You didn't happen to bring your ID, did you?

She peered over at me, eyebrow raised, and asked, "how old are you?"

Unprepared to answer such a personal question, I stumbled and paused, mouth opened.

"Thirty-five," I responded. "Is there an age limit?"
"Oh! No, but you have to be eighteen."

I blushed. I was standing at the reference desk at the Humboldt County Library in Eureka, CA, trying to sign up to use a public computer. PC reservation is such a hot topic, and I wanted to learn how it worked at this library. At Humboldt County Library, the first step is getting a Guest Pass, and then walking over to the Reservation Computer.

reservation

I made a reservation for the next available computer--#8--and wandered over to the bank of computers to stake out the computer I'd be using. Even though #8 was busy, 4 computers (out of 8) were not in use. Curious, I looked on each screen to see what was going on. Each computer was reserved for a future time, and each patron hadn't shown up.

What I've learned from libraries is that there are kinks and bumps with PC Reservation systems, and as one librarian said, "the whole system is very dependent on reading what's on screen. And no one reads any of it." She added that the time gained from upgrading to a computerized system has been lost due to patron and staff training. What was once a pencil and paper operation for patrons is now an issue of computer literacy.

This is a BIG issue! I'd love to hear more about what libraries are learning.

Comments

This is definitely an issue for many libraries as each time management (and filtering) companies have different procedures and instructions. At my library, computer usage is tied to the library card. If you need to access the computers, you will need to get a card. If you are not a resident, you can get a card for $2 that is good for a year. To access, they need a library card number and pin (which is often the last four digits of their phone number). You would be surprised how many people can memorize their 13 digit library card number. It is a fairly painless process. Nothing like what you described above.

Thanks for your thoughts, Jeff. I AM surprised how many people memorize their library card number! wow.

I haven't heard any libraries that charge for those who don't have a library card. Have you experienced any frustration from patrons about the $2 charge? I wonder how a fee would go over in areas where there are high volumes of tourists? I know in some libraries they try to use the Guest Pass or some facsimile to promote getting a library card. In most cases, it's much easier to sign up for a public computer if you have a library card.

I'm happy to hear it has been a painless process at your library. I have so many questions for you. :)

How long have you used a PC Reservation system?
And what was it like before you started using a computerized system?
How do the patrons respond to the computerized system? Is it intuitive? Do staff have to help them through it the first time?

We have had PC Reservation since July, and there is good news and bad news. It is hard to tie into our system concerning fines and expired cards, but does save policing in some areas. Two one hour sessions a day are offered and special overrides may be done for reports and business needs. Very few advance reservations are being made, but I think that aspect has not struck home with patrons yet.

One major drawback is either memorizing other folks' card numbers or randomly entering logical numbers. Discovery can lead to removal of all library privileges and it mainly happens with young MySpacers who have acquired large fines in other areas. We have guest cards where noncard holders can use computer 20 minutes. They are stand up and inconvenience usually causes local patrons to switch to a regular card.

Thanks for sharing your experiences. I've heard much about the benefits these systems offer for reporting usage data, and I wonder how usage would change if people were to start making advance reservations. When I was at the Humboldt County Library, I over heard a patron asking the reference librarian how far in advance he could schedule a public computer. The librarian told him he could reserve it as far as he needed, and he proceeded to begin flipping through pages of his calendar as he wandered over to the reservation station.

I've also heard from libraries about how they use the Guest Passes as a way to encourage non-library card holders to get one. I've over heard librarians asking patrons if they're local or visiting in order to give them 1) the correct type of pass; and 2) give them the one that touts the advantages of having a library card, beyond the fact that they could use the public computers for a longer time span.

I can't believe that people are memorizing card numbers--or really, even trying to do such a thing! I'm obviously not that devious :)