Posted by Lori Ayre on February 13, 2006

Multipurpose public access computers in public libraries are often used by patrons who can't afford a computer and/or Internet access, who need help using computers, who wish to gain experience with computers and business software, or who are away from home and need to use a computer or the Internet for business or school. Internet-only, or Express computers provide a useful service, they do not address the full range of needs facing public library patrons.

Because the public access computer is the only computer available for many people, it is important that the computer provides an interface that closely resembles a PC that the user is likely to encounter in a new job, at school or at a friend's home. To help address the digital divide, the library computer should not be so different from a normal PC that the user is unable to translate their experience on the library's computer to other computing environments.

Library multipurpose computers are used by many patrons to apply for jobs, look up information about medical conditions, download government forms and do homework, conduct research. Therefore, it is important that library computers provide programs users most often need including word processing software for writing resumes and doing homework and Adobe Acrobat Reader for viewing and printing forms. Other productivity applications such as Excel and Powerpoint are important for business users and students.

Multipurpose computer users should be able to save files to the computer and to a removable drive such as a USB device or floppy. User should also be able to print and email files from the computer, use web-based email programs, search websites, and view state-of-the-art web pages.

Library use of Internet filters should be transparent and manageable. Patrons should be told that a filter is in place and how to turn it off or bypass it (some library policies require staff to assist patrons with this process). Patrons should be told when websites have been blocked and keyword blocking should never be used because it results in over blocking.

Library computers are increasing in importance to both libraries and patrons. The popularity of public access computers has played a part in increases in library use. Recognizing and supporting the broad range of services associated with the use of public computers is important to the future of public libraries.

Use this link to download a copy of this post which includes software and configuration recommendations.