Terminals, kiosks, and clusters … oh my!

Why do libraries have to have so many different kinds of “public” computers?
This probably does not quite reach the status of Sacred Cow, but every library I visit has at least 2, and sometimes 3-4, different kinds of computers available for users. At most academic libraries, there are computers for the public, and computers for those with school affiliated ID’s. Usually, the public machines have less software and restricted access to online resources, usually because of licensing restrictions that require us to limit access to ID holders only.

In my library, we have Public Kiosks, ID-Only Kiosks, and ID-Only Clusters. And we have Macs and PCs in each category; so we have 6 different kinds of computers available. Is this really necessary?

In my ideal library, every computer is a dual-boot machine, with the option of logging in with a university ID. A patron can sit down at any computer, decide whether they want a Mac or Windows operating system, and log in with their University ID if they have one or use only publically available resources if they don’t.

I’m especially baffled by “Catalog-only kiosks” — which are stripped down machines designed to be used only for quick catalog look-ups. These machines usually have only an internet browser and some simple text editor — no Word, or Excel, or any other useful program. I’m told we can’t add Word or other production programs because we don’t want patrons hogging these machines for long writing sessions, etc. But what would be so horrible about someone sitting in a library, writing a paper?
Most libraries I know are worried about declining numbers of visitors, yet we have policies and computer configurations that discourage lingering??? This is one of many Library Contradictions that I will write about in more detail later.

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