Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Policies Governing Use of Computing Technology in Academic Libraries

Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Policies Governing Use of Computing Technology in Academic Libraries

Article excerpt

The networked computing environment is a vital resource for academic libraries. Ever-increasing use dictates the prudence of having a comprehensive computer-use policy in force. Universities often have an overarching policy or policies governing the general use of computing technology that helps to safeguard the university equipment, software, and network against inappropriate use. Libraries often benefit from having an adjunct policy that works to emphasize the existence and important points of higher-level policies, while also providing a local context for systems and policies pertinent to the library in particular. Having computer-use policies at the university and library level helps provide a comprehensive, encompassing guide for the effective and appropriate use of this vital resource.


For clients of academic libraries, the computing environment and access to online information is an essential part of everyday service--every bit as vital as having a printed collection on the shelf. The computing environment has grown in positive ways--higher-caliber hardware and software, evolving methods of communication, and large quantities of accurate online information content. It has also grown in many negative ways--the propagation of worms and viruses, other methods of hacking and disruption, and inaccurate informational content. As the computing environment has grown, it has become essential to have adequate and regularly reviewed policies governing its use. Often, if not always, overarching policies exist at a broad institutional or even larger systemwide level. Such policies can govern the use of all university equipment, software, and network access within the library and elsewhere on campus, such as campus computer labs. A single policy may encompass every easily conceivable computing-related topic, or there may be several individual policies. Apart from any document drafted and enforced at the university level, various public laws exist that also govern appropriate computer-use behavior, whether in academia or on the beach. Many institutions have separate policies governing employee use of computer resources; this paper focuses on student use of computing technologies.

In some cases, the library and the additional campus student-computer infrastructure (for example, campus labs and dormitory computer access) are governed by the same organizational entity, so the higher-level policy and the library policy are de facto the same. In many instances, libraries have enacted additional computer-use policies. Such policies may emphasize or augment certain points found in the institution-level policy(s), address concerns specific to the library environment, or both. This paper surveys the scope of what are most commonly referred to as "computer-use policies," specifically, those geared toward the student-client population. Common elements found in university-level policies (and often later emphasized in the library policy) are identified. A discussion on additional topics generally more specific to the library environment, and often found in library computer-use policies, follows. The final section takes a look at the computer-use environment at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), the various policies in force, and identifies where certain elements are spelled out--at the university level, the library level, or both.

Policy Basics

Purpose and Scope

Policies can serve several purposes. A policy is defined as:

   a plan or course of action ... intended to influence and
   determine decisions, actions, and other matters. A
   course of action, guiding principle, or procedure considered
   expedient, prudent, or advantageous. (1)

Any sound university has a comprehensive computer-use policy readily available and visible to all members of the university community--faculty, staff, students, and visitors. Some institutions have drafted a universal policy that seeks to cover all the pertinent bases pertaining to the use of computing technology. …

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