Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Machine Is Us/ing Us

I ran across this great video on Web 2.0 with the above title by an anthropologist at Kansas State today in a discussion of filtering on the CJC-L list. (And again through Nicole Engard before I had a chance to finish this post). Good stuff!

The filtering discussion was really another round in the argument on whether to block access to social networking sites: limiting computers to academic uses VS providing an open computing evironment to let students work the way they want to work. This is an oversimplification but you get the point. I generally fall on the providing open access side but can see that there is a tipping point of resource allocation in some cases. It can be very difficult to tell a student who wants to actually use library computers for school work or research that they have to wait for someone to finish looking at Facebook first. But the Facebook student can also argue that they pay for the computer and net access through student fees too. We're having time management software "forced" on us here by our IT people, which is actually not a bad solution, IMHO. It takes away the human factor of picking who to bump off a computer etc. You get 2 hours. Do your thing. Don't look at porn please.

One poster in the discussion was pretty irate about having to change things and tailor library services to the 18-24 year old crowd. I'm sure there's nobody at that institution over 24 who wants to access social networking sites. Or even if there's not you're really not robbing Peter to pay Paul by providing open computer access. You're giving all library users equal access to resources to use as they want, regardless of any generational stereotypes you can throw at them. They can Facebook, sell junk on ebay, buy books on Amazon, or even do school work. There's a little something in there for everyone. And you can keep the books and the newspapers and the phone reference service too! But you're doing your users who actually want to have web 2.0 style interactions a disservice by rejecting them outright. They're patrons too, regardless of age.

So is the primary mission of the academic library to provide access to educational and research resources or are we moving towards being a general access point when it comes to computing? There's not really a good one size fits all answer to this "problem". Every institution has to decide what works best for their situation and allocate their resorces the best way they see fit. And observers have to accept that folks other places will make that decision differently and have different results. But take a serious look at your situation and user behavior and needs before jumping to any off the cuff decisions.

But really, wouldn't we prefer to be having these type of discussions than the library being a complete ghost town where it's not going to matter?

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