My library has an iPad?

I received an email today at work asking about the acquisition of iPads for loaning . Below I have included the sanitized test, names removed to, well, hide the sender.

A college library just purchased four iPads to start experimenting with. Currently we are not planning to deploy in the near future.  We will be testing to see if we could use iPads as student loaners in the library.  Currently we loan over 100 laptops that are so well used we can’t even keep the batteries charged.  Our hope is iPads can replace 25-50% of the laptops as a lower cost, longer battery life loaner solution where students’ needs are primarily web search related.

Here is my response to the question: Do we want to try this?

While iPads and iTouch devices are very good content consumption devices they are in a class of equipment designed to be tied to one account. Other devices like that would be a Kindle or a MP3 player tied to a subscription service. If we were to get into the business of loaning equipment my choice would be to use a netbook with a deepfreeze  locked SSD, making it more rugged and less likely to compromise others. These can be acquired for $300 versus the $500 an iPad would cost.

Our support efforts for iPad, iTouch and even netbooks for students would be better directed at providing power access locations, the appropriate file types for instructional and informational use.  Also we need to provide better web support, focusing on better information access for a broad group of web browsers, not just focus on how low can we make the cost or how little can we do to provide it. We also need to stop trying to find one answer to solve most needs, allowing the rest to fend for themselves. Multifaceted approaches usually provide full coverage and don’t always require more work, just more knowledge.

It’s not that I don’t think the iPad wold be a good choice for students. I just think they would be too difficult to manage the app access,  personal information compromise that could occur and cleaning the unit before allowing the next patron to borrow it.

Your thoughts?

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