Friday, January 23, 2009

We had a sort of running discussion in the library this week about a possible change in the computer use policy. Of course, this came up because we have limited resources. Sometimes (especially around lunch time and later into the afternoon) all of the student computers are in use. We have laptops to take up the slack but that isn't always enough.

Since the start of this quarter we have had one student who spends hours everyday playing games on a computer near the reference desk. I want to say right now that the reason I know he's playing games is because it would be almost impossible not to know, not because I was snooping! We don't restrict or police student computer use in any way so I didn't see this as a problem initially. But then one of the librarians mentioned that it might be necessary to ask him to stop playing during busy times when all of the computers are in use. I think that game playing is technically against the rules at our library (at least, it was) but, to my knowledge, we have never enforced this rule.

This started a lot of conversation. At one point, this issue was a scheduled topic of discussion for a meeting (never happened). The issue was resolved to the satisfaction of most (I believe) because the librarian who brought up the issue continued to discuss it and work it through. It really came down to a matter of equitable enforcement. This game player was very visible from the desk. Someone quietly playing a game on a laptop upstairs is, practically speaking, invisible to us, especially during the busy times when we need more computers. It wouldn't be fair to ask this one student to give up his computer while those a bit farther away could continue playing.

I don't mind saying, I'm happy with this decision.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Lookin' over my shoulder

Thanks to an article in today's Washington Post, Intelligence Court Releases Ruling in Favor of Warrantless Wiretapping, I've been mulling over what effect the possibility of being legally spied on might have on intellectual freedom. You're not necessarily doing anything wrong's just kind of creepy and distracting to think that you might be watched/wiretapped. I wonder how this affects those who use the public computer terminals directly in front of the reference desk at my library. Even though we don't monitor what people do on the computers, they are located (intentionally I believe) where others are constantly walking by and, as I said, right in front of the ref desk.

In the past, we had no restrictions on our public computer terminals (and they weren't so centrally located) but this really didn't work out very well. It actually impeded public access to the collection because the public computers would be tied up (for hours, sometimes all day) by people working on their My Space page or whatever. That's OK, but My Space isn't part of the collection. Public users who needed to use a computer to access one of our databases were sometimes just out of luck.

So now public users get one hour per day and they are in a high traffic location. I don't think that 1 hour per day is really enough but people seem to accept it. For myself, I want a quiet, out-of-the-way spot to do research and LOTS of time to do it. I also think that it wouldn't change anything I do if I thought someone might be watching but then, I would consider it a matter of prinicle to carry on regardless. I think that the possibility of being watched does change the research some people do (or decide not to do) in libraries.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

My promising begining

This blog was established for a University of Washington Information School class, Intellectual Freedom in Libraries. I work in an academic library as a reference assistant and am looking forward to connecting course material to things I see/hear about on the job. At this (very early) point, I expect to be coming back again and again to issues surrounding computer use in the library, especially issues connected to the use of our computers by those not affiliated with the library. That's only if I get to keep working! These are scary times budget-wise. My boss says that she could not keep the reference desk staffed without us but, well...I'm hoping for the best.