Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Student Use of Library Computers: Are Desktop Computers Still Relevant in Today's Libraries?

Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Student Use of Library Computers: Are Desktop Computers Still Relevant in Today's Libraries?

Article excerpt

Academic libraries have traditionally provided computers for students to access their collections and, more recently, facilitate all aspects of studying. Recent changes in technology, particularly the increased presence of mobile devices, calls into question how libraries can best provide technology support and how it might affect the use of other library services. A two-year study conducted at California State University San Marcos library analyzed student use of computers in the library, both the library's own desktop computers and laptops owned by students. The study found that, despite the increased ownership of mobile technology by students, they still clearly preferred to use desktop computers in the library. It also showed that students who used computers in the library were more likely to use other library services and physical collections.

INTRODUCTION

For more than thirty years, it has been standard practice in libraries to provide some type of computer facility to assist students in their research. Originally, the focus was on providing access to library resources, first the online catalog and then journal databases. For the past decade or so, this has expanded to general-use computers, often in an information-commons environment, capable of supporting all aspects of student research from original resource discovery to creation of the final paper or other research product. However, times are changing and the ready access to mobile technology has brought into question whether libraries need to or should continue to provide dedicated desktop computers. Do students still use and value access to computers in the library? What impact does student computer use have on the library and its other services? Have we reached the point where we should reevaluate how we use computers to support student research?

California State University San Marcos (CSUSM) is a public university with about nine thousand students, primarily undergraduates from the local area. CSUSM was established in 1991 and is one of the youngest campuses in the 23-campus California State University system. The library, originally located in space carved out of an administration building, moved into its own dedicated library building in 2004. One of the core principles in planning the new building was the vision of the library as a teaching and learning center. As a result, a great deal of thought went into the design of technology to support this vision. Rather than viewing technology's role as just supporting access to library resources, we expanded its role to providing cradle-to-grave support for the entire research process. We also felt that encouraging students to work in the library would encourage use of traditional library materials and the expertise of library staff, since these resources would be readily available. (1)

Rethinking our assumptions about library technology's role in the student research process led us to consider the entire building as a partner in the students' learning process. Rather than centralizing all computer support in one information commons, we wanted to provide technology wherever students want to use it. We used two strategies. First, we provided centralized technology using more than two hundred desktop computers, most located in four of our learning spaces: reference, classrooms, the media library, and the computer lab. Three of these spaces are configured like information commons, providing full-service research computers grouped around the service desks near each library entrance. In addition, simplified "walk-up" computers are available on every floor. The simplified computers provide limited web services to encourage quick turnaround and no login requirement to ensure ready access to library collections for everyone, including community members. The other major component of our technology plan was the provision of wireless throughout the building, along with extensive power outlets to support mobile computing. …

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