Monday, August 30, 2004

Games, Chat and E-mail: Legitimate for public library computers

I was reminded recently that many public libraries continue to restrict the use of public access computers to "legitimate research" -- thus religating email, chat and games as "illigitimate". Such policies and practices are proposed as ways to meter out the limited computers. I wonder if its not really just to minimize the complaints by traditonal library service users that see virtual pool as a waste of resources; to appease those who consider such use as not worthy of library financial support at the polls or at the statehouse.

It reminds me of those who think libraries should not have videos. Most people have gotten past that hurdle, just like fifty years ago when their grandparents got past the concept of libraries buying paperbacks and that library collections containing entertainment titles are legitimate. I don't know why people think that lending out the video "Kill Bill" is okay but playing the flash game of the same title on a library computer as inappropriate or a waste of taxpayers money.

Part of the public library service mantra of the past decade has been to assist those less fortunate in bridging the digital divide. Internet access is promoted by libraries as a way to ensure a better educated citizenry. What some forget is that the Internet is not just a big encyclopedia, it a conduit for communications. To be digitally saavy requires us to use the Internet as medium for interacting with others.

As the Internet matures the range of activities conducted over the Internet will continue to grow wider and wider. Value-based restrictions on use of library computers will become more and more arbitrary. If we want to maintain our image of impartial facilitators in the information economy, we need to forgo attempts to control it.


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