I recently read a blog post from David Lee King titled Doing Stuff at the Library’s Website. He asks what can a person DO at your library website. I have been pondering this, as David encourages us to.
Normally our websites provide information (when/where is activity x) or access to information resources (catalog/databases/etc). They usually don’t offer online programing (either the event or computer kind of program) nor do the provide access to events going on in the library. At least one person said in the comments section that many of those things can be done on the broader internet. Of course there is always the question of access….
So today, while helping a student visiting from another academic institution, I had reason to ponder some more. My library has several computers that anyone, whether affiliated with the university or not, can use. These systems have restricted access to the internet – people can access .edu, .org, .gov, .mil, and .museum domains. I can see this. The university has a mission and funding parameters. It is nice that we can even have any research stations for visitors.
The computers also have read only versions of some Microsoft Office products – so one can view a Word document but not edit it. I’m sure this has to do with licensing agreements, etc…. OK, that’s fine. I’m sure that also prevents people from just coming in and sitting at our computers all day rather than using their hour at the public library (we do offer access to the wireless network if people bring their own laptop – they just have to get a temporary passcode).
Back to the student I was helping earlier. He wanted to add some research notes to some of his own documents. He had a USB flash drive, but was not able to edit his documents. I’ve tried to use one of my U3 flash drives on the campus computers (it has OpenOffice on it), but I only found one computer on which it would ever work. I thought, oh, why not just use Google Docs – hmm, that’s right no Google (its a .com).
Then I remembered the post mentioned above. What if this student from accross the country had a library with things he could DO on their website – maybe they would have a note taking gadget/widget/thing where he could store notes (and later retrieve them, too!). I then wondered how many of our students and faculty have been in a similar situation. What if we had a place to go on our site where people could take notes (and do other useful things, along with a few fun ones, too)?
We don’t need to be an all-encompassing portal to the internet, but if there are useful tools which would improve the experiences and work flows of our patrons, wouldn’t it be worth exploring them? Maybe we can add a custom setup of Google Docs/Apps, accessible through our domain and tailored to our users. Or find/create the tools we need/want through the open source community. Now, I’m sure there are many privacy issues that would come up and need to be addressed if we are offering any type of DO-able activities that may store people’s information (or at least acknowledge issues if shunting them to a third party provider) – but it seems well worth the time to ponder and explore.