(This Position Paper is written from the point of view of the Information Department at the hypothetical “Ivy Walls University.” It was written for the “Information Policy” course at the University of Iowa School of Library and Information Science. )
“University Administration is considering the implementation of video surveillance in the library to alleviate parent and librarian concerns that students are using library computers to access Social Networking Sites (SNS). Some parents think that SNS are a safety threat as well as a poor use of tuition dollars. Librarians have concerns about recreational computer use, too; at times they intervene on behalf of students who want to study when no other computers are available, and librarians feel that some students who use computers recreationally are rude or verbally abusive in these situations.
“Video surveillance in the library could encourage students to limit their recreational activities and to behave more appropriately towards library personnel and other students. However, cameras might also be viewed as overly invasive and could ultimately limit or even censor students’ information-seeking activities.
“The Ivy Walls Information Department recommends that library video surveillance not be implemented at this time. Less costly and invasive solutions could adequately address parent and librarian concerns while meeting the information needs of our students. In particular, we recommend 1) setting up several catalog-only computer kiosks for students who need to access the library catalog, and 2) imposing a time limit on use of other library computers.
“By designating select computers as catalog-only, this will disable recreational use of these computers and ensure that students who need computers to locate library resources will likely be able to do so.
“Of course, most students’ information needs far exceed use of the library catalog. Our second recommendation, to impose time limits on computers, seeks to address the greater problem of balancing students’ recreational Internet use with limited computing resources at the library. By imposing time limits, students will be encouraged to spend their Internet time at the library more prudently. If students know they only have two hours, for instance, to research a paper topic, they will be much less likely to use SNS during this time.
“This solution also relieves librarians of the burden of intervening in student computer conflicts. The time limit would be electronically managed via students’ university usernames and passwords, and would only be enforced if other students were waiting in a queue. The technology required to implement this system would be much less costly than that of installing and monitoring video surveillance equipment.
“Video surveillance at the library could very well create more problems than it would solve. Libraries, especially those in public universities, are places to freely access information and ideas. Indeed, the freedom to express and access ideas is granted in the first amendment of our constitution. If the library is under video surveillance, this could negatively influence information-seeking activities in students; for instance, they may choose not to seek information that they believe could be controversial or even antithetical to the perceived ideologies of university professors or administrators. Even worse, students may stop using the library at all if to do so means they will be under video surveillance.
“Some university administrators may believe that it is the right of the university to use cameras on any university owned property. In fact, we do use cameras to protect against theft of some university property – cameras have been installed at library exits and at the Billing Office counter where money is exchanged. However, we do not use cameras in university dorm rooms even though they might discourage illegal activities such as underage drinking and sexual harassment. This is because dorm rooms, although owned by the university, are private in nature and therefore enjoy a privileged status in regards to video surveillance.
“Likewise, the way in which patrons use public and university libraries should exempt them from video surveillance. Information seeking is a highly sensitive and private activity that should not be discouraged or limited in any way. To use video surveillance in libraries would be to effectively censor access to diverse ideas.
“One shortfall of this solution is that it does not address parents’ concerns about student safety in regards to SNS. However, college is a time when many students are away from their parents for the first time and they must learn how to be safe in an increasingly on-line world. As adults, students must be allowed to make decisions about their own Internet use. If students have a safety concern at the library, they should seek assistance at the Reference Desk or contact Campus Security. Likewise, parents should discuss safety concerns with their children and make sure they are educated about university safety resources and policies.
“With time limits in place on library computers, students may complain that they do not have enough time to complete homework assignments. Students might also use multiple user names to unfairly sign up for a block of time, either by using friends’ usernames or even purchasing time from other students during finals week. However, this would require disclosure of university usernames and passwords, which most students would not be willing to do. If there truly is a shortage of resources, then the university may need to consider purchasing additional computers for the library.
“The University Information Department believes that setting up several catalog-only computer kiosks and imposing time limits on library computers will address most parents and librarians’ recently expressed concerns in regards to Social Networking Sites, while maintaining the highest level of privacy for students. We believe that this privacy is essential to an open learning environment – and a democratic society.”