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Last week among all of the closings and delayed openings I was able to attend a webinar entitled “What Happened to the Computer Lab?” Our presenter was Beth Schaefer, Associate Director in Client Services and University Information Technology Services, at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Her discussion centered on changes the university computer labs have taken over the past year. With an enrollment of over 30,000 students the campus has 6 campus computer labs housing around 450 computers running Windows XP or Mac OSX. Along with the 450 computers there are also 130 SunRay Kiosks scattered across the campus that the students can use for web base applications such as twitter, checking in on facebook, or checking their email. Computer ownership among the students run about 49% desktop and 83% laptops. She said that the percentage of students using their labs was 19%. Using a program called Lab Stats they are able to tell how many users log into the machines and what applications are launched. Last year they averaged 62,000 total users with over 578,000 total logins and an average of close to 1600 logins a day.

The Student Union lab went through a few changes in the past year. To make it more open, enclosure walls were brought down. It also saw expanded hours and became more food friendly. Several of the labs have also become unstaffed and now contain security cameras and have security guards walking through periodically. In the past year they also closed a 24/7 lab and opened a 24/5 (Sunday thru Thursday) lab in the Library Learning Commons. The Library Learning Commons now houses 200 computers, made up of both PCs and MACs and is staffed by library staff, IT staff, and students. The Library Learning Commons also houses several Classroom/Teaching labs and group study rooms. In the past year they also saw the addition of a coffee bar. A couple of projects they are looking at for the future are a quick print release station and virtual desktop computing.

Her conclusion was that university computer labs aren’t going away any time soon and I tend to agree. Even though our students are given a laptop they continue to come to the library and use our labs. Many sit at a station using both desktop and their laptop. Like at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the biggest draw for our students seems to be printing and the software available on the desktops, along with the collaborative space available here in the library.