Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Laptops Anytime: Meeting Students' Needs for Equipment Loans through Self-Serve Kiosks

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Laptops Anytime: Meeting Students' Needs for Equipment Loans through Self-Serve Kiosks

Article excerpt


Similar to many academic libraries, the Gee Library on the campus of Texas A&M University-Commerce faces increasing expectations of convenient technology to meet the needs of a growing student population.

Identifying the Need

Our main library contains an information commons that serves as the premier computer lab for the campus. The lab is heavily used, and there is often a waiting line during busy times of the semester. We continued to add desktop stations to the lab, but we still could not keep up with the demand. In addition, students working collaboratively in the lab created distractions for those who were trying to concentrate on taking tests or working on assignments.

As many other libraries have done, we began to offer laptops for checkout. They were very popular, and there was often a waiting list for them. Due to high demand, the laptops could only be kept for 4 hours, and the students were not allowed to take them out of the library.

Even with both the computer lab and laptops, we realized that we were not meeting the needs of all students. On campus, students could more easily make use of the technology, but our university has a significant population of nontraditional students and commuter students. The nontraditional students who have employment and parental responsibilities are unable to spend long hours in the library, so they could not benefit from either desktop or laptop loan services.

Exploring Solutions

We began to search for innovative and convenient ways to provide more accessibility to computers. The information commons manager saw an advertisement for a laptop-dispensing kiosk and became intrigued. The kiosk provided the opportunity to expand our number of laptops, while offering the convenience of unmediated self-checkout and check-in. A laptop kiosk operates similarly to a video rental kiosk. The customer interacts with a terminal, providing authentication and selecting the product, which is ejected from the machine and returned to an empty slot in the same machine at a later time. The owner of the machine can set user permissions, determine the authentication method and loan periods, and interact with an ILS. When the computer is returned to the kiosk, software inside the machine authenticates the user and tracks how long the device was checked out. The kiosk wipes the computer's memory and charges the battery for the next checkout.

Implementing the Solution

After researching companies and options, we decided to go with the market leader, LaptopsAnytime (laptopsanytime .com). When we began our pilot project in fall 2013, we were the first library in Texas to install a kiosk. We began with one kiosk with 12 slots and 12 laptops. We quickly needed to purchase 12 more laptops to rotate in and out, as the kiosk was almost always completely empty. Since the laptops take only 15 minutes to recharge, turnaround is quick. Despite this, there are still times when no laptops are available. Students often use creative tactics to be sure they will get the next available one.

As students requested, kiosk laptops can be checked out for a day. Regardless of the time of checkout, the laptop is due the next day by midnight. In addition, students can take the computers outside the library.

The kiosks are able to dispense any type of device. We chose to use laptops. Each type of device requires a different kind of rails, which slide it in and out of the machine. On our campus, we are required to work closely with the IT department to select devices that it supports. Laptops-Anytime representatives worked with us to build our kiosks to our specifications.

Once the kiosk was up and running, the operations were intuitive. With communication and support, our knowledgeable technology manager experienced no great learning curve. …

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