Diana Kimball praises the campus computer lab:
Computer labs offer a combination of connectivity and escape at the same time: they provide a location, a destination, where all of the necessary technological tools are assembled and maintained. They also establish in students minds the existence of a computer place on campusthe natural place to gravitate toward when your laptop has gotten a virus, or its hard drive has died, or youre wondering how to set up your email client. Here, the IT helpdesk is right in the computer lab, reinforcing that relationship.
With laptops all but ubiquitous, community computer labs may seem frivolous. But that very ubiquity, and its inescapability, means that colleges have a responsibility to respect and support the relationship between students and computers. A computer lab sends a strong signal, offers an obvious location to honor and troubleshoot that relationship, and gives students an alternative to squinting at tiny screens.
An indication of how fast things have changed: when I started college (in 1997), not only did I not own a laptop, I didn't even own a computer. I had never owned a computer. (My first honest-to-goodness PC to call my own came in 2001, my first year of graduate school.) Every paper I wrote was improvised in a computer lab. (Hmm. Maybe I should try that again.)
Here's my vision of the future of the computer lab: rows of ready-to-go machines, yes, but also of laptop kiosks, places where you can plug in and recharge, hook up to the networked printer, and chat with the techs and support staff. Maybe even a floating reference librarian to help with research questions and writing papers. A place to gather, where the communal intellectual energy can hum and crackle and strike down with electric inspiration. And to use the printer.