I went to a library today to do some research and some writing on my laptop. The internet browsing librarian informed me that I wasn’t allowed to plug my computer in to the outlet. I asked why and he said it was “library policy”. This wasn’t an answer–he was just being redundant. I prodded a bit more and found him even less helpful–probably because I was infringing on his valuable web surfing activities. I gave up and just used my battery.
Most libraries are trying to redesign themselves to attract people. I’ve been to some where they added rows and rows of tables with Ethernet and power jacks for people with laptops. This one seems to be concerned that patrons might actually come to the library. Has anyone else run into this at a library?
Andrew Flusche says
That really sucks! I’d talk to the boss librarian about that one. It’s insane to not let people plug in their laptops! I’m sure they don’t want people plugging in a mini-fridge, but a laptop is expected equipment in today’s library.
Mark Shead says
I heard back from them on email. Here was the response:
This doesn’t explain why there is a policy to keep people from using existing outlets. There was one plainly visible under a library table behind the librarian I was talking with. Maybe they are trying to say that someone plugging in a laptop might overload the circuit, but this seems unlikely.
I used to work at a large urban public library, and supervise the public computer area. Our library had the same policy, because the outlets were few and far between and people had been fighting over them. (Ask any library employee where the worst troublemakers congregate and I guarantee you’ll be told it’s around the computer area.)
We were dealing with concrete floors where adding more outlets would have meant major construction problems. So after a few altercations the policy was changed to say “You can’t use the outlets.” The staff didn’t like it, the patrons didn’t like it, but neither did we have to deal with people shoving each other to try to get at the few outlets available.
It’s sad to say, but public computers in public library are flypaper for jerks. And unfortunately, the jerks spoil it all for everyone else who’s just trying to use a computer (their own or the library’s) in peace.
Mark Shead says
@Infmom – I’ve definitely seen some of the jerks congregating around the public computers, but they were mainly kids who didn’t know how to behave. Other than that the users are usually playing flash based games or filling out job applications, rebates, etc.
Did your library offer wireless internet access? This one doesn’t even offer that, so I don’t think they are going to have many people wanting to come in with a laptop. In fact, I’ve never seen anyone else with a laptop there.
What strikes me as odd, is that this is the same community of 7,000 people that was trying to put in a 6 million dollar public aquatic center in order to help attract what they called “employees who are mobile”.
It is possible that the policy was put in place to correct a real problem, but I’m guessing it is just a matter of the town having one mindset of what they want to achieve and a different mindset that determines their policies.
Jille Floridor says
Maybe it is because I live in Belgium, but our school library has a completely different policy. Next to the public computers, our users are encouraged to bring their own laptop.
True, electrical outlets might be scarce, but that didn’t cause any riots (yet). Our users are not allowed to plug into the wired ethernet, but we installed two different wireless networks; one for members and one for guests.
For our library visitors, this policy seems to work just fine.
At the library I work at, I get the impression it’s first come first serve. If there’s an outlet and you need to charge something, it’s yours. I’ve seen laptops, cell phones and media players plugged into the wall while they’re being used.
We haven’t had an issue with it that I’ve seen, but we’re getting more and more people bringing laptops in, so we might be bumping into it soon.
Mark Shead says
“First come, first serve” is what i was expecting. I’m still trying to clarify the reasoning behind their policy. If there isn’t anything behind it, I’ll probably send a letter to the city or to the local newspaper editor.
Yanos Solong says
It makes sense considering my experiences with the Brooklyn library system, which reminds me of the public school system–dealing with very limited budgets and attempting to provide a wide variety of services. A lot of people use the library system, and some branches are running ragged keeping the facility clean and organized. I can definitely see cutbacks in the construction budget contributing to overloaded circuits, or as infmom says, a few jerks cause them to just cut the Gordian knot and ban anyone from using the outlets.
In any case, increased funding would solve the problem, but it doesn’t seem likely if libraries are funded by local government. Is it realistic in the modern day to expect them to foot the bill? Suddenly I foresaw a future where library patrons will have to pay subscriber’s fees in order to check out books, much less plug in their laptop.
While most librarians I’ve known are helpful, resourceful sorts who truly enjoy making the world a brighter place to live, this is not always the case. Some, especially in the few small towns in which I’ve had the mixed blessing to live, seem to consider themselves guardians of knowledge; protectors of the sanctity of education.
It is often this crowd that can be thanked for book bans, censorship, and the teaching of nonsense like “intelligent design”.
My advice: find a library whose staff doesn’t go out of its way to make you unwelcome.
Mark Shead says
@Yanos – Considering the very limited power draw of a laptop and the fact that there is only one or two outlets where they could be used, I really doubt it is because of overloading circuits.
It is pretty laid back and the six computers hooked to the internet that were donated by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are the busiest thing in the library. I was there for two hours and there were three people who came in to look for a book and five that came to use the computers. They don’t offer wireless internet so it isn’t like a bunch of people are going to show up with laptops.
Mark Shead says
@Eli – In a town of 7,000 people, we are luck to have a single Carnegie library. :) The local community college might be an option I haven’t looked into yet.
“It is possible that the policy was put in place to correct a real problem…”
1. Power chair owners using library’s outlet to recharge chair’s battery.
2. Owners of cellphones, and PDAs using outlet to recharge device’s battery and refusing to let laptop owners plug in to do research.
I agree the library person was not helpful to you. Policies are usually written in response to multiple incidents and a quick explanation would have been courteous.
@Mark: The biggest jerks around the computers at the library where I used to work were not kids. And the problems were magnified a thousandfold by dimwit administrators who have now for a full decade refused to install software that logs the patrons in and out of the computers (heaven forbid anyone should actually have to identify themselves in any way to use a computer). So there is nothing to prevent someone from staying well past his or her assigned hour and squabbling with anyone who dares come along and say it’s their turn.
The library system put in wireless access less than a year ago. As far as I can tell, though, they have not added any more outlets for the public.
There is a library that has an Emira Gulch character there. She forbids any of her staff to help people with problems with the library computers. She is a snoody person and not a good example of a public servant. Our tax money goes to these places and she is not helpful and rude. Aren”t library staff and head librarian suppose to be of help to people needing it? Is she getting by with this?