and thus theirs to regulate).

The creation of a social arena rather than an arena for academic work is part of a broader trend at libraries where they desperately try to claw in users by taking over roles that have nothing to do with the core values, traditions and services provided by libraries. I’m not sure that I agree with this trend; in fact, I’d sooner that libraries just rolled over and died, and let people who are good at – and have a mandate to do so — creating social arenas, etc., do their thing.

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One Response to “Facebook, Guests and The Draconian Librarian”

  1. Carleton Place Public Library Says:

    We have the same issues from time to time. Our OPACs are strictly used for our library catalog, but on occasion, our public internet stations are books and someone “desperately” needs to print a resume or school paper, or just needs to check an email for 2 minutes. What are we to do? We often allow these little indiscretions on the OPACs, but we don’t encourage it.

    It is frustrating that so many times, the computers are not being used for academic or educational purposes, which is what you’d think a library should be for, but just getting people into the library and making it a place where they can access whatever they wish is also desirable. If they are here, maybe they’ll come back to do something more “noteworthy” at some point? I don’t know the right answer here either.

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