Tuesday, February 17, 2009

IF and the public terminals, again!

I had another conversation about intellectual freedom and the public computers in the library today. Yes, another, this is a constant source of conversation and has been so for at least 2 years. There are two camps among the librarians: those who feel that patrons must have free, really free! free! free! unfettered access to everything, including the wide world of the internet and those who feel it is their duty to defend access to the collection above all else. Need I say that those in both camps are ready to die for their beliefs? And am I the only one who thinks they sound kind of alike? The internet or the collection... I must admit, the collection glows in my eyes with its multi-faceted databases, Web of Science first among them*, its ebooks (we have Google apps hacks as an ebook) and, uh, those paper things (really we have nice books too, I'll write about them sometime). I lean toward the Defenders of Collection Access camp but I think the Internet camp has made some very good points.

We are a state supported academic library. We are not a public library and I think that really does make a difference. We do not have that special duty of public libraries to support the democratic process and it is nowhere mentioned in our mission statement. Our mission statement talks about academic achievement, teaching, learning and research.

I should clarify here, the discussion is about the public patrons who come to the academic library where I work. There is no disagreement about access for students, staff or faculty.

Those in the Internet camp point out that research can legitimately require unfettered access to the Internet. I think that this is quite true but I don't necessarily think that we have to provide it to the public (there is a public library about a mile away). Those in the Collection camp say that some of our resources (databases) are not available anywhere else in our state. Our collection is really a unique resource, mostly paid for by taxpayers, and there will be no public access to some of these things if we don't provide it with public access computers. One way of keeping computers available for this purpose would be to use domain limits so that they aren't tied up with games and porn. There are other options also, time limits (our current, probably temporary, solution is a one hour time limit), a scholars pass (this has some support in the Collection camp), and a few other things as well. But there just isn't any perfect solution to this! Everyone means well and is trying to do the right thing but there are some hard feelings.

The librarian I discussed this with today has the unenviable task of facilitating discussion on this issue. She is one of the most even tempered people I have ever met but she says she lost it in one meeting because no one would compromise. A few people are starting to suspect the other side of being Republicans...

*Those who know me will realize that I am not being facetious here. I really love Web of Science. I called the databases gem-like at first but changed to multi-faceted so as to sound more feet-on-the-ground but really - Web of Science...glowing, gem-like.

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