Library Issues MPOW Technology

Guest computer access

Thanks to my coworker Andrea for the wording below…we have a quandary at MPOW, and we’re trying to work out the best answer. We need your help in seeing other ways of handling the situation. So: to the question!

The context:
Here at UTC, we require our patrons to login with a username and password to use our library’s public computers. Current UTC students, faculty, and staff have these logins, but other library guests (alumni, patrons who have purchased courtesy cards, people who walk-in off the street) do not.

At present, our Reference Librarians use a guest account to login courtesy card patrons (alumni, retired faculty/staff, those who purchase a courtesy card etc.) and faculty/staff/students of other universities. Courtesy Card patrons can also check out a laptop computer for 3-hour in house use at our Circulation Desk. For everyone else, we have set up three “research stations” — computers without logins that have no productivity software and can only access the library databases and .edu/.gov websites. No general Internet access is available on these.

Unfortunately, we consistently find all of our computers in use during the fall and spring semesters. And, we find that some of our guest users monopolize our equipment to the exclusion of our primary patrons: UTC students, faculty, and staff. We are also getting some pressure from our campus IT people to not allow “anonymous” logins to the campus network – which is essentially what our use of a generic guest login provides.

The Questions:
We’d like to know what others out there in a similar situation have done (other than buy more computers). Have you cut off access to guest users completely? Have you implemented time or access limits through some technological or manual method? What has been the reaction from your guest users to the policy change? How about from others on campus?


By griffey

Jason Griffey is the Director of Strategic Initiatives at NISO, where he works to identify new areas of the information ecosystem where standards expertise is useful and needed. Prior to joining NISO in 2019, Jason ran his own technology consulting company for libraries, has been both an Affiliate at metaLAB and a Fellow and Affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, and was an academic librarian in roles ranging from reference and instruction to Head of IT at the University of TN at Chattanooga.

Jason has written extensively on technology and libraries, including multiple books and a series of full-periodical issues on technology topics, most recently AI & Machine Learning in Libraries and Library Spaces and Smart Buildings: Technology, Metrics, and Iterative Design from 2018. His newest book, co-authored with Jeffery Pomerantz, will be published by MIT Press in 2024.

He has spoken internationally on topics such as artificial intelligence & machine learning, the future of technology and libraries, decentralization and the Blockchain, privacy, copyright, and intellectual property. A full list of his publications and presentations can be found on his CV.
He is one of eight winners of the Knight Foundation News Challenge for Libraries for the Measure the Future project (, an open hardware project designed to provide actionable use metrics for library spaces. He is also the creator and director of The LibraryBox Project (, an open source portable digital file distribution system.

Jason can be stalked obsessively online, and spends his free time with his daughter Eliza, reading, obsessing over gadgets, and preparing for the inevitable zombie uprising.

10 replies on “Guest computer access”

I am not in the same situation (public versus academic), but do have requests from non-residents who want to use the computers, but do not have a card. We decided to issue the an internet card that has no privledges except computer access. You might want to consider issuing some sort of recurring card or Alumni card etc. We charge for our internet cards (non-residents) $2. That might be something to consider. If overuse is an issue, you might want to consider reducing the time levels on the card. Our system can restrict time based on the card. We haven’t done that but we could. Guests could get one hour instead of three etc.

Hope that helps.

We haven’t cut off access completely, but during the fall and winter semesters, guest have limited hours that they are allowed to log in with a guest pass.
A guest has to get a new pass every time they come in. Old passwords won’t work (and they won’t work outside of the allotted hours either).

See for a few more details.

This policy has been in place since I’ve worked here so I haven’t heard if there was any reaction from alumni or other external users.

We’ve been having a lengthy discussion on this very topic among the California Community College Library Directors.

In my own institution, Santa Barbara City College, our “policy” is that computers are for student use only without any restrictions. We have three stand-up stations that are open to anyone with a time limit of 10 minutes. However, at this time we are not enforcing our students only policy in order to make the environment less hostile to students. If it becomes an issue, that practice may need to change but for the time being it is working. I’m sure you’re well aware of technological solutions, but we haven’t stepped in that direction yet, though many public libraries have done so.

Here are a few highlights from my colleagues:

* Maximum use of library PCs is 2 hours per person, per day.

* We have a “students first” policy on computer use.

* stand-up stations only for the public

* Respect the finite capacity of those resources and limit use so as not to consume an unreasonable amount of those resources or to interfere unreasonably with the activity of other users. Although there is no set bandwidth, disk space, CPU time, or other limit applicable to all uses of college computing and voice transmission resources, the college may require users of those resources to limit or refrain from specific uses in accordance with this principle. The reasonableness of any particular use will be judged in the context of all the relevant circumstances. (Pasadena)

I hope this helps with your deliberations.

At the start: I have no idea the magic involved, just reporting what we do.

Our guest login is cut off from M$ft products, Lexis Nexis, and free printing. It is rare enough use that all our other vendors agree to the exceptions in their agreements. Users on the guest login still have access to the internet, and can print to a different printer where they must pay to pick up the job.

Doing this allows all the computers to be similarly available to our primary constituency, and protects our license agreements. Unfortunately it protects no one’s privacy, so that really sucks. (Campus users really only have to log in to be able to access their fee-provided free printing quota. I find the rest of problematic, actually. But that’s my soapbox, not yours 😉 )

Our library at Baruch College is only open to students and faculty in the CUNY system, so we don’t have to worry about the public in off the street. A few years ago we set up a system whereby Baruch students and faculty had to log on to the PCs and the wireless network using a login that works in other campus resources (e.g., email, student printing accounts). For those non-Baruch students and faculty, we issue unique, randomly generated guest logins. For simplicity’s sake (and the sanity of the reference desk staff), we made the functionality of all the workstations the same regardless of location in the library or the credentials of the user logging in.

When we first set up the guest login system, students from other CUNY schools did complain, but when we pointed that Baruch was not alone in having such a system and that someday, most, if not all, of the CUNY schools would too, their sense of dissatisifaction was lessened somewhat. After a semester of instituting the guest login system, we get very few complaints from the (and I’m guessing here at the numbers) several hundred users a week that we generate guest logins for.

I don’t know what software we are using, but we provide guest/public computers in one are of the library that automatically logout after 30 minutes. We have had situations where there are people waiting to use them when people camp out on them. When this happens library staff politely ask the guest to let the next person use the machine and we have never had a negative response.

We don’t get very many complaints since we really don’t have a huge number of non-NCSU people coming into the library. However, we do limit library access to NCSU affiliates only between 10pm-7am.

To expand on Rudy’s answer, at SUNY Potsdam *everyone* must log in to use one of our computers. Students, faculty, and staff log in using their Campus Computer Account, which links them to their shared storage server, their print queue, and eventually, when it gets implemented, everything else under the sun via LDAP. All other users — alumni, community members, visitors, Associated Colleges students — log in as our “internet” patron, which is anonymous, must pay cash for printouts, and cannot access LexisNexis (the sole “no walk-in users” vendor license).

We (nor our campus IT guys) do not keep a log of who logs in to what machine or when, and therefore the anonymity of the Internet login is no different than the anonymity of our students. Additionally, since it is unmediated login for walk-in users, there is no way for us to easily identify who is a “regular” user and who is an “internet” user.

And even more additionally, we’re a state-funded institution, and as such, though we prioritize student needs whenever possible, we welcome and support use of our resources by NYS taxpayers whenever possible. Therefore we won’t be shutting down our “internet” account anytime soon.

The only time we kick people off computers is when there’s supremely heavy demand, and then our (generally loudly announced at the computer pod) message is, “If you’re just doing email or Facebook, we have people waiting to do research, so if you’re willing to give up your computer, we’d appreciate it.”

I don’t know if this is at all helpful, but here’s the setup we have.

If you’re a government depository (as we are) you’re required to provide at least one computer for public use (this has been a good weapon against our IT folks’ desire to do what your IT folks want to do). We have a “gov docs” computer that is sort of “off the grid” and doesn’t have the same login requirement as our lab computers. This is often used by the public and it’s rarely used for accessing government sites. It has a web browser and word processing software on it. We also have several computers in the reference area that only have a web browser on them and are also “off the grid” (no login required). It’s designed to be used by students quickly checking the catalog or a database, but we get lots of students and people from the public using it for a good bit of time to surf the web. I think it helps though that there is no word processing software on them, so people can’t get into using it to write their papers.

We’ve been thinking about putting timer software on those computers, but we haven’t had too many problems with them being full and there being no other computers that students can use.

We use a program/interface that allows us to create a guest network login for each session. We have a paper form (that could eventually be digital if someone wanted to program it) that has the guest’s contact information, and we verify with a photo ID. They are given 24-hr access and the option to purchase print credits. So far, this has not caused any problems that I’m aware of, and we have a policy of not giving out guest accounts in the last two weeks of the term to allow our users to have access to every PC available.

We haven't cut off access completely, but during the fall and winter semesters, guest have limited hours that they are allowed to log in with a guest pass. A guest has to get a new pass every time they come in. Old passwords won't work (and they won't work outside of the allotted hours either).See… for a few more details.This policy has been in place since I've worked here so I haven't heard if there was any reaction from alumni or other external users.

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