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Magazines > Computers in Libraries > July/August 2013

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Vol. 33 No. 6 — Jul/Aug 2013
How iPods Can Do Double Duty @Your Library
by Kathryn Johns-Masten and Emily Thompson

iPods can take the place of bulkier and
obsolete video cameras and audio recorders to better meet the needs of
students with multimedia production assignments.
Faculty members at the State University of New York–Oswego are increasingly assigning videos, posters, and other multimedia projects in their classes. Penfield Library has been expanding services to support these assignments. This includes the development of a multimedia production room (MMR; and the hiring of a learning technologies librarian (LTL). The MMR has a PC and a Mac computer, both of which have Audacity, Camtasia Studio, the Adobe CS 6 Suite, and other editing software. The LTL teaches classes in multimedia production and conducts one-on-one meetings with students who need extra help. In addition, Penfield has started providing equipment for students to check out so they can make their own videos.

The Flip video cameras were among the first devices that we purchased. Demand had grown along with the number of devices we made available. However, in the spring of 2012, we decided to evaluate our lending program. While the devices had proved popular, garnering 38–56 checkouts per semester, we have also started losing them to wear or loss. Since Cisco Systems, Inc. has discontinued the brand and is stopping support as of December 2013, we thought it unsustainable to buy new Flip cameras to replace the old ones. After researching other dedicated HD video cameras, we realized that for very little extra cost we could get iPod touches and increase the functionality of the video recording devices that we are lending. Since we also were lending digital voice recorders, we saw the iPod s as a way to replace them as well.

Why iPods?

After reviewing other types of cameras, it was determined that iPods provide much of the functionality previously provided by the Flip video cameras and would be a good replacement for them. They can produce high-quality HD video plus they have both a camera and voice recorder software. These are all necessary components for student projects. In addition, iPods are a well-known brand familiar to most users.

To further enhance the students’ projects, slingshot tripods and multiple Blue Microphones’ MIKEY digital microphones have been purchased to allow users to increase the quality of their videos. The tripods can sit on a table and are easy to manipulate. They also fit any smartphone. The microphones are designed for the 30-pin iPhones and iPods, so we had to purchase a lightning adapter for each. The tripods, microphones, and adapters are all checked out separately from the iPods so anyone can borrow them for use with a personal device.

We originally planned to purchase iPod touch 4’s in order to capitalize on the Apple brand and its popularity. In addition, the devices function as a point-and-shoot camera as well as a video camera. During the planning process, the iPod touch 5 came out, so we adjusted our plan and went with the newer version.

Each iPod is packaged in a plastic bag with a lightning cable, a wall adapter, a carrying pouch, and a set of instructions. One of our librarians made cases for the iPods and wires out of fleece. Each device came from the manufacturer with a wrist strap, which we originally kept with the iPods. However, we are not replacing the straps as they get lost, and patrons are not getting fined if they lose them. The bags are labeled and bar coded to match the iPods.

Since the iPods are so small, it was a challenge to find a way to label them and package them to be circulated. The small size makes more than a couple labels impossible, and we need (at minimum) a bar code and a campus asset tag. Through the Apple Store for Education, you can request that the iPods be engraved at no extra cost. You must call to request the engraving, since it cannot be ordered online, but it is much more permanent and will not fall off as labels do.

It was determined that the loan period for the iPods would be the same length as the Flip video cameras. They circulate for 1 week and can be renewed, but we ask that the renewals be done in person. So far, users have not lost or broken any of the devices. However, one lightning cable was unusable when it was returned, and the patron had to be fined a replacement cost of $19. In comparison to other materials the library circulates, replacement costs for these devices are high.

Desired Functionality

The ability to connect to campus Wi-Fi is a plus, and it allows students to move completed files to other platforms via the cloud, either by email or an app.

We chose not to remove access to the Apple App Store on the devices, so students can download what they want to use. The App Store is dependent on individual accounts that require a password input every time a user wants to download something. We do not need to make our library account available, and students can then download whatever apps they would like to use. We do not have to limit the apps or pick the ones that we think students want. That being said, we are very interested in what users download onto the devices. We have started checking the devices before resetting them, and we are trying to capture that information in a spreadsheet. This will help us better understand how the devices are used, so we can think about other ways the devices can be promoted. One downside is that some students are removing the apps before they return the devices, making it impossible for us to know what they used. One problem with gathering this data is that it adds another step to the resetting process.

The ability to connect to campus Wi-Fi is a plus, and it allows students to move completed files to other platforms via the cloud, either by email or an app. Files can also be moved by plugging the device into a computer and copying them manually. We provide instructions, which can be found at if the paper version gets lost.

Resetting Process (Done by Access Services Staff)

First, the library’s technology support professional (TSP) set up a configuration profile for the campus wireless using the iPhone configuration utility for PCs. Once the learning technologies librarian and the TSP figured out the steps needed to reset a device, the LTL designed a flowchart of step-by-step instructions for the staff to follow. Once the devices arrived, the LTL held a training session to show the staff how to reset the devices. Conveniently, 10 devices needed to be set up and there were nine people who needed training, so each staff person got to reset a device.

The basic steps are as follows:

  • Sign out from the Apple App Store. (Erasing the content only removes the password. The Apple ID remains.)
  • Erase all content and settings.
  • Plug the iPod into the computer.
  • Open the iPhone configuration utility.
  • Set up as a new iPod.
  • Install the campus wireless certificate.

So far, most of the iPods are consistently checked out, with anywhere from two to six on hand. In the first 6 months after initial availability (and at the time this goes to press), each device has been checked out between three and 10 times. Although the staff has been very diligent about erasing and resetting the devices, we have noticed one or two slipping through the system without being reset. This seems to happen one of two ways.

First, student workers may place returned iPods into their boxes without resetting them. If this happens, the next user may notice extra apps or content but will not be able to access the previous user’s App Store account without the password. Otherwise, the device should work fine. We noticed this lapse in resetting protocol when the first iOS update required updating each device. Students were reminded that they need to give the iPods to the staff to be reset. When the second update came out, there were no iPods that had not been reset properly.

Second, when the person resetting the device chooses “Reset All Settings” instead of “Erase All Content and Settings,” photos and applications remain on the device. Fortunately, this causes a hiccup in the resetting process: iTunes opens a dialogue box requesting permission to archive the iPod’s files, which cues staff to go back and erase the device properly.

Other Considerations

Despite having the university’s certificate installed, the iPods do not connect to the campus wireless as easily as we would like. Rather than immediately connecting, the devices sometimes require switching the wireless off and then on again or reloading the certificate. Interestingly, this is only a problem the first time they connect. After users have entered their password once, the device logs in automatically whenever it is in range of the campus wireless. Connecting has become easier with the update to iOS 6.1 and 6.2, and students have not complained about this problem, which implies that they are able to figure out how to get the iPods online without too much trouble. Several faculty members have needed additional help. Overall, there have been very few problems and questions about them after the first week of checkouts.

When an iOS update comes out, the LTL updates all the iPods that are not checked out. This takes anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. She then leaves a list of the ones that have not been updated with the staff and the student workers, who keep an eye out for these devices. This system has worked well so far, and it has the added advantage of alerting the library to devices that are grossly overdue.

Even though the iPhone configuration utility has been set up for the staff, it tends to claim that the certificate is not valid. This is not too much trouble, but it has resulted in an extra page of instructions. It is our understanding that using a Mac to reset the iPods would be much simpler, and we are considering using one should we expand the program.

Despite the challenges, the program has been successful so far. We hope to continue the program, including upgrading our devices as new versions come out. We also plan to keep up the evaluation of how patrons use the iPods and may look more closely at app use in a future article.

Kathryn Johns-Masten is electronic resources/serials librarian at Penfield Library, State University of New York–Oswego. Kathryn received her M.L.S. in 2004 from the State University of New York–Buffalo. She enjoys working with new technology and finding ways to improve service to library users. She can be reached at  

Emily Thompson is learning technologies librarian at Penfield Library, State University of New York–Oswego. This is Emily’s first position since getting her master’s of information in 2011. She is also the co-host of the LiTTech podcast on ( She can be reached at
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