Hello and welcome to Stacking Up, a blog for the "modern" librarian! The great thing about today's librarians is that we are so diverse: different ages, backgrounds, personalities, looks... this blog is here to share this diversity with ideas, insights, stories, experiences and opinions for anything and everything having to do with being a librarian!
Thursday, March 31, 2011
Patrons, Computers, and the Red Tape In-Between
I was working at one of the city branches the other day and I had a patron come up to the circulation desk and say that she needed to use one of the computers but she had left her library card at home. My initial reaction was to simply ask her for some form of I.D. so I could look up her card number so she could get on. Simple, quick solution to make the patron happy, right?
Um, well, the branch manager wasn’t too happy. Right after, he took me aside to say that’s not how things are done (at that specific branch—as I’ve mentioned before, all the city branches are supposed to follow the same rules and policies, but they almost never do. I highly doubt this is an issue only in my local library system!). The rule was: no library card, many hoops to jump through to get onto a computer. Ask for I.D. Has the patron already been given a guest pass to use the computers without a card before? Then we can’t give them one again. Is the patron’s account delinquent? Has it gone to collections? Can’t issue a new card. If they want to pay a dollar, they can get a temporary paper card with their library card number on it to use the computers (which is, essentially, what I did—only I didn’t ask for a dollar and I didn’t bother looking at anything besides the patron’s I.D.)
So… I don’t know about you, but I have some serious problems with this whole convoluted procedure of giving patrons access to the computers. Now, obviously, I don’t think it should be a free-for-all where anyone can come in and sit on a computer surfing facebook all day while other patrons need to get on and look for jobs or work on their online classes—but at the same time, I really believe that if a patron comes in and asks to use a computer for the given 60 minutes—we should let them, library card or not. I think we should encourage patrons to get library cards, and I think there should be certain consequences for overdue accounts that have over a hundred dollars worth of fines on them—but I don’t like the idea of taking away the Internet as a way of doing that. I believe having equal access to computers in libraries should not be considered a “privilege” with lots of red tape barring the way to getting on one—it should be a basic service that we offer to anyone and everyone, regardless of the status of their library card.
What do you think? Should we restrict computer and Internet use to only those patrons that 1.) have library cards, 2.) bring their cards, or 3.) have no fines on their account? When is it O.K. to give a patron their library card number in the case where they forget it? Is it a big deal to hand out their numbers if they bring proper I.D. or does this lead to security issues? Should there be a limit as to how many times a patron is allowed a “guest pass” to get onto the Internet without their own card?
These are all questions that I have been asking myself lately, because I think it is important that libraries offer certain things to their patrons that have little to no strings attached—we are here to serve our communities and grant access to information, especially to those that have no other way of getting it. While I can see both sides of this issue, I lean more towards making it easy for patrons to use the computers without lots of red tape. This not only helps them; it also puts libraries in a more positive light, supporting the ideals that we uphold- namely, free and equal access to knowledge and information. As librarians, I think we should be doing all that we can to support this.