Saturday, June 28, 2008

Print Management Systems

The Ypsilanti District Library uses "SAM PC Activity Manager" software. They give out guest passes, manage patron time on public computers, and printing. It is a nice self-service program that allows patrons to just sit down, type in their library card number, and go. They can put money on their library card to pay for print-outs, and they can get their print-outs at a self-serve kiosk computer. Their library card profile indicates the level of filtering - higher for children and lower for adults, generally. Staff only have to intervene to give more time than the one-hour default when requested by patrons, and to hand out guest passes for those who are not eligible for library cards.

In theory, this is a great idea. As a savvy patron, when I go to a public library I appreciate being able to do my own thing without having to ask for assistance.

In practice, however, it is not always so smooth. There is a big learning curve to help the public figure out:
a. where to go to get their prints
b. how to put money on their library card
c. what numbers to type in to log on
d. where to go to ask for more time on a computer
e. that if they don't bring their library card they can't print without purchasing a separate print card

I worry that this learning curve dissuades the public from using the library's computer services. It is just too much of a hassle to bother, so they go to a friend's house or just sacrifice the joys of computer use.

I believe that libraries should go out of their way to make access as easy and obvious to the public as possible. If they do use these management systems, they should position an employee or computer-savvy volunteer in an obvious location near the public computers to help people. (Of course, larger libraries have a whole different set of issues that go along with public computers, so my comments are really directed at small and medium-sized libraries.) The Ypsilanti District Library is really wonderful about this - kudos to them! They are available, willing, visible, and able to help the public with whatever computer problem may arise.

That, after all, is really the bottom line.

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