The tech volunteers spend a few hours a week in the library computer lab providing technical assistance to patrons as needed. They help patrons with low computer skills improve their computer literacy. This frees up librarians to help patrons with other library needs.
The library offers introductory computer classes that take place in the computer lab. They are fairly informal in part because the lab is cramped and not set up well to separate classes from other patrons. At times it can be difficult to find enough open computers for patrons taking the class.
Many patrons use the computer lab to search and apply for jobs. The librarians would like facilitate this activity in some way. They may do this by creating a separate group of computers designated as job-hunting computers. This space would have literature and other materials to assist these patrons and would be situated close to the reference desk as these patrons often need extra help. Another suggestion would be to have a partnership with the unemployment office. They could come in and provide occasional job training and workshops for patrons.
The computer lab set-up is reminiscent of a classroom. All of the computers face in one direction and are in tightly packed rows. The space is somewhat uninviting – in addition to the cramped computers, there are only small windows and there is nothing on the surrounding walls.
There are different computers designated for different user groups (for example, some computers only seniors can log onto); however, there are no partitions between each group. There are also power poles scattered throughout the lab because there are not enough outlets for all of the computers. These poles are unattractive but necessary.
The librarians are also in the process of removing some reference bookshelves to create more space around the computer lab. They are very open to drastic reorganization of the space.
One of the biggest issues that librarians face is conflicting user groups. Teens and adult patrons want to use the computer lab in different ways which frequently causes problems. The librarians are interested in somehow creating a separate lab space for teens. This could mean putting up some sort of divider or moving some computers to a different place in the library.
Staffing is also an issue that is tied into space. If the computer lab is broken into two sections, there needs to be enough staff to supervise both sections (particularly the teen section).
This project is long-term. As such, the library does not have much funding at all but may in the future. They have requested that we plan and make our suggestions without worrying too much about money (within reason).
The library currently has 40 computers in the lab that we can work with. We may need a few more if we choose to recommend a separate teen space and they choose to implement that now. When possible we will make technology recommendations based on freely available software but may need some funding for propriety software solutions. This could be part of the money we have through the class but it depends on the cost of the software.
Our priorities are making the space more user-friendly for all patrons and making administration of the lab easier for librarians. Thus, we are going focus first on how to restructure the lab to include a designated teen space.
Because we are creating project plans rather than implementing a physical change, there is little that cannot change. We have a lot of flexibility and as long as our suggestions are reasonable and doable in the future, we will have accomplished our job as consultants.
We will each be making an effort to see and explore other libraries in order to get ideas and inspiration.