Extending public computer time... how libraries do it

I ran across an excellent post on the CALIX list this week (California libraries) that was worth sharing. Kathleen K. Smith, Projects Librarian at the Fresno County Public Library took it upon herself to ask, "what is your policy for when a patron asks for an extended period of time to complete their work on the public computers?" And then she shared the responses! Read on to find out what California libraries do in this situation.

Summary of Responses:

  • Reservation software allows time extension if computer is still available.
  • Many seem to have a policy that allows staff to make exceptions when necessary and when demand is low. It may or may not be written policy, but more of a an accepted practice.
  • As a caveat to this, a library might designate a high-use period where only shorter sessions are allowed - no extensions at all.
  • Dedicate certain PCs for extended use - word processing, homework, etc. Some libraries have these outside the reservation software and monitor them manually.
  • Recognize extended use needs of patrons with disabilities and devise a way to work around reservation software to achieve this.
  • Offer hourly pay-for-use computers.
  • Allow OPACs to access specific resources while blocking general internet surfing (i.e. databases, tax forms, etc.)

Placer County Library:

We allow branch staff to make exceptions when necessary and when demand is low. Our policy is that “Generally computers are checked out for an hour but the policy may vary from branch-to-branch.” http://www.placer.ca.gov/Departments/Library/PoliciesProcedures/ComputerUsePolicy.aspx

Escondido Public Library:

If the automatic extension is not offered to user as set up in the software, the user needs to make another reservation if they want to continue. They have a number of PCs dedicated for only specific uses (i.e. database use, job search, resume writing, word processing, homework only). These run outside the reservation software and are monitored by staff relative to type of activity and length of use. http://www.escondido.org/library/about/computer_reservation_faq.htm

Oakland Public Library:

Their policy for standard computer use allows 1 hour per day. They also have a policy that gives an extra hour of computer time for users with disabilities with verification of the disability. The user is assigned a special library card that can be used for a 2nd hour of computer use. This second card cannot be used to check out materials and will be revoked if given or loaned to another patron, or if library rules regarding computer use are broken. http://www.oaklandlibrary.org/about/internet_policy.html

Pasadena Public Library:

Staff are given the authority to override the usual 1-hour time limit, but are very conservative with using the override. And it’s usually on a completely different PC because the original PC already has another reservation on it. They also have pay-for-use computers @ $4 dollars an hour that we direct patrons to. http://www.cityofpasadena.net/library/computersatthelibrary.asp

Amador County Library:

Staff have authority to extend a user’s time for taking tests, applying for a job, homework, etc. if computers are available. However they limit all sessions to 30 minutes between 3-5 p.m. during the school year because that is a high demand time slot. http://www.co.amador.ca.us/depts/library/index.cfm?id=5#computer

Irwindale Public Library:

Allows staff to make exceptions when necessary and when demand is low.

Sacramento Public Library:

The library also has the ability to extend reservation period for cause, but has made all its subscription databases as well as links to the tax forms on the IRS and FTB web sites available from all OPACs. OPACs are not requestable, and do not go to any other web sites, nor do they have application software installed, such as Word or Excel.

California State Library recommendation:

Ira Bray at the State Library recommended reviewing the MaintainIT Project Cookbook on WebJunction [or Meal Plan 5 on our site] at http://www.webjunction.org/basic-maintenance/articles/content/3392138. Here’s a paragraph on page 52 of the document / page 60 of the pdf file that provides a possible option.

Different reservation policies for different computers
Although many libraries enforce a single reservation policy across all of their public access computers, others prefer to suit the policy to the purpose of the computer. For instance, on standard Internet access computers, patrons can reserve one-hour blocks. However, the library may designate a few workstations for research only or for resume building and job searching. On these PCs, patrons can reserve two hour blocks. On the other hand, there may be some walk-up/quick-use computers with 15-minute limits. Generally, patrons can’t reserve these machines in advance. When all of the computers in the library are reserved, the turnover at these quick use stations is much faster than at other stations.

Other discussions of related topics on: http://www.webjunction.org/public-access


Thank you for highlighting this. It was a great discussion on Calix. I've seen the same on Publib with no follow-up list like this. We're in with Fresno and upgrading our public computer time management system next month.

Your welcome, Jeff. It's a tricky subject that lots of folks solve differently. I'm glad you found it helpful, and hope your upgrade goes smoothly!