or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Reference Question of the Week ¦ 9/1/13

   September 7th, 2013

computers not availableA patron came up to me at the desk one evening, when things were really slow and most of the computers were empty, and asked,

What is your average availability for computers?

After a little clarification, what he was really asking was, how often is there at least one public workstation available, versus how often are they all in use.

Anecdotally, for my library, mornings and evenings always have available computers, but during the daytime - especially lunchtime and after school - often every computer is in use. I was able to answer this just off the top of my head, which any reference staff person could.

However, the patron really wanted an actual percentage of time the computers are free, so I had to go into our stats. We use Time Limit Manager for our 22 adult computers (we have 10 other public computers also), and the usage report for July 1 2012 - June 30 2013 broke down like this:

  • Sessions: 48,192
  • Used Time: 1416 days, 22 hours, 27 minutes, 29 seconds
  • Unused: 970 days, 6 hours, 34 minutes, 36 seconds
  • Avg Session: 42 minutes 25 seconds

If my math is correct, that rounds to 34,006.5 + 23,286.5 = 57,293 available hours total, and 23,286 is just about 41% of the time. So, roughly, 41% of the time we have a computer available for the public to use.

Those seemed like pretty good odds to the patron, and he explained to me why he asked. He said he uses his home computer very little any more, and figured that if he dropped internet access at home, the amount of money he'd save annually could buy him an airline ticket to Europe each year - and he made it clear which of those activities he prefers.

I'd like to go to Europe every year too, but I don't know that I could do without internet at home. However, I think it's awesome that someone find the library useful and reliable enough to plan their life spending - and traveling - around it. And this might be one demographic that wasn't covered by Sarah's recap of Pew's Digital Divide report - people who choose not to have internet at home because they know they can rely on the library for it.

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