DigitalLead: Rural Libraries Creating New Possibilities

Public Access Computers Playbook

This resource was developed as part of the PLA program, DigitalLead: Rural Libraries Creating New Possibilities, supported by Microsoft Philanthropies, to help libraries establish and promote hotspot lending programs. Have you created a policy, promotional item, or evaluation tool for public access computing at your library? Please share it with pla@ala.org to be included in this growing playbook of resources.

As we've moved into the 21st century, providing the public access to computers and the Internet has become a core function of libraries. Whether your library has a handful of public computers or one hundred, libraries have become a community anchor institution providing access to a world of information and services.

Public Access Computer programs are important to communities because they:

  • help individuals with employment opportunities, resume writing and job applications
  • provide access to health information, especially for seniors and those in rural areas
  • offer connectivity for financially disadvantaged patrons who may not have access in their homes
  • provide substantial electronic and digital resources for patrons
  • offer access to online school and higher education opportunities

Managing Public Computers

  1. What is a Public Access Computer?

    Many public libraries offer access to computers (and other hardware) with productivity software and Internet connections. Libraries may also have computer labs with workstations and tablets that can be used while at the library. These computers and tablets are sometimes separate from the library’s online catalog terminals.

    1. Standard for Public Access Computers in Libraries, Dee Shneiderman

  2. Preparing Your Library for Public Access Computers
    1. Space Planning

      Library Space Planning, Opening the Book

      Computer Lab Setup, WebJunction

    2. Preparing Staff

      Tech Skills Checklist for Public Library Supervisors and Staff, PLA

      Managing Library Technology, John Klima

      Reserving a Computer

    3. Policy /Procedures/ FAQ’s

      Internet Acceptable Use

      Guidelines for Use of Public Access Computers

  3. Costs

    Libraries should bear in mind there will be one-time costs as well as ongoing costs related to Internet connectivity, staff training, hardware, and software.

    1. Maintenance/ Replacement and Support

      Total Cost of Ownership for new Computers, Kendra Morgan

    2. Wi-Fi and Network Options

      Internet Access and ISPs

    3. Peripherals

      Printing, Scanning and Faxing at the Library

      Wireless and Remote Printing

  4. Communications

    Once your public access computer program is ready to go, it will need to be promoted. Promotions can be announced through the city’s public information office, in the city news outlets, on the library’s website and social media blasts. Another effective way to let the community know about the public access computers and programming is to share information with attendees at other library programs, especially those with a technology theme. 

    Below are examples of library website promotion of their public access computers and policies. If you have examples of your promotion on websites, social media, or elsewhere, please send them to pla@ala.org.

    Hopkins County (KY) Madisonville Public Library

    Mazomanie (WI) Free Library

    Bloomingdale (IL) Public Library

  5. Public Access Computers: Program Evaluations

    Evaluating your computer programs can inform future program policies and enhancements. Libraries are encouraged to use PLA’s Project Outcome, which is a free toolkit offering libraries access to training, data analytics, and standardized surveys that measure outcomes in key library service areas, including digital learning. Sample questions to be asked after a patron uses a computer or participates in a class include:

    • You feel more knowledgeable about using digital resources (Strongly Disagree, Disagree, Neither, Agree, Strongly Agree, N/A)
    • You feel more confident when using digital resources
    • You intend to apply what you just learned
    • You are more aware of resources and services provided by the library