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County library officials explore possibility of iPad check-outs

Washington County library officials are exploring the possibility of dispensing iPads to users. (Forum News Service file photo)

Kaitlin Pakkala sat near the R.H. Stafford Library swiping on her iPad and typing on her computer as she worked on a business etiquette paper.

The East Ridge High School senior prefers her iPad over books for its lightweight and convenient features.

“You don’t have the big keyboard, you can hold it whatever way you want,” she said. “You don’t have the pages flopping everywhere.”

Like many tablet users, Pakkala is a proponent of the technology. According to Pew Internet Project data released in January, 42 percent of American adults own a tablet computer and 32 percent own an e-reader.

In Washington County, library officials are toying with the idea of providing iPads to library users, who could check them out just as they would a book and return when the time is up.

But it’s still not clear how all the security, funding and logistics would be mapped out.

“There is so many questions about how you manage them, how you keep them up to date,” Washington County Libraries director Pat Conley said. “It’s not as simple as buying them and hooking them up.”

If it were implemented in the county, the pilot program would begin at Wildwood Library in Mahtomedi. It’s a smaller library and computers there need to be replaced after recent flooding anyway, Conley said.

Many computers are becoming less of an attraction, especially to the younger population, and providing iPads in area school districts has been a popular trend.

“You see kids hitting the screen trying to make things work on the traditional PCs,” Conley said.

Already in play

Some metro county libraries have implemented similar programming over the past few months.

Anoka County Libraries received a Library Service and Technology Act grant to install iPad dispensing kiosks at two of its branches where the need is imminent.

One of the locations provides a two-hour in-house checkout, while the other allows for up to a week timeframe.

Once library users’ records are verified by staff the first time around, all they have to do is swipe their library cards and check out a tablet each time after that.

The iPad vending machine is set up with fully charged tablets pre-loaded with library applications for e-book and magazine reading as well as access to the library catalog.

Once the user is done and returns the iPad back to the machine, it’s rebooted back to its original state.

“There is no concern about privacy so that somebody else can get into something that you put on the iPad,” Anoka County Libraries director Marlene Moulton Janssen said. “There is no worries on the part of the library that somebody put malware or something because it’s wiped clean.”

Anoka County chose the two locations based on demographics and the need for tablets with a number of children attending school in those communities on free or reduced lunch.

“One of the primary goals is to address service and equity or ways of improving an underserved community in having access to technology and library services,” Moulton Janssen said. “We’re looking to reach out to communities who perhaps do not have access to technology.”

A single machine with 16 iPads costs about $20,000, she added.

Paper pushers, too

Though iPads, e-readers and tablet computers are popular amenities, not all Washington County library users would take advantage of a tablet dispensing service.

Mark Guerrino flipped through the pages of a newspaper last week as he discussed why he’s not a fan of screen reading.

“I can see everything on the page: the advertisements, the main story,” he said. “Rather than pulling down or moving them with my finger.”

Guerrino, an Oakdale resident who frequents the R. H. Stafford Library in Woodbury, works for TE Connectivity, a technology company that makes networks possible for many smartphones.

So he’s not against moving ahead with the times. “I worked on devices that are bigger than this room.”

But for reading, he’ll stick with flipping the pages as opposed to swiping them with his fingers.

“I have tried e-books from the library and I found the wait was too long for me to get what I wanted,” Guerrino said.

The demand for Anoka County iPads has been high as well, Moulton Janssen said. However, it’s only been eight months since the kiosks were installed.

“We know that there has been a lot of interest on the part of the community,” she said. “Our iPads at Ramsey in particular are circulating frequently. We know that we’re meeting a need.”

Washington County is still a long way from implementing an iPad dispensing system, but for now the planning with Information Technology, potential vendors and possible funding continues.

“You have to meet the person where they’re at. Today a lot of our users, whether they’re young or old, are using tablets,” Conley said. “It’s a work in progress and we’re just in the beginning stages.”

Riham Feshir
Riham Feshir is a reporter and photographer for the Woodbury Bulletin. Her coverage includes Woodbury City Hall, Washington County Board of Commissioners and business news.  Follow Riham on Twitter @RihamFeshir for the latest updates.