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Emerging Tech: Automated Laptop Kiosk for Rural Branches

The powerful spread of digital information and media in the last decade has touched every aspect of daily life–schooling, shopping, socializing, and working. Access to the Internet has become the critical gateway for education and job opportunities, accessing financial, government and healthcare resources, entertainment and participating in civic life (Garmer, 2014). While most urban and suburban areas in the United States and other developed countries in Europe and Asia have had access to high speed Internet and the gadgets to get online, rural areas fell behind (Real & Rose, 2017). Internationally, in many parts of the world, it is still a social and economic privilege to get online at all (Baute, 2013; Molinari, 2012).

Providing access and connecting knowledge to the needs of individuals and the community have always been at the center of the mission and purpose of libraries.

Garmer, A. K. (2014). Rising to the challenge: Re-Envisioning public libraries (A report of the Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries)

There is good news, however, for some rural communities. In California, for example, recent innovations for delivering faster Internet speeds through CENIC and USDA’s ReConnect Program have meant that many rural communities (and their libraries) now have Internet speeds that allow people who live there to get online. Capitalizing on the increased access to high-speed Internet in rural communities, I propose to invest in a self-service laptop kiosk, which would house 12 laptops that could be checked out for free and used at a rural library in California. Having a new laptop kiosk would triple the number of computer sessions and offer extended times on all computers. Additionally, having more self-service computers available would allow librarians to offer more digital literacy and computing classes to patrons, many who are getting online for the first time and overwhelmed by the new digital landscape.

Objectives for Automated Laptop Kiosk

ACTION BRIEF

CONVINCE rural library patrons

THAT BY checking out free laptops

THEY WILL expand their access to computers

WHICH WILL broaden and enhance their knowledge, skills, and resources

BECAUSE being digitally connected is vital for education and citizenship

To install a self-service, laptop-dispensing kiosk at a rural branch in Sunnyvale County, California to increase the number of computers available to patrons in order to bridge this “digital” divide in rural communities. Installing a laptop kiosk will allow Sunnyvale county to:

  • Add 12 new computers at Spring Valley branch library
  • Triple computer usage hours by increasing access to computers and lengthening daily reservation time from 60 to 120 minutes
  • Allow 9,000 library patrons to access a free laptop to be used anywhere in the branch
  • Invite all middle school and high school students to visit the library and be taught how to use the kiosk
  • Train six staff members in using and trouble shooting the kiosk
  • Increase library programming in computer technology to weekly sessions at both libraries
  • Build upon the 1-gigabit infrastructure already available at both rural branches to overcome the digital divide in rural communities like Spring Valley

Evidence & Resources To Support New Service

Although rural communities trail behind suburban and urban areas in terms of internet speed, the situation is improving. Real & Rose (2017) found that 60.8% of rural librarians reported their Internet speeds to be adequate to meet patron demand most of the time. In 2014, most rural libraries offered computer terminals with free Internet access (70.3%). As high speed internet connectivity becomes more widespread in rural areas buoyed by direct investment from state and federal assistance targeting rural areas (Alemanne, et. al, 2011; Real & Rose, 2017), one of the major obstacles to full digital inclusion will have been overcome.

A major goal for rural librarians over the last decade has been to promote digital literacy and technological training to library patrons and improve their own technological skills. Despite rural librarians placing a high value on helping library patrons become better users of technology (Mehra, 2011), Fischer (2015) found that despite the best intentions, rural libraries are almost half as likely to lend e-readers at branches very few libraries (31.8%) provide formal technological training to patrons (Real, et al., 2014). A self-service laptop kiosk would allow more patrons to access a computer and increase options for computing classes and instruction for librarians.

Description of Community

Expanding access to computers and the internet area is top priority for rural and back country branches in Sunnyvale County, several of which are designated as economically-disadvantaged under state guidelines. The focus will be the Spring Valley branch, which is located in an area that is primarily farmland and parkland, where over 46% of the residents are Latino and over 86% of the K-12 students receiving free breakfast and lunches due to economic hardship.

Created by Cristin McVey (2017)

At the Spring Valley branch demand for computers is high. Unlike more economically-advantaged communities, where households often have multiple computers, tablets, high speed internet and printers, residents in rural areas are not as privileged (Real & rose, 2017). Rural residents in Spring Valley rely heavily on the public libraries to support their computing and internet needs. With more available computers, residents can more easily take online exams, apply for jobs, do their homework, read e-mail and print documents.

In the case of Spring Valley library, the laptop kiosk will provide computer access to patrons, many of which do no household computing at home, either because they do not own a lap top or tablet or cannot afford the cost of personal Internet. Foreign-born Latinos, who make up 57% of Latino residents of Spring Valley, fall behind other groups in the U.S. in terms of computer and Internet use. While rural areas can celebrate higher Internet speeds, the next phase, accessing computers and educating patrons and librarians in the use of emerging technology and digital literacy, may prove to be the next major hurdles to full digital inclusion.

Guidelines, Procedures and Policy

Several public library systems in California, such as San Diego, Santa Clarita, Ventura and Alameda counties, are already using laptop kiosks to expand access to computers and the internet. Lead staff will reach out to these public libraries to learn about existing policies and guidelines implemented at these branches before drafting the final guidelines for the Spring Valley branch.

The Spring Valley branch manager, with input from her Principal Librarian and Library Director and in consultation with IT department, will draft the initial policy for the new laptop kiosk. Some of the areas that will be researched and decided upon are:

  • Use ALA guidelines for determining Internet use policies, especially making sure laptops are Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) compliant and internet access includes proper disclaimer and policy explanation
  • Decide on procedures for what happens if a laptop is not returned or damaged during check out. In other systems, patrons are required to sign a user agreement prior to checking out the laptop. The library can design the agreement to make patrons responsible for missing or damaged laptops. For example, the library could automatically place a hold on a patron’s account, reach out to the patron, and charge the patron for the laptop if not returned or damaged (i.e. cracked screen, etc).
  • Decide if laptops can be taken home or used only in the library? for example, San Diego County Library limits laptops to library-use only (not checkouts).
  • Decide if there should be a limit on the number of minutes patrons can use the laptops. While the desktop computers have software to shut down the computer after a set time interval, can laptops be programmed this way? Is it necessary? My recommendation would be to start with no time limit and reevaluate in six months.
  • Decide policy for accessibility: Should everyone be able to check out a laptop? Should it be limited to patrons without fines? Should it follow the same policy as book checkouts? Should children under 12 be allowed to use their library card to check out a laptop? How will the ILS monitor this? These would all need to be discussed and decided upon in a thoughtful manner with inclusivity as a guiding principle.

Funding Considerations for Laptop Kiosks

There are two major vendors that install laptop-dispensing kiosks at libraries: D-Tech and Laptops Anytime. These units consist of a single checkout station with touch screen, camera, card reader and slots for up to 12 laptops. The unit houses the laptops, manages all check-ins (only a valid library card needed), recharges the laptops upon check in and restarts the computer to original settings (to preserve user privacy). Additional “security” add-ons are available, such as photographic records of transactions and limiting availability to certain patron types.

Laptop kiosk at Drexel University

Initial start-up costs for the laptops are considerable, mainly the purchasing of the kiosk (approximately $40,000), the 12 laptops (($18,000) and the Microsoft licensing fees ($6000), which comes to $64,000. As stated below, the lap-top kiosk will not need to fund additional staffing. Broken down into five year increments, it would cost the county approximately $13,000/year. The funding goal could be achieved using a multiple revenue streams, consisting of county general funds, Friends of the Library fundraising, and grant applications.

The Sunnyvale county library system is committed to bridging the digital divide in rural areas. The self-dispensing laptop kiosk would build upon the current 1-gigabit CENIC broadband connection already available at Spring Valley branch. The increased connectivity, however, cannot be maximized without free and easy access to computers. Investing in a laptop kiosk would be the second phase of this endeavor to assist rural residents in accessing the internet. While CENIC funding limited to broadband connection (Maginnity & Keller, 2014), there may be other state and federal grants that would support this new service .

Action Steps & Timeline for Laptop Kiosks

To install a laptop kiosk, the first hurdle would be to obtain the necessary funds either through permission of the County Board of Supervisors (with the recommendation of the Library Directory) or, if that failed, through grants, such as the California State Library’s Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) program or Friends of the Library fundraising (or a combination of these three sources). Once funds have been obtained, the timeline would be the following:

January-February–Research and select vendor for laptop kiosk–major vendors limited mainly to Laptops Anytime and Di-Tech

March-April–Select vendor and discuss options and add-ons; IT department to negotiate contract for laptop kiosk and software

June: IT and Facilities departments locate space in library for kiosk and makes sure proper outlet is available

July: Branch manager creates marketing materials for roll-out of laptop kiosk in September

August: Laptop kiosk installed at branch; staff training on trouble-shooting and customer service; patron instruction on accessing laptops

September: Back-to-school promotions feature new laptop kiosk; local newspaper features an article about new technology; schools receive instructional flyers for students to bring home

Staffing Considerations for Laptop Kiosks

A major advantage of the lap-top dispensing kiosk is that it provides a much-needed new service without increasing staff hours, a rare win-win in the library world. The only additional staff time would be in the initial training of staff on the new service, promoting the service to patrons, and any service requests related to the kiosk. Once the kiosks are up and running, they should require fewer than 2 hours/week of total staff time.

Training for Laptop Kiosks Service

Because the technology is meant to be self-service, it is not necessary to conduct intensive staff trainings to implement the new service (Zulkey, 2019) . After the laptop kiosks are installed, library technicians will coordinate with the county IT department to make sure that the kiosks are functioning properly. Library techs will be trained in basic troubleshooting and all staff will be trained in checking in and checking out laptops so they can better assist patrons and answer common questions. These trainings can be done as a group in one 2-hour session with the vendor and IT liaison.

Promotion & Marketing for Laptop Kiosks

To market the new laptop kiosks at Spring Valley branch library, the following steps will be initiated:

  • Create a “logo” that will be included on all marketing and promotional materials (see below)
Created by Cristin McVey (2019)
  • Get the word out several weeks on social media (Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) before the laptop kiosk arrives
  • Host a Laptop Kiosk party to get patrons excited about using the new service
  • Ask the local newspaper to write an article about the new service (invite the press to the party too)
  • Ask the Sunnyvale county to post social media on their outlets as well
  • Bring flyers and posters to the local elementary, middle and high schools
  • Market a Digital Saturdays 6-week digital literacy program to show patrons what types of resources are available (from basic word processing to web design and more); Run class three times in first six months of new service
  • Suggest staff read Jonah Berger’s Contagious, Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody or Kevin Kelly’s The Inevitable to engage them in big-picture ideas about digital inclusion

Evaluation of New Laptop Kiosks Service

To evaluate the impacts and outcomes the new laptop kiosk has on the Spring Valley library patrons, the following evaluations will be integrated into the new service:

  • Electronic statistics of laptop usage will be tracked for six months. The goal is to provide at least 250 patron sessions per month (or 1500 sessions in the six months) employing the new laptop kiosk
  • Staff will monitor how the extended session times for computers (from 60-minutes to 120-minutes) is affecting library use, with an expected 150% in average total time on library computers (including laptops) per week
  • Library staff will keep a notebook at the main desk for comments, positive and negative, about patron experiences with the new laptop kiosks
  • Staff will take photos of patrons (with their permission) using the laptops to document how the laptops are being used
  • Staff will conduct pre- and post-evaluation surveys with patrons who attend Digital Saturdays 6-week digital literacy program to get additional feedback on usage
  • Staff will collect “Impact” stories to document how the laptop kiosks are being used by patrons and the impact the new service has on their lives. Some of the types of stories we would like to see would be: senior adult patrons gaining computer confidence through Digital Saturdays, local teens bringing the laptops into study areas to complete homework, Opportunity Youth (19-29) years old using the laptops to update resume, design websites, or learn coding, and low-income residents checking out laptops to conduct personal business, read electronic materials or surf the internet for free.

If the Spring Valley branch is able to meet the goals above, then Sunnyvale County library system could look into expanding the new service to other rural and back country branches and/or economically-disadvantaged branches in other parts of the county. Expanding access to computers and the internet is a primary goal of the Sunnyvale County library system and a new, self-service laptop kiosk can play a huge role in this endeavor

References

Alemanne, N., Mandel, L. & McClure, C. (2011). The rural public library as leader in community broadband services. Library Technology Reports, 47(6), 19-28. 

Baute, N. (2013). How a modern library keeps mothers healthy in rural Ghana. Impatient Optimists. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Retrieved from: https://www.impatientoptimists.org/Posts/2013/11/How-a-Modern-Library-Keeps-Mothers-Healthy-in-Rural-Ghana

Garmer, A.(2014). Rising to the challenge: Re-envisioning public libraries. Washington D.C.: The Aspen Institute. Retrieved from http://csreports.aspeninstitute.org/documents/AspenLibrariesReport.pdf

Kelly, K. (2016) The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces that Will Shape the Future. New York: Penguin Books.

Kern, M.  (2014) Continuity and change, or will I ever be prepared for what comes next? Reference and User Services Quarterly 53(4): 282-285.

Maginnity, G. & Keller, J. (2014). Needs assessment & spending plan. High-Speed Broadband in California Public Libraries: An Initiative of the California State Library. Retrieved from: https://cenic.org/files/publications/Public_Library_Broadband_Assessment_2014.pdf

Mehra, B., Black, K. Singh, V., & Nolt, J. (2011). What is the value of LIS education? A qualitative analysis of the perspectives of rural librarians in Southern and Central Appalachia, Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, 52(4), 265-278.

Molinari, A. (2012). Let’s Bridge the Digital Divide. TEDx:San Miguel de Allende. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/aleph_molinari_let_s_bridge_the_digital_divide/transcript?language=en

Real, B., Carlo, C. & Jaeger, P. (2014). Rural public libraries and digital inclusion: Issues and challenges. Information Technology and Libraries (March), 6-24.

Real, B. & Rose, R. (2017). Rural libraries in the United States: Recent strides, future possibilities, and meeting community needs (July). ALA Office for Information Technology Policy. Retrieved from:  http://www.ala.org/advocacy/sites/ala.org.advocacy/files/content/pdfs/Rural%20p      aper%2007-31-2017.pdf

Reid, H. & Howard, V. (2016). Connecting with community: The importance of community engagement in rural public library systems. Public Library Quarterly35(3), 188-202.

Smith, S. (2014). The future of small rural public libraries in America: A report prepared for the board of the Langlois Public Library. Public Library Quarterly, 33, 83-85.

Zulkey, C. (2019) Automatic for the people. American Libraries. Retrieved from: https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/2019/09/03/automatic-people-self-service-libraries/

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One thought on “Emerging Tech: Automated Laptop Kiosk for Rural Branches

  1. Tiffany Song

    Hi Cristin,

    I love the idea of automated laptop kiosks for rural branches. I have a somewhat personal reason for why I would like to see this service implemented.

    I remember going back to the southern part of Taiwan to visit my grandparents who couldn’t afford internet and heating. They had a 20+ year old AC system located upstairs in the guest bedroom and primarily used large fans.

    Sorry if that seemed off topic but it made me realize that accessibility is incredibly important. We don’t often realize how fortunate we are to have any access to technology and the Internet. Some patrons either can’t afford technology or they simply live too far out of reach from a library. This is an opportunity for libraries to take action and provide that access.

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