Growing a Technology Equipment Service in an Academic Library
by Sean Anderson and Sue Weatherbee
The 21st-century student is highly technological. In order to encourage and enable our technologically advanced students, we wanted to develop a technology equipment service in the library at Texas A&M University–Commerce. We had an idea of what we wanted to accomplish but were unsure of how to get started. We started a small service, with technological devices that we understood and felt comfortable using ourselves.
Our first foray into technology equipment services involved loaning three laptops for 2-hour time blocks within the library. The laptops were made available in spring 2008 and were an instant hit. With immediate feedback from students, we quickly realized that 2 hours was not a long enough checkout period and three laptops were definitely not enough to meet the needs of our students. We expanded our technology equipment service by adding 12 laptops over the next few semesters and increasing the checkout time period to 4 hours.
Other devices that we added included Flip Video cameras, mini-tripods, digital cameras, digital voice recorders, external hard drives, portable tabletop projection screens, projectors, and large tripods. In just a few semesters, our technology equipment service had taken off with very little marketing, being propelled primarily by our students’ word-of-mouth.
Getting started with a technology equipment service can be a daunting task. The question of what to purchase is most easily answered by simply asking your patrons what technology they would like to have that you do not currently offer. Evaluate the responses from your patrons and look for trends. Do they want mobile technology such as iPads or other tablets? Do they want to work or surf the internet on a computer throughout the library? Do they want access to a wireless network? You will not be able to purchase everything requested, nor should you be expected do so. The feedback supplied by your patrons will go a long way toward helping you determine your technological equipment needs.
Just as you determine what to purchase, consider the patrons that you serve when determining how many devices to purchase. Also, gauge general public opinion about what you are looking to add to your service offerings. Read reviews online or in magazines of the requested devices; go to stores that sell the devices and ask questions of the salespeople; and ask colleagues from other libraries and institutions what their experiences are with the devices you are considering. If the device is wildly popular with the public at large, chances are that your service population will be very interested in it as well.
The next question that you must answer after you determine what and how many devices to purchase is this: “How will we maintain this device and keep it functioning?” Technological devices require charging time, hardware and software updates, lockable and adequate storage facilities, and general maintenance such as cleaning and disinfecting as well as data wiping and restoration. Work time must be dedicated to maintaining the devices in order to provide the best service for your patrons. If any level of maintenance is overlooked or not performed on a consistent basis, the device will suffer, and so will your reputation with your patrons.
The last question to address is, “How do we circulate these newfangled things?” We in the library business have a really good handle on how to circulate books, learning kits, videos, music recordings, and lots of other “normal” items. When it comes to circulating technological devices, it is our advice to simply treat these “newfangled things” just like any other normal item you circulate. Based upon the item, decide how you want it to be available to your patrons, how long the loan period should be, and what kind of late fee and/or recovery fee to use to ensure the safe return of your library’s technological device.
Devices and Equipment
Laptops are one of our more popular technology devices available for checkout. In the spring 2008 semester, our wireless system was improved dramatically, and we purchased three laptops for our students to check out. We have built our collection of laptops over several years while deciding to keep the number laptops for checkout to 15 because our library has one of the two largest computer labs on campus. Our laptops are kept secured but are not kept plugged in at all times. We discovered that keeping the laptop charged at all times was causing issues with being available for checkout, which defeated the purpose of having them available in the first place. Instead, we opted to instruct students who checked out a laptop to connect to a power outlet in order to use the laptop.
We began an iPad checkout pilot program in the fall 2011 semester and based our initial purchasing decisions on the following criteria: an in-house project with library staff; student survey responses about possible new technology offerings; conversations with colleagues doing similar work; money and support from internal and campus IT support; and overall student population. We purchased 20 iPad 2s for our pilot program. To provide lockable and adequate storage, we also purchased an iPad charging station and a Mac laptop that allows for software upgrades through the charging station. We intentionally did a soft launch of the iPad service, and the service exploded within days. We had waiting lists of people who wanted an iPad, and we did our best to ensure that everyone who wanted to get one could. Based on the popularity of the iPads, we decided to purchase an additional 25 iPad 2s and 12 iPad keyboard docks to assist those creating documents on the iPad. Forty-five iPads seems to be our “magic number” to provide the desired service our 11,000-plus students expect, meaning that we always have an adequate supply of iPads on hand when someone desires to borrow one.
In August 2011 we added a Knowledge Imaging Center (KIC) scanner to our technology equipment services. The center allows users to scan documents free of charge and either save to a USB drive or send via email. As of the writing of this article, the KIC scanner was used to scan more than 100,000 images by our students and interlibrary loan service. Even though it is an extremely popular item in our main library, the KIC scanner is something that was not requested by our students, faculty, or staff. Instead, we learned of the scanner at a conference, by asking colleagues who had implemented it in their libraries. The price tag was large, but the happiness of our patrons with the scanner far outweighs any concerns we ever had about the cost.
We have also recently added a multimedia studio space. The space for the studio was set aside in response to the desire to add multimedia components to class assignments. Faculty members have a space set aside for them in another department on campus, as do the students enrolled in our radio and television program. The rest of the student population did not have access to the necessary equipment or space to record and/or manipulate audio/video recordings. Once again, we looked to our colleagues in other academic libraries to see what they offered in a similar fashion as well as asking our students about their desires. We have outfitted our studio space with many features, including a greenscreen, studio lighting, a multimedia processing computer with dual monitors, a webcam, an HD flatbed color scanner, and an HD camcorder. The multimedia studio has been available for just a few months, but it has proven very popular. As with our laptops and iPads, the multimedia studio requires filling out a policy form. (For information about the forms we use with our technology equipment service, please visit www.tamu-commerce.edu/library/form/TES.) We envision that the use of the multimedia studio will continue to increase in the coming semesters as more assignments are made to include multimedia components.
Keeping all of our technology equipment running smoothly is a task, but we hold our own as we have a technology department within the library. Our laptops have Microsoft Windows 7 and Office 2010 installed for productivity as well as Faronics Corp.’s Deep Freeze to keep the computers at a predetermined state after each reboot. The library technology department coordinates with our campus IT department at the end of each semester to keep the software up-to-date.
The iPads are synchronized with a Mac laptop on the iPad charging station using Apple’s iTunes software. They are reset to factory defaults every time they are returned. Performing this maintenance upon return erases the previous user’s personal history and settings from the device and returns it to a ready state. When we first began circulating iPads, we had a different refresh routine, but we discovered from student feedback that previous users’ information was being stored on the iPad. Thus, we now implement the factory reset procedure to ensure that each patron’s privacy is protected.
The KIC scanner is the ideal technological device to add to a library, as it requires very little on-site maintenance once it is set up and running. When upgrades are available for the KIC scanner, the manufacturer contacts our library to schedule a time to perform an upgrade remotely with someone in our technology department who has local administrator rights. Our KIC scanner has been upgraded twice since it was installed, and each instance took about 15 minutes.
The multimedia studio space requires very little maintenance overall. The computer is overhauled once a semester to clean up old files and to ensure that it has all of the necessary updates for all programs. The antivirus software is kept up-to-date throughout the semester. The room is checked after each use so that it is ready to go for the next scheduled group.
|Selected Circulation Data
||Number of Uses
||Flip Video camera
||Digital voice recorder
Integrating our technology equipment into our library system (Innovative Interfaces, Inc.’s Millennium) required creating specific item types and catalog records for our media equipment. Also, specific loan rules were used to incorporate the loan rule determiner tables so that loan periods and fine amounts could differ with each specific equipment type. For example, Flip Video cameras circulate for 2 days and fines are assessed at $5 per day, while iPads circulate for 3 days and fines accrue at $25 per day. Replacement costs are incorporated into the tables so that lost or damaged items are billed to the patron according to system specific parameters. We require our patrons to sign an equipment use form when they check out any of our technology equipment. The form is required at the initial checkout of the first equipment loan and then a message is stored in the patron record indicating that the form is “on file.” This procedure eliminates the need for a signed form for every subsequent equipment checkout. To ensure an adequate supply for all students, we do not allow renewals on any technology equipment.
We are a long way from where we started in spring 2008, and we have learned a lot. Within the past 6 months, our library has added two webcams for checkout. We have added a ScanPro 2000 multiformat micrographic reader recently as well, which has allowed all of our patrons to make better use of our microfilm, microcard, and ultrafiche collections. Even though some of the devices and services we have offered have not been as successful as others, we still find that the technology services offered have been very well-received. Think of the technology equipment like your book collection—not every book on the shelf gets checked out on a regular basis, but there are those times when having a specific book just makes someone’s day. We have found the same to be true with our technology equipment service. We hope our experiences and lessons learned will benefit you as you develop your own technology equipment service.