Excellent post by Stephen Abram today on library workstations:
I visit too many libraries that have public workstations that are purposefully made dysfunctional (often by IT teams with good intentions but poor understanding of how these PC’s are tended to be used). Too many library public PC’s don’t have any productivity tools on them (word processing and spreadsheets for example), while some disable the USB ports or disallow IM, even e-mail!, etc. Some talk in their annual reports about their efforts to bridge the digital divide with public stations where these good intentions are somewhat negated by their actual implementations. One amusing story happened when I was in one library that let people print to hard copy at no charge (good) but patrons could not make an electronic copy and add it to their, document, bibliography or paper, etc. It was suggested that people could e-mail it to themselves and have an e-copy that way. I was met with blank stares when I asked how many of the people who were using library PC’s because they had no PC of their own would find that useful.
He goes on to offer a number of free services – most of which are offered by Google – that will allow patrons to do what they need to do on the library computers.
It still amazes me that there are librarians who are choosing to ignore the patron’s needs for their own convenience. Having been a library director, I get the issues that can arise and the fixes that are all too tempting to put into place. I sat at one of the public access computers one morning, removing the various and sundry programs that had been installed against library policy again, grumbling that if I ever found the culprit, I was going to put his head on a spike in front of the library as a warning to others. (The two teens sitting on either side of me looked a bit worried.) Once I had security measures put in place, however, I didn’t have those issues any more – all I had to do was reboot the machine and whatever had been done magically went away. Best $300 I ever spent.
The moral here is that there are programs out there that will help you protect the library’s server and data, while allowing the patrons to do what they need to do. It’s a matter of starting to think about how we can allow them to do whatever, rather than continually plotting to prevent them from doing whatever.
Customer service is the name of the game. Not in an eye-rolling, condescending sort of way, but real customer service, where we actually try to think about what the customer (patron) wants and then find a way to provide it. Much has been tossed about in the biblioblogosphere of late about Library 2.0 and how cool technology can be, etc. The real issue, however, isn’t the cool technology. Look past the blogs and wikis and rss feeds and what you’ll see is a concern for serving the customer. And while all those cool tools are….well, cool….it’s the customer service that will keep people coming back.