Tablets and laptops and desktops, oh my!

Tablets, laptops, desktops

It’s like watching evolution in progress. First, there was the personal computer, and for the sake of this short history lesson, we’ll only go as far back as the IBM or MacIntosh of the early 1980’s. Then the laptop appeared on the scene not too long after, followed by mobile phones and PDAs. Things calmed down for a bit until touch screen technology became viable for the consumer market, and then came the blending of PDAs and mobile phones into smartphones. Then came tablets, which caused a cascade of children with qualities blended with other devices. Tablets and smartphones are the parents of mini tablets (slightly smaller tablets) and phablets (slightly larger smartphones), while tablets and laptops sired convertible tablets (tablets with attached keyboards) and hybrids (laptops or tablets with detachable keyboards).

So if you’re a library buying new devices for the public, how do you choose where to put your money? Glad you asked.

Most often, the question is about tablet versus laptop; this is the question asked when portability or space are of concern. Most sources suggest that it comes down to the intended use. If the intended use is consumption — viewing websites or movies, checking email, and maybe playing some basic games — then tablets win out over laptops. On the flip side, if someone wants to craft a resume, do online tax filing or tinker with photos, then the laptops come out ahead. In libraries, this can mean the difference between “short-term” and “long-term” computer use, or “children’s computers” as compared to “adult-use computers.”

Things to think about in either case: both laptops and tablets can be tricky to manage in terms of physical security (making sure they don’t leave the building), and tablets are also tough to lock down so that others aren’t able to tinker with their settings (though you can go a long ways with the parental controls of most tablets). Also, tablets are the hardest to troubleshoot of the three, and even replacing a tablet’s battery may mean sending it back to the manufacturer. Laptops are easier to deal with, but are more difficult to maintain than desktops.

Desktops have the greatest space needs by far, but often make for a better long-term investment. Desktops can be comparable in expense to laptops, particularly since monitors can and often will outlive the desktops with which they were purchased, and don’t need to be replaced for many years. If a part fails within a desktop, often it can be swapped out with little trouble. Desktops are ideal for high-end software needs, as it’s far less expensive to buy the necessary desktop components for computer gaming or video rendering than the comparable laptop would cost.

So the long and short of it: tablets are great for basic web browsing (though no tablet currently supports Flash out of the box) and productivity, but are rarely the best choice for workhorse machines. Consider tablets when you want to educate your patrons on the use of tablets, or to give them a fun and easy way to connect to the Internet. Laptops and desktops are better for a more well-rounded service, with laptops winning out when space or mobility is a factor. Desktops are best for longevity or high-end software needs.

What’s your experience with tablets versus laptops? What way is your library headed?

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By Jared Leadbetter Posted in devices

The art and science of creation

Hands of God and Adam

So, yeah, makerspaces. It’s one of those neologisms that has become common library parlance over the past few years, though the notion itself is nothing all that revolutionary. Dedicating library resources (and for many libraries, actual physical space is extremely valuable) to the creation of new things? A bit scary. But also, perhaps, the start of something big.

Libraries comport themselves as institutions of education, but the traditional methods of a library (books) function only for a certain type of student: those able to self-educate by reading. Not everyone learns optimally by reading print on a page or screen, or even listening to audiobooks. Many learn best by doing. For someone whose interest and creativity are engaged by hands-on activities and do-it-yourself projects, aka “participatory learning,” a makerspace is the ideal approach to developing skills and knowledge.

A lot of attention is given to the idea of 3-D printers (and let’s face it, the technology has come down in price pretty significantly, and will continue to drop) but that isn’t the only approach to makerspaces out there. Find a tech-savvy volunteer or make a community partnership (kudos to Auburn Public Library!) to teach kids or adults real computer skills with old computers or parts from your local swap-shop. With Raspberry Pi devices at $35 a pop, creating an entire network of computers isn’t much more expensive than buying one of each title off of the New York Times’ bestseller list.

If not computers or technology, why not gardening? Sewing? Writing a sestina? (Dover Town Library incubated eggs, with each participating child given a specific egg to nurture.) The idea that makerspaces attempt to capture is that there is the opportunity to learn through experience, either with mentoring or without. Some libraries capture this knowledge in video form and share it like any part of their collection.

In any event, many believe that makerspaces and libraries make a very cute couple, and that it is not all HYPE. (Some even have excellent taste in WordPress templates.) Makerspace.com has gone through the trouble of making a playbook for schools or libraries interested in starting their own makerspace.

Does a makerspace fit into your library’s plans?

By Jared Leadbetter Posted in vision

The e-ssentials of e-books

e-book

With the new look for the Maine InfoNet Download Library and the imminent update to the Overdrive Media Console app (bonus points if you are registered for the live webinar), it may be time to say a few words about e-books. (I am, of course, making the assumption that readers of this blog know what is an e-book, and why they are important to libraries.)

I’d be very hard-pressed to say anything particularly new or insightful on the subject, and even harder to say anything that won’t be rendered obsolete within a few months, except to make some very broad observations: there is a growing demand for e-books, the larger book publishers have reservations about selling e-books to libraries, and even librarians are finding ethical conundrums when dealing with e-books.

In many ways, e-books have become symbolic of the challenges facing libraries and librarians: an increasingly digital world where libraries are striving to meet demands despite tightening budgets and active competition from the private sector. In Maine, we’ve been very fortunate to have the Download Library (as supported by Overdrive to manage almost all of the technical hurdles), but then supporting patrons with their e-reader devices can be tough on smaller libraries with limited staff and technology training.

Many libraries are choosing a path forward. Some are trailblazing, such as the New York Public Library and the Douglas County Public Library, by negotiating directly with publishers. Most others are working with middleperson “aggregators” of e-books, like Overdrive, MyiLibrary, 3M Cloud Collection, and EBSCO eBooks (available through MARVEL!). Point is, it’s going to be hard for libraries not to do something about the trend toward e-books.

It’s not just libraries that are moving forward to the digital realm: education is facing a push to digitize textbooks due to the number of tablets among high-school and college students. It’s not hard to imagine how this trend will lift e-book demand even higher, as the generation of young digital natives grows into digital consumers. Not only that, but e-book readers will certainly result (and has, already) in more self-publication in e-book format.

Some have already imagined the “bookless” library, where each patron has his or her own tablet, and can browse, borrow, request and read everything in their library’s collection from anywhere. Others will forever maintain that the tangible collection can never be truly replaced. Where does your library fall on this spectrum, and how are you addressing the e-book question?

Putting your library on the map

Totius Mundi 1775

It seems like there’s a new exploration race occurring, except now instead of topography and geography, it’s about the businesses and places of interest throughout the nation and the world.

Some efforts are tackling this for all businesses. If you haven’t tried Google Maps, you’re in for a very neat experience. They’ve been building its functionality for some time, and owners or representatives of establishments are encouraged to refine the information already provided by Google. Street View lets you see panoramic “photo spheres” of locations on the street.

Not many people know that there is an Indoor version of both Google Maps and Google Street View, however. In this article, the Chelmsford Public Library is one such place that has taken advantage of this service (the Indoor Google Maps service is free: a team from Google will come to your facility and map / label the interior, making a basic floor plan visible from Google Maps). The Indoor Street View allows a facility to present its interior like a virtual tour, showing full-360-degree views of rooms. This is a spectacular way for libraries who wish to offer meeting rooms for public use, or have unusual and interesting spaces they want to highlight.

For reviews and other information, Yelp is another service that’s been extended to libraries. Yelp is most commonly used to find restaurants (and see how they are rated by previous customers), but is being applied to all businesses, including libraries. You can describe your services and respond to feedback placed on Yelp. Treat it like another avenue of social media for your library!

Anyone attending the digital literacy sessions held throughout the state from late November 2012 into January 2013 will remember an initiative called Connect2Compete, as well as the fact that this initiative would be pushing people interested in technology training toward libraries. Sadly, the database of libraries used there may not have survived the transition to its sister initiative, EveryoneOn. Instructions for making changes to your library’s information on that site can be found here.

Another national effort to put libraries on a map is the IMLS iMapLibraries page. This is meant to help libraries serve increasingly diverse populations, according to their June 2013 ALA presentation. Yet another is being implemented by OCLC, called Spotlight. This is a service meant to broaden the library reach to mobile users, and is free to libraries. (OCLC has another free service for libraries, called WorldCat Registry, mainly used by developers and other libraries.)

How are you putting your library on the map?