Something Borrowed, Something New: Promoting the Use of Digital Equipment Through Short Term Use

TIE8: Rob Withers, Miami University

The academic library collection is way more than just books. As Rob Whithers at Miami University explained, the libraries offer a huge variety of digital equipment that their 15,000 undergraduates can check out: laptops, iPads, Nexus tablets, iPad keybard covers and much more. Students check out power cords separately, which is just fascinating to me. The librarians created separate catalog records just for the cords, and the service has proved a huge hit with students who don’t feel like lugging their power supply around.

They have expanded into other types of equipment: digital video cameras, still cameras, microphones, tripods, even a steadicam and weights. About a quarter of what they check out in the central library is books. More than half of the checkouts are of laptops and other digital equipment. This is not treated as a “cool extra” for this library; this is a core student service.

In their circulation statistics they have found that laptops, study room keys, and video cameras are the top three checkout items. No individual book title cracks the top 25 in the list of most checked out items.

There are some challenges. The library saw more than 25,000 laptop checkouts last year; these items are designed for individual use and they may wear out prematurely. Getting items back can be an issue. They have run into what Rob calls the “rental problem.” Students just keep things out and then eventually return them so they don’t have to play the replacement charge.

Maintenance is also an issue. The libraries in-house IT unit check returned laptops every morning for updates and fixes, but in general the librarians are responsible for taking care of the stuff and keep it running. The laptops are wiped when users logout and cameras are wiped on check-in. Staff also run into issues of peak demand; 30-60 students will try to check a camera out at the same time when an assignment comes due. The librarians are also on their own with technical support for users of the equipment. They often end up helping students who are first-time users who are working on an assignment and their question is, “how do I make a video?”

For more documentation about this service and more library checkout data for digital equipment, see: http://www.users.miamioh.edu/witherre/highedweb2013/

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