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David Lee King

The Web as Communication: A Response to The Shifted Librarian’s post, “We Don’t Serve Your Kind Here”



Jennny at The Shifted Librarian said this about libraries that don’t allow public IM:

“And guess what? Your library sounds the same way if you tell patrons (of any age) that they can’t IM from your library because that’s not a valid use of your public computers. You’re basically telling people that their choice of communication channel isn’t allowed and that they should go elsewhere because you won’t be serving them today.”

I agree with Jenny. I really do. But… and I don’t necessarily agree with the reasons I’m going to list… I can see reasons why a library would not allow IM’ing from a public PC. Here are the reasons I came up with (with some comments by me):

1. Don’t want to mess with the software. There could be a number of reasons for this: worries about malware, viruses, etc (viruses can be spread by IM applications – although they can also be prevented with virus protection software). There’s also training and support issues.

Answer: A few answers, really. Answer #1 – deal with it. Your customers most likely want to IM, and you should help them achieve this goal. Answer #2 – point customers to web-based IM solutions. Answer #3 – Install good virus protection software. Answer #4 – Bite the bullet and train your staff. Then train your customers (if they need it – most likely many of them won’t).

2. Have policies about email, IM, chat, etc. I have been to libraries that have policies against using email, chat, and even online shopping services! While I don’t agree with those policies… at least the libraries are following their own guidelines.

Answer: Change your policy. And see #3 below:

3. Don’t think of the web as communication. Traditionally, libraries haven’t had to deal with communication – they have dealt with the storage and findability of information (yeah, yeah – I know that the written word is a form of communication. Just hear me out). But with the advent of the web, that traditional role has been altered, and some librarians have yet to catch up with the change.

The web is information. Traditionally-minded librarians know how to deal with that, at least on some level. But… the web is also communication – through email, chat services, IM, discussion boards, blogs, etc. And librarians are new to this whole communication thing. We haven’t had to train customers to use the phone, turn on the radio or tv, or write letters (although we might have books that discuss this stuff). But now, we’re having to deal with it. I have taught Email Basics classes. Others I know teach about blogs, rss, chat, IM, etc.

It’s high time for libraries to figure this stuff out. Thankfully, many have. But my guess is that some libraries “out there” are still trying to figure out “what should be done about this whole web thing.” This post is really more for those libraries (although they probably aren’t reading my blog).

So, a solution… Hmm… that’s hard, because I “get it.” Here’s my attempt. For some, they’ll pick up on the “web-as-communication” idea through continued browsing of library-related articles, and through continued attendance at library conferences (and hopefully attending the right sessions). Others will pick it up over time, as more of their customers mention, complain, nag, and ask for these kinds of services.

But what about those that simply don’t want to understand? Those that don’t want to accept that the web is much more than a large, online version of a general article index, or just one of many other material types that a library “collects?” That the web is a new thing altogether, and libraries need to change policies along with the changing times?

Good question, and also hard to answer. I’d love to see other answers. Here are mine:
1. Some will quit, move on, or retire. Problem solved.
2. Some will need to be prodded by supervisors, administration, etc. Problem solved.
3. Some need extra hand holding: continued explanations, continued examples of how “new stuff” works, and more importantly how it helps customers, library staff, etc.

Am I leaving anything out?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • http://www.skagirlie.net/wpblog skagirlie

    Add patience to that list. ;)

  • http://www.skagirlie.net/wpblog skagirlie

    Add patience to that list. ;)

  • http://www.technobiblio.com cj

    Where is the line drawn? I think IM is manageable with, for the most part, little additional effort or expense on behalf of the library (assumes they are practicing safe computing, etc.)

    But if we are talking about communication – then what about providing Skype on a public terminal? Again, little additional expense (assuming that someone brings their own headset) or effort on behalf of the library. Do the same rules apply?

    What about setting aside a semi-private space for videoconferencing? This obviously gets a little bit more equipment intensive – although the expense is fairly low depending on how fancy you want to be. I think this would actually be a fairly high-demand service in some areas.

    Not trying to be cheeky – just wondering what makes sense for a broad array of libraries and what tools / facilities they provide to their communities.

  • http://www.technobiblio.com/ cj

    Where is the line drawn? I think IM is manageable with, for the most part, little additional effort or expense on behalf of the library (assumes they are practicing safe computing, etc.)

    But if we are talking about communication – then what about providing Skype on a public terminal? Again, little additional expense (assuming that someone brings their own headset) or effort on behalf of the library. Do the same rules apply?

    What about setting aside a semi-private space for videoconferencing? This obviously gets a little bit more equipment intensive – although the expense is fairly low depending on how fancy you want to be. I think this would actually be a fairly high-demand service in some areas.

    Not trying to be cheeky – just wondering what makes sense for a broad array of libraries and what tools / facilities they provide to their communities.

  • http://www.rhastings.net Robin Hastings

    We don’t offer the IM clients here at the Missouri River Regional Library, because of patron privacy concerns. We are concerned about the fact that many patrons would set the client to remember their user/pass combo and then the next person to use the machine would have access to their “stuff”. The way we get around this is to provide links to a web-based service called e-messenger. This seems to work pretty well – so far!

  • http://www.rhastings.net Robin Hastings

    We don’t offer the IM clients here at the Missouri River Regional Library, because of patron privacy concerns. We are concerned about the fact that many patrons would set the client to remember their user/pass combo and then the next person to use the machine would have access to their “stuff”. The way we get around this is to provide links to a web-based service called e-messenger. This seems to work pretty well – so far!

  • http://www.rhastings.net Robin Hastings

    We don’t offer the IM clients here at the Missouri River Regional Library, because of patron privacy concerns. We are concerned about the fact that many patrons would set the client to remember their user/pass combo and then the next person to use the machine would have access to their “stuff”. The way we get around this is to provide links to a web-based service called e-messenger. This seems to work pretty well – so far!

  • http://www.rhastings.net/ Robin Hastings

    We don’t offer the IM clients here at the Missouri River Regional Library, because of patron privacy concerns. We are concerned about the fact that many patrons would set the client to remember their user/pass combo and then the next person to use the machine would have access to their “stuff”. The way we get around this is to provide links to a web-based service called e-messenger. This seems to work pretty well – so far!

  • http://www.rhastings.net/ Robin Hastings

    We don’t offer the IM clients here at the Missouri River Regional Library, because of patron privacy concerns. We are concerned about the fact that many patrons would set the client to remember their user/pass combo and then the next person to use the machine would have access to their “stuff”. The way we get around this is to provide links to a web-based service called e-messenger. This seems to work pretty well – so far!

  • http://www.rhastings.net Robin Hastings

    We don’t offer the IM clients here at the Missouri River Regional Library, because of patron privacy concerns. We are concerned about the fact that many patrons would set the client to remember their user/pass combo and then the next person to use the machine would have access to their “stuff”. The way we get around this is to provide links to a web-based service called e-messenger. This seems to work pretty well – so far!

  • http://www.rhastings.net/ Robin Hastings

    We don’t offer the IM clients here at the Missouri River Regional Library, because of patron privacy concerns. We are concerned about the fact that many patrons would set the client to remember their user/pass combo and then the next person to use the machine would have access to their “stuff”. The way we get around this is to provide links to a web-based service called e-messenger. This seems to work pretty well – so far!

  • http://www.rhastings.net/ Robin Hastings

    We don't offer the IM clients here at the Missouri River Regional Library, because of patron privacy concerns. We are concerned about the fact that many patrons would set the client to remember their user/pass combo and then the next person to use the machine would have access to their “stuff”. The way we get around this is to provide links to a web-based service called e-messenger. This seems to work pretty well – so far!