Computer Labs are the ugly ducklings of libraries, very rarely get discussed, very few presentations on best practices, disgruntles reference librarians everywhere “I did not go to library school to help somebody play with Facebook”, and all that jazz. I have never understood that opinion but I am not here to try and change anybody’s mind about the need, but to discuss the future of computer labs in libraries (my experience is in public libraries).
As background, mpow’s computer use statistics were down from last fiscal year, and this year looks to be down again. At our height we were at nearly 140,000 uses per year (that is a lot of bodies in the library, even including the people that come in 3 times a day – there is your need) for a town around 70,000. Last year we were at about 121,000, this fiscal year I think we will be around 112,000 at best. And, for those of you wondering, we have good computers, up-to-date programs, and a dedicated, friendly staff. We are also in the midst of remodel and have added no new computers, probably a first for a remodel in the last 10 years, right? In fact, I have purposely designed the new computer commons to degrade gracefully to work areas for laptops users in a few years. But even if your statistics are going up, you see the writing on wall don’t you?
What are we going to do when usage goes down to 90k, 35k? Is the computer lab something we are going to be glad to get rid of? Is it even important to the mission of the library of the future? Most importantly, how are we going to keep these library patrons engaged with us (don’t give me any of that crap that computer users aren’t real library patrons)?
I don’t have the answers, but I do have ideas. I hope you have some to share as well.
Perhaps, depending on your community, it is time to really think about creating a Media Lab, Maker Space, Craft Area, Art Room, Game Center, Music Center, Tech. Petting Zoos, Philosophy Discussion Rooms, Idea Box and other spaces. Design a space that people cannot easily or cheaply create, and pulls together the community.
It is time to consider how to better start teaching technological literacy via group, 1 to 1 classes, and by video. Become the obvious neighborhood expert. No more should teaching be optional for librarians, no more should user instruction classes be optional for library school students.
We have, through computer labs, already positioned ourselves as technology experts to a large portion of our community. I believe we need to grasp that label as hard as we can and expand on it. I think all librarians should say a thank you to computer labs for providing one potential future.
TTW Contributor: Mick Jacobsen