16 · SPEC Kit 302
Based on these assessments of public computing
usage, survey respondents were asked to rank typ-
ical user issues. Thirty-nine of the 55 respondents
felt that the number of computers is a common is-
sue for users. The availability of software applica-
tions and technical support are moderate issues for
39 respondents; wireless connectivity is a moder-
ate issue for 33. One respondent indicated that the
number and speed of printers was also an issue of
concern for users. For most respondents network
speed is rarely an issue.
Several respondents to this survey commented that
the management of public computing is a complex
collaborative effort often involving people both
within and outside the library. It includes tech-
nically skilled staff and professionals as well as
non-technical people who are dedicated to provid-
ing high quality service. It involves maintaining,
upgrading, and protecting hundreds of pieces of
equipment often distributed across many build-
ings. As a result, the level and quality of public
computing supports varies from hour to hour and
building to building.
At present, it appears that demand will con-
tinue to grow and will require each library to pro-
vide more equipment and support. A follow-up
question sent to the survey respondents found that
90% (36 of 40) have seen a steady increase in the de-
mand for public computing over the last five years.
A few report that demand has stayed about the
same. No one reported a decrease. In addition to
the increase in demand for desktop public comput-
ers, several respondents mentioned that the great-
est demand has been for laptops, wireless access,
and laptop infrastructure (electrical outlets, dock-
ing stations). This growth in laptop utilization may
be due in part to institutions building more flexible
spaces within their libraries, which means public
computing must go with the students instead of
the students going to the public computing. Some
respondents noted that although more students
own laptops, they often prefer to use those that the
library provides. This preference has also been ob-
served in a study of students at the University of
Rochester. (Foster and Gibbons, 2007)
Managing public computing is a challenge and
will continue to be even as some libraries plan to
shift the management of all or most of the public
computers out from under the auspices of the li-
brary IT department and into the hands of the
campus IT department. Although not asked by the
survey, the issue of campus and library IT support
centralization (or lack of it) was evident in many
While researching ARL member institution’s
Web sites, it became clear that in many cases little
or no information about library public computing
is readily available and there is very little consisten-
cy in how the information is presented to the user;
it varies from institution to institution and even
library to library within an institution. Although
some library sites have “computing” somewhere
on that page, in many cases only a site search and
further browsing leads one to this information. In
some library Web sites it was not possible to find
any substantive information on what a library of-
fered in the way of public computing.
In preparing and researching this work, the au-
thors discovered that there are things being done
at some institutions that really stand out, though
not addressed specifically in the survey. For ex-
ample, Case Western Reserve University uses RSS
and a blog approach to update their users on new
and changing features of their public computing
environment. There were enough of these inno-
vations that “flew below the radar” of the survey
results that the authors felt that it was appropri-
ate to look at all of the ARL member library sites
not just those of the respondents for these
“notable innovations.” This led to finding many
remarkable innovations, such as North Carolina
State University’s real-time workstation availabil-
ity, Brigham Young University’s computer reserva-
tion systems, The University of Kansas’ search in-
terface which locates hardware and software across
campus (including library locations), and also their
Previous Page Next Page