Monday, October 23, 2006

Question for Other Academic Librarians

For those of you who work in an academic library:

Do you allow student employees to use their personal laptops at service points such as at circulation or reference desks?

We have an increasing number of student employees using their laptops at our circulation desk, and it's beginning to bother me. The laptops take up valuable work space, and I think they make the student employees appear unavailable to patrons.

But I don't know if I'm being a stick in the mud or if my issues are valid. No one else on staff has suggested banning personal laptops from the circ desk.

We do allow student workers to do school work when not busy with patrons, but I've had to tell a few of them to put some of their stuff away because they'd spread out too much across the desk, but I don't mind if they read a handout or work from a text book. I feel differently about laptops. Maybe it's because I can easily move a handout or book if it's in my way, but I have to be careful with a laptop especially since they're usually plugged in, tethered to a spot. Also I don't understand why the students can't use the computers at the desk. Our circ computers have all the major programs and high speed internet access. Having a laptop at the desk seems redundant.

Anyone have an opinion or policy they can share?



I feel bad for not telling y'all that circ computers have no restrictions on them. Student workers can surf the net, download stuff, install programs, and IM. That bit of info is kind of useful isn't it? Sorry again.



Anonymous libwitch said...

I work at a good size university and at both libraries, students are not allowed to have laptops while they are working, nor are they allowed to have anything with headphones or cell phones. Books and other work is permitted as long as they are kept on their lap - students would often hestitate to walk up the desk if a student was seen reading a book on the desk!

We do have an Info Commons in our library, and the students there are not library employees. They are permiited to have laptops. Thet get very little walk up traffic compared to our reference desk. We have to take the students who come up to our desk over to them - the students all say the same thing "I thought the student was working!" when they see the laptops.

Their sups don't care, but then again, that dept is not known on campus for a customer service ethos.

9:56 AM, October 24, 2006  
Blogger Nike said...

We don't have a policy about laptops. And so far no problems. Our students mostly read. Only during mid-terms and finals do we see a lot of laptops. And we've had to ask them to keep them out of sight. But that's it.

4:03 PM, October 24, 2006  
Anonymous Kathleen said...

I'm a grad student (MSIS) right now, and unfortunately, about 3/4s of my readings are in computer based form: .doc, .pdf, websites, and e-books. As much as I would love to print these all out into paper form, it's just not possible. My readings for this semester so far total 4500 pages, only 1200 of which are from textbooks. At 10 cents a sheet at the library, or $50 an ink cartridge at home, it's prohibitively expensive.

Not that I don't agree with you... I'm sure having them work on a laptop makes them look very unavailable. But you should know that if you ban laptops, in many cases, you'll be effectively banning class readings. It's unfortunate, but that seems to be the way things are going.

8:43 PM, October 24, 2006  
Blogger Vampire Librarian said...

Thank you libwitch, Nike, and Kathleen for your comments.

libwitch, I like your policy. I wish we had the guts to do something like that.

nike, our circ desk isn't designed in a way for the students to keep things out of sight. It's just a tall counter, but if it were designed differently, laptops might not be an issue.

Kathleen, they can read off the circ computers. I know that's blunt, but it seems pretty obvious to me. Also, student workers can do course readings on their OFF HOURS. We aren't paying them to do school work. We let them as a perk; it is not a job requirement. Sorry for being snarky. None of this is directed at you. It just seems like the student workers are forgetting this.

9:50 PM, October 24, 2006  
Anonymous Kathleen said...

Well, if they can read on the existing computers I would assume that would be satisfactory...I wasn't aware that circulation desk computers could be used for anything other than catalog searching (first semester and haven't worked in a library yet) so I assumed they'd be blocked from visiting outside websites.

If that's not the case, and they can download .pdfs/word docs and read them at the circ computers, then they should do that. Why on earth would they want to deal with the hassle of having two computers running or lugging around a computer that they have to worry about "walking off" if they step away from the desk? Makes no sense to me...

It is a lovely perk that you allow them to do schoolwork while working, and of course it is a perk, I just wanted to explain why so many of them might be reading off computers instead of paper handouts or textbooks.

10:44 PM, October 24, 2006  
Blogger Vampire Librarian said...


A lot of what you said makes perfect sense to me. Why have two computers? I don't know. I've asked the student workers, and they can't tell me, but they still keep bringing their laptops.

And I now realize that what's obvious to me, can't be to web visitors. It didn't occur to me that you all wouldn't know that our circ computers allow users to surf the net, download stuff, even IM. Now I'm extra sorry for being snarky.

Yeah, a lot of stuff is going strictly on-line. I feel your eye strain pain.

Good luck in school. Hope you get a library job. Student jobs in the library are usually pretty nice.

11:52 PM, October 24, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wouldn't let the kids bring their own laptops, either. Not just from a customer service point of view, but also who knows what gunk they're infected with and plugging into the university network?

Kathleen: I feel your pain, and after enough eyestrain from PDFs on screen I just went back to printing them (education is not a way to save trees). Note that inkjets are for photos; I recommend you grab a laser printer. A $110 toner cartridge will last for 5000+ pages (after it starts to fade, give it a good shake and you've still got another 500 pages left). Paper here runs at about $5 for 500 sheets (less if you buy a case of 2500), so you'd be looking at a fairly reasonable 3-4 cents/page (plus the cost of the printer in the first place).

1:07 AM, October 25, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't work circ, being a lowly shelver until I get a degree, however I wish I had time to just sit and read. If there is a computer available there is no reason for the laptops, especially if they are distracting, not patron friendly, and possible to trip over. Doing any schoolwork is a perk and I would ask them to please put the laptops away. Any complaints should be met with a stack of work that they are actually being paid to do.

2:11 AM, October 25, 2006  
Blogger manogirl said...

We also have a policy of no laptops, nothing with headphones, and cell phones have to be off. Our students are here to help out people who come to the desk, shelve our materials, and pull materials when we need them pulled (and also serve people in our little cafe).

IF that is all done, then they may have time for homework, and they are not prohibited from using the computers in whatever way they want--for homework. We also don't allow IMs at the circ desk, nor do we allow facebook or myspace (not library-wide, just when working circ) because we've noticed that it severely impacts our students' ability to get the job done correctly.

It seems strict, I guess, but we're fairly busy all day, and we need students to be paying attention to what's going on around them, not their friend's newest myspace profile.

7:40 AM, October 25, 2006  
Blogger listmaker said...

I haven't had any students attempt to bring their laptops to work, but we would definitely ban them from the circ desk (along with ipods and cell phones).

6:33 PM, October 25, 2006  
Blogger Julie said...

I wish we could make a rule against it. I just can't think of any real reason why it should be disallowed, despite the fact that the circ desk computers have internet and Microsoft Office. If they're using their own computers, at least they're downloading less crap onto ours.

8:08 AM, October 26, 2006  
Blogger Katya said...

We've been lucky, I think. Our student workers haven't tried to bring in their laptops to work. I guess they know that they can use the circ desk computes for their homework if they are not busy. I don't think my department head would allow it -- she'd think it would make the students think the student worker was unavailable.

12:06 PM, October 27, 2006  
Blogger Vampire Librarian said...

Thank you everyone for your input.

I don't want to be the one to suggest this to my boss because I'm already considered the strict freak.

It's comforting though that so many see this my way. Wish you worked at Library X.

7:01 PM, October 29, 2006  
Blogger Spike said...

13 comments! Laptops is as hot an issue as Stapler Abuse :)

10:46 PM, November 01, 2006  
Anonymous Arkham said...

I'd institute a policy that they have to use the circ computers. I know that using one's own computer is a matter of comfort, does seem that it would make them look unavailable.

In our academic library, I've never noticed laptops in the circ department, but I'd guess that to use them, the student workers would have to sit at one of the desks behind the desk and get up when there's a patron (which wouldn't be that different from what they do now...I've always thought our circ desk is...extraordinarily casual.)

3:39 PM, November 09, 2006  

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