Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Internet Policies in Midsized Academic Libraries

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Internet Policies in Midsized Academic Libraries

Article excerpt

Today's libraries struggle with many issues associated with Internet use. Many have found that the demand for Internet workstations frequently exceeds the supply. In addition, academic librarians are concerned about patrons using reference workstations for nonresearch activities, such as e-mailing, chats, games, and viewing offensive materials. We conducted a survey of midsized academic libraries to identify the decisions libraries have made concerning Internet use and policies in the reference area. About half of the respondents have a written policy governing Internet use. The majority has placed some restrictions on e-mail, chats, and games; about half have restricted the viewing of "pornography" in the reference area.

Internet service in academic libraries has become common and expected; its prevalence has expanded exponentially over the last decade. American Library Association data indicate that users have access to Internet terminals in the libraries of 93 percent of all doctorate-granting institutions, 82 percent of master's colleges, 76 percent of baccalaureate colleges, and 61 percent of associate of arts colleges.(1) Because this information was gathered in 1996, it is safe to assume that the numbers are even more impressive today.

The first mention of the Internet in library literature occurred in 1988.(2) However, it was not until the mid-1990s that the Internet gained prominence as a reference area tool. Early Internet application--e-mail, FTP, and Telnet--were simply file transmission or computer access tools. When Gopher was introduced in 1991 and the first Web browser introduced in 1993, the Internet became a publishing medium in its own right. Although its potential as a reference tool was becoming apparent, its early use was impeded by slow access speeds and lack of useful content. An early article about Internet resources as a reference tool encouraged librarians to take a leadership role, seeing a strong need for such "salesmanship" tasks as increasing patron awareness of Internet resources and training patrons in the use of these resources.(3)

As hardware quality, network speed, content, and user expectations evolved, libraries began to see the Internet as an integral part of reference service. While the Internet's future promise and potential were acknowledged, in fact, nobody knew exactly what issues and concerns lay ahead. Libraries, which usually are dependent on budgeting from a parent institution or governmental entity, were handicapped in their attempts to plan ahead. Academic libraries, while benefiting from the computer support provided by their academic community, were and continue to be dependent on the computing network infrastructure imposed by the parent institution.

The Present

Many librarians probably would admit to having a love-hate relationship with the Internet and its attendant advantages and problems. On one hand, the Internet is a serious reference tool and frequently the fastest, most up-to-date method for answering reference questions.(4) In addition to the wealth of information found on free Web sites, the Internet is useful as a conduit for "traditional" reference tools, such as proprietary databases. Its usefulness for providing reference services to distance education students is unmatched. Increasingly, users are becoming comfortable with this resource which, in turn, has enhanced its value.

The many advantages of using the Internet as a reference tool are offset by numerous drawbacks. While librarians are fully aware that the Internet is not perfect, many users seem to view it as a panacea for all their information needs. What librarian has not heard the plaintive hope, "But surely it's on the Internet."? The very fact that students have become so comfortable using this resource has complicated the issue for libraries. Clients now are often reluctant to leave the comfort of Internet searching to venture into the unknown maze of traditional research sources. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.