Volume 13, Number 14  March 24, 2006

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Laptop lending promotes mobile learning

Carol Shepstone, head of Access Services.

Carol Shepstone, head of Access Services.

Photo by Colleen MacPherson

The Learning Commons in the Main Library has just gotten bigger, now that 20 laptop computers are available for borrowing.

In partnership with Information Technology Services (ITS), the library began loaning out the laptops in early March, part of what the head of access services called the “huge push in mobile computing for students.”  Carol Shepstone said students are using libraries in different ways and “there’s a general recognition of the need to expand the Learning Commons so it’s mobile.”  By taking advantage of the wireless internet service on campus and the loaner laptops, students can now access all the resources they need at tables in the library, in groups, on soft seating, even in class, she said.

The Main Library is the third on campus to offer laptops borrowing.  Last year, the libraries in Health Sciences and Law made available five and 10 laptops respectively.  Shepstone said Main was spurred on to join the program when “the figures indicated that the majority of students borrowing laptops from those colleges were from Arts and Science.”

There has been very little fanfare beyond a small sign advertising the service where student line up to wait for computers in the Learning Commons, but Shepstone is already pleased with the usage.  “We’ve had a few out every day, but I expect it to pick up substantially” when the Library announces the program on PAWS and its own website.

In addition to students, faculty and staff can borrow the machines which are signed out on a first come, first serve basis, she said.  All that is needed is a library card and the signature of the borrower on an agreement stating the laptop will be returned on time, in good condition and “with all it’s bits and pieces”, including a lock-down cable borrowers are encouraged to use.  The laptops are treated like reserve material – the loan period is four hours, and overdue fines accumulate by the hour.

The laptops are configured like the Learning Commons computers right down to the bundle of software available, she said.  And they are set up for use only on campus to prevent borrowers from taking them home.

While this is no longer a pilot project, Shepstone said the library will closely track usage and feedback from borrowers in order to fine tune the system.  “Is a four-hour loan the right decision?  We don’t know yet.  Right now it seems to work well for most people but that’s not to say it won’t change.”

She also expects laptops will eventually be available through all library branches on campus although the program will look a bit different in each in order to meet individual library demands.  How big it will get is also a question.

“I find it really difficult to speculate on the number of laptops we’ll eventually have, but we’re planning on the conservative growth side in Main.”

For more information, contact communications.office@usask.ca

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