Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Authentication and Access: Accommodating Public Users in an Academic World

Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Authentication and Access: Accommodating Public Users in an Academic World

Article excerpt

In the fall of 2004, the Academic Computing Center, a division of the Information Technology Services Department (ITS) at Minnesota State University, Mankato took over responsibility for the computers in the public areas of Memorial Library. For the first time, affiliated Memorial Library users were required to authenticate using a campus username and password, a change that effectively eliminated computer access for anyone not part of the university community. This posed a dilemma for the librarians. Because of its Federal Depository status, the library had a responsibility to provide general access to both print and online government publications for the general public. Furthermore, the library had a long tradition of providing guest access to most library resources, and there was reluctance to abandon the practice. Therefore the librarians worked with ITS to retain a small group of six computers that did not require authentication and were clearly marked for community use, along with several standup, open-access computers on each floor used primarily for searching the library catalog. The additional need to provide computer access to high school students visiting the library for research and instruction led to more discussions with ITS and resulted in a means of generating temporary usernames and passwords through a Web form. These user accommodations were implemented in the library without creating a written policy governing the use of open-access computers.


Over time, library staff realized that guidelines for guests using the computers were needed because of misuse of the open-access computers. We were charged with the task of drafting these guidelines. In typical librarian fashion, we searched websites, including those of Association of Research Libraries (ARL) members for existing computer access policies in academic libraries. We obtained very little information through this search, so we turned to ARL publications for assistance. Library Public Access Workstation Authentication by Lori Driscoll, was of greater benefit and offered much of the needed information, but it was dated. (1) A research result described in Cook and Shelton's Managing Public Computing, which confirmed the lack of applicable guidelines on academic websites, had more up-to-date information but was not available to the researchers at the time the project was initiated. (2) In the course of research, the authors developed the following questions:

* How many ARL libraries require affiliated users to log into public computer workstations within the library?

* How many ARL libraries provide the means to authenticate guest users and allow them to log on to the same computers used by affiliates?

* How many ARL libraries offer open-access computers for guests to use? Do these libraries provide both open-access computers and the means for guest user authentication?

* How do Federal Depository Library Program libraries balance their policy requiring computer authentication with the obligation to provide public access to government information?

* Do computers provided for guest use (open access or guest login) provide different software or capabilities than those provided to affiliated users?

* How many ARL libraries have written policies for the use of open-access computers? If a policy exists, what is it?

* How many ARL libraries have written policies for authenticating guest users? If a policy exists, what is it?

* Literature Review

Since the 1950s there has been considerable discussion within library literature about academic libraries serving "external," "secondary," or "outside" users. The subject has been approached from the viewpoint of access to the library facility and collections, reference assistance, interlibrary loan (ILL) service, borrowing privileges, and (more recently) access to computers and Internet privileges, including the use of proprietary databases. …

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