Since its 2010 release, attitudes about the iPad have undergone a radical change. Once mocked by techies for being both frivolous and having a silly name, the device has since become nearly ubiquitous in coffee shops, schools, airports and businesses across the nation. Why? Because in many ways, the iPad actually did live up to the hype. It’s easy to use (even for little kids), intuitive, lightweight and generally a highly versatile tool adaptable everywhere, from the board room to home room.
With iPads all the rage in schools and colleges across the nation, it was only a matter of time before libraries started getting in on the craze as well. Many public and university institutions lead the way with iPad adoption by developing some pretty cool uses for their patrons. Librarians, MLS majors and avowed bibliophiles alike should take note, as there are plenty of great ideas about using the iPad worth emulating– or at least taking the time to explore. We’ve listed just a few ways we think these wondrous gadgets are best being used in libraries, hopefully providing some inspiration on how to get started making your workspace a more tech-savvy, iPad-friendly environment.
With most large libraries now offering digital content to patrons, having an application that makes it easy to download an ebook or audiobook directly to a smartphone or iPad just makes sense. OverDrive Media Console is one such tool letting libraries and borrowers do just that, hooking them up with over 13,000 institutions around the world, from which they can download a wealth of material totally gratis — so long as they have a library card, of course. Reviews of the app have been glowing, and if your library isn’t already in on the game, you probably should.
Many patrons might not be able to afford an iPad of their own, but that doesn’t mean they can’t get access to one. A number of libraries are offering the devices for loan, some of which can only be used within the library and some that can actually be taken home. While there are always concerns about theft with such a big-ticket item, libraries trying out the lending system have reported good results so far. With high late fees and replacement fines, most patrons are more than willing to bring back the tablets on time.
Need to look up a book on the fly? With an iPad, librarians can access their institution’s database from anywhere in the building, making it easier than ever to help patrons with any questions they might have. With email, web access and a variety of apps, there’s little that a savvy librarian can’t do on the iPad, and that just might make it their preferred tool in the future.
Libraries with impressive research collections can make those materials even easier to access with the iPad’s help. One pioneer in the field has been the New York Public Library, whose Biblion app lets users explore research materials (including those most commonly consulted) from anywhere with an Internet connection. This could not only save researchers time hunting through stacks of materials, but might make it easier for libraries to share their resources with a much wider audience.
Does your library have a great collection of rare and historical books? Loads of digital content? Why not share those materials with patrons without even making them leave the house? The British Library is one such public institution doing just that, with an app and subscription service that lets users access 60,000 texts in its 19th Century Historical Collection for just a few dollars a month. While the initial costs of a project like this might be high, monthly revenue is something any library can use more of — whether it’s for access to historical tomes or just the latest bestseller.
Rare book rooms are hallowed places, but they can take a lot of security and effort to maintain. While there will always be a certain cachet to seeing books in person, many people don’t have the time or money to see the collections in every library. While many already share their rare materials online, a dedicated app for the iPad could make it even easier to expose audiences to these amazing artifacts. Whether your library is home to rare manuscripts, ancient books or just an impressive art collection, the iPad can be a great tool for letting the larger public know just what they can access at the facility.
Teaching a literacy course? There are loads of apps on the iPad that can help adults and children learn to read. Helping people retool their resumes? The iPad has apps that can help with that too. No matter what kind of classes your library offers, there are a myriad of different ways the tool can be integrated to help patrons get more out of the information you’re sharing. With tablets enjoying popularity in schools and colleges, the range of educational applications to choose from is bound to increase over the next few years.
Whether you use your own library’s collection or the tens of thousands of free books offered through the iBooks store, pre-loading an iPad with ebooks and loaning it out can be a great strategy encouraging patrons to embrace the phenomenon. That way, they can enjoy reading a wide range of books, but won’t have to make any changes to the apps, which most libraries have to block for security reasons when the tablets are loaned.
If you’ve already got desktop stations for patrons to use, why not switch it up and create iPad equivalents instead? Some libraries are already giving it a whirl, like the North Shore Library in Shoreham, NY. Rather than replacing the gaming computers it had with new ones, the library opted instead for iPads, which they felt were easier for and more familiar to kids. As the digital generation grows older, this may be increasingly true for the majority of library patrons. Many institutions may want to consider the tablets as an alternative to desktop computers for at least some workstations.
There are hundreds of interactive books for kids available online, and these new digital reads can be a great way to mix up library story time with something new. Librarians can still read the content, but allowing kids to interact with the book may make reading more engaging and exciting for them — and get them hooked at an earlier age.
While bookmobiles take materials on the road, iPads can make it easier to bring web access as well. Not only can the devices be used by patrons, but they can make it easier for librarians to sign them up for library cards and reading programs and also check out materials on the go. The Omaha Public Library recently applied for, and received, a grant that let them purchase six iPads. The library used the devices at their Summer Reading Program kick-off event in July to sign up over 500 kids, teens and adults.
Many older adults aren’t really as familiar with mobile technology as their younger counterparts. While they might find the devices intimidating, many are also very interested to learn more about them. Offering classes teaching these individuals about iPads, smartphones and other mobile technologies can be a great way to get them engaged and learning a new skill. Better yet, there are tons of videos and training programs out there – which can be downloaded right onto the iPad – that can also be great learning tools.
These iPad chairs from Elite Home Theater Seating, or something similar, might just be the perfect thing for your library. The leather chairs come complete with an iPad stand (which would make it easy to lock down the device) so that visitors to the library could relax while browsing the web or reading an ebook.
With so many periodicals available through the iPad, having a library café newsstand with them could be a pretty cool way for patrons to keep busy while sipping a latte. Even better, cases are available to protect the pricey devices from spills.
Much like the self-check lanes at the grocery store, iPads can make it possible for patrons to scan their own materials without a librarian’s help. A program called Express Lane already exists, which lets patrons check out their own materials on a PC or Mac, and app functionality is likely not far behind. Through it, patrons can check out, renew, cancel holds, pay fines and more, reducing long lines and freeing up librarians for other tasks.
While few libraries would be able to afford the immense interactive display imagined by Melbourne Architects (think $150,000), most have the money to integrate a few iPads into a wall display for patrons. Think how much a tablet loaded with videos and information about history, authors or holidays could add to the experience. It could revolutionize how you design displays at your library and give them a cool factor they wouldn’t otherwise have.
It’s always tough to get the hang of new systems and processes when you start a new job. iPads could help streamline the process by making it easy to show new employees training videos and tutorials that will help them more easily grasp how things are done. With many businesses already using the iPad for training purposes, there’s no reason it can’t also work for libraries.
Many patrons call into the library to ask for help, either because they’re looking for something or want help with a research problem. With the iPad, they could use the device to remotely ask a librarian for help, either through Skype or Facetime if they’re not on location at all, or through information stations that could function like high-tech walkie talkies.
A few iPad stations around the library could make it easy for patrons to look up reference information, find a book or locate what floor a particular section is on. Additional information about the institution, such as maps or Dewey Decimal system references, could be uploaded as PDFs and put on the device as well. An iPad is simple to mount on a podium or other stand, making it the perfect tool for quick look-ups.
Today’s kids have grown up with touch screens, Internet access and digital content, and know how to use just about any piece of technology you can throw at them. Many young children may find the iPad more natural and easy to interact with than a traditional computer system (think about how big a mouse is in a little hand), which is why it can be such an amazing tool for youth-oriented libraries. Left out at workstations, the iPad can allow kids to play educational games, improve their reading and even flip through a fun, interactive version of their favorite book. Some libraries, like the Houston Public Library, are already employing iPad programs for youngsters, and expect to expand them further in the next year.
This article was first published in OnlineCollege.org.