Notebook Computers: To Buy or Not?

Article excerpt

To buy or not to buy truly is the question for librarians considering the purchase of notebook computers. These tips are based on our experience at Mansfield University, where we've had notebook computers available for our 3,000 students for more than six months.

Quality vs. quantity. Budgetary limitations mean most libraries must decide whether to purchase a smaller number of better-quality units or a greater number of lower-quality units. The former means less maintenance and downtime, but the latter provides more access for patrons.

At Mansfield, we opted for the latter; but in retrospect, given the sheer volume of usage we've experienced (our 50 notebooks will have circulated more than 13,000 times in less than two semesters!), we'd probably now recommend purchasing fewer but sturdier units that can better withstand the wear and tear.

Applications. Do you want your notebooks to have the same configuration as your stand-alone units? Many patrons have suggested we reconfigure the laptops so that they are dedicated solely to e-mail or some other application rather than the whole array of networked applications. Although e-mail was initially the most widely used notebook application, other applications such as word processing and Netscape are now being used more frequently.

Still, the number of patrons signing out a notebook for 10-15 minutes just to check their e-mail continues to cause problems. In addition to the wear and tear on equipment, it generates more work for the staff and a general impatience on the part of both students and staff.

Hardware/network configuration. Which hardware do you wish to maintain and support on each unit? What, if any, support will be available to patrons bringing their own notebooks to the library?

Because the battery packs only carry about 15 minutes of charge, we chose to remove them. However, despite the state-of-the-art design of our building, there are still some areas in which electrical outlets are sparse, reducing the units' portability.

Also, our units are configured to run only in the library. …