Editorials and Opinions

The monitoring of library computers upholds their educational purposes

By Ben Chelmow
Published: November 2009

During a free block the other day, I logged onto commonapp.com to check the status of my college applications. Seeing that all was well, I opened up a new tab to nfl.com. In a matter of seconds, the screen went dark, and I was locked out of the system.

Did I feel frustrated? Absolutely. I found it to be both oppressive and a violation of privacy. I’m sure that I am not the only student who has had this experience, and I’m sure that other students have felt similarly when it happened to them.

But before we get worked up with righteous fury, the question needs to be asked: why exactly are the computers being monitored? And the answer is that is the administration’s way of ensuring that valuable public resources are being used appropriately.

First off, the school purchased the computers in the library for the purpose of completing schoolwork. The library provides a quiet, comfortable area for students to work on homework, conduct research, study, or complete other academically related tasks.

Any other kind of activity not only disrupts the library’s academic environment, but hinders other students from staying on-task. For me, logging onto a non-academic website to check football statistics seemed like a harmless diversion, but to someone else who needed to use the computer to print an essay or access a teacher’s webpage, it must have been plain obnoxious.

In the past, students could only access sites bookmarked on each computer. Now, with more freedom to browse, it is only natural that monitoring efforts be increased and limitations be set. Students have the right to access the information they desire, but in an academic environment, the information should be relevant to school.

Second, there is the issue of privacy. Some would argue that with the new monitoring system, librarians can read students’ emails, which constitutes a violation of privacy. But that argument bases itself on the misconception that just because the system is in place, it is being used for the express purpose of “spying on students.

However, this is not the case. While librarians can view what is on each computer screen, the purpose of their monitoring is to detect inappropriate or school-irrelevant activity. The content of emails, passwords, or other personal notes is not being reviewed, much less scrutinized over.

It should also be made clear that the library is not a private place, nor is each computer a private commodity. The library and all equipment contained therein are public resources, provided for all members of the school community to use. The computers being the property of the school, the school can reserve the right to take measures that ensure that they are being used appropriately.

If the resources are otherwise taken advantage of and abused, not only are students who need to complete academic tasks put at a disadvantage, but the school system’s several-thousand-dollar investment in the technology is being put to waste. Such misuse shows disrespect not only to the library, but to other students as well.

The library is a tremendous academic resource, providing students with a place to study during the day, and its computers are some of the most valuable assets. And yet, every day, there are numerous instances of students spending time on websites unrelated to schoolwork and monopolizing computers that are sorely needed by their peers.

The monitoring system helps ensure that these situations are kept to a minimum. After all, the computers are of no benefit to the South community if they are being used for purposes other than their intended academic ones, even if innocent.

The librarians’ monitoring of the computers is fully justified and, as it is being used with discretion and for non-invasive purposes, not a violation of privacy. Personally, I am glad that they are doing what they can to ensure that educational resources remain educational.

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