I just ordered a couple of new iPad minis and iPad Airs – not for holiday gifts or for myself, but for our technology lending program. We already have two iPad minis, and they’ve been checked out with a waiting list since we put them in circulation. Many libraries are now circulating technology devices. Everyone does it a little differently, but it’s a perennial topic of discussion on listservs and in-person gatherings of librarians, so I thought I’d share how we do it.
Besides iPads, we circulate laptops, e-readers, cameras, portable scanners, digital voice recorders, and a variety of accessories (USB drives, web cams, wireless keyboards, etc.). We started with a few laptops and cameras in 2010 and have added the other items gradually since then, mostly in response to faculty, staff, and student demand. The laptops are reserved for in-building use only, but everything else checks out for one to three weeks at a time. Circulating laptops has been a great solution for extending the number of computers available to students and for making our different study spaces more flexible for students’ needs. We were nervous about the cost of iPads initially, and we started by circulating them only to faculty. After a couple of terms without incident, we extended the program to students. We rarely have them sitting on the shelf, as they are in near-constant demand.
We have had a few losses. Two laptops were stolen early on in the program. One iPad was dropped and damaged (though it was a relatively cheap fix), a camera has been lost, and another laptop suffered a cracked screen that was missed during the check-in inspection (which meant we were unable to charge the responsible patron). Over the years, we’ve developed a system where we have students read and sign an information sheet at check-out that informs them of their responsibilities in caring for these items and paying for them if they are lost or damaged (and for paying overdue charges on late returns). If they do keep, lose, or damage something, the library system generates a hold on their accounts that keeps students from registering, graduating, or getting transcripts until the charges are paid. Although these technology items seem more valuable and special, many of the cameras, e-readers, and accessories actually cost less than or about the same as the typical academic monograph (for example, our standard replacement charge for a book is $85, about the same cost as a basic Kindle).
When the e-readers and tablets are returned, our staff person in charge of managing the devices resets them to a basic profile, ensuring that any personal information or accounts are deleted and/or logged out of before the next patron checks out the device. We keep our Kindles de-registered and the Library iTunes account signed out of so that students can’t make any purchases on the associated credit cards. We purchased popular fiction and non-fiction titles for our e-readers and occasionally add new titles. We haven’t purchased any apps for our iPads, but we do pre-load several free apps, like different mobile browsers, Evernote, PDF readers, a calculator, and library-specific apps that support our databases or other resources.
We do have a staff person whose job duties include the responsibility for updating, resetting, cleaning, and maintaining these devices. He updates software, troubleshoots problems, performs daily maintenance (like resetting them upon return), processes the items physically (labeling, barcoding, etc.), and is the primary point person for staff and public questions. This has been very helpful in keeping the program organized and the devices consistent.
We wondered how people would use these devices – and if they would just be popular at first and then gather dust as the novelty wore off. From talking with faculty, staff, and students who have used them, we are seeing use for travel, conferences, class projects (especially the cameras, when students need to record interviews or presentations), other course uses (note-taking, studying), reading, and just fun for people who want to try out the latest gadget. We also see repeat users. Faculty have used laptops in the Library to have impromptu study sessions with students, and the iPads were recently used by staff to help students complete online course evaluations at various spots around campus. Far from gathering dust, the technology items have only grown in popularity and the program has grown in size. We even get suggestions from faculty, staff, and students for items to add.
Overall, we’re pleased with the success of this program, and it will be something we continue to do. New challenges include extending it to our newer branch campuses (which don’t have a dedicated library space) and adding laptops that students can check out for out-of-building use, a request we get occasionally.