On Being a Librarian

Trends, Achievements, and Perspectives

Tablets and the Academic Library: Comprehensive College Environment

For several years, academic libraries have had a growing interest in the potential of tablet computing to increase access to information. A spirited discussion has developed in the academic literature. In 2010,  library chief for Ryerson made available $5,000 for librarians to examine the emerging role of tablets in the lives of students. The study found that iPads were a luxury technology and use for teaching and learning depended upon available applications yet may become an addition to instruction toolkits.

The American Libraries magazine published The Tao of Tablets in December 2012. The authors state that academic libraries have tended to be agents of change and early adopters of technologies.  The trend of the modern library is towards integrated model that mandates librarians to explore the use of technologies that enhance information literacy skill development, to deliver roaming reference services within the library and across campus, and to accompany faculty in an instructional sessions.  This mobility suggests the idea that mobile computing could play a helpful supporting role.  A definitive expectation for the use of tablets in academics libraries was not established, but there was an expression of optimism that ongoing experimentation and research into designing and developing programs and services for tablet technology integration could be highly beneficial.

Tablet Computers in the Academic Library is now available from the ALA store. This book delivers up-to-date information on the “imaginative uses for tablet computers in the academic setting”, offering the reader case studies, best practices for integrating tablets into existing services, and a detailed review of current technologies available.

I am a frequent visitor at Standford University Libraries Emerging Technologies Team website.  This goal of this team of librarians is “to identify, test, and assess new and emerging technologies within the academic library environment and disseminate that information to our colleagues”. The team provides a wealth of information on the good and bad aspects of trending technologies.

I also follow Ubiquity@Standford which explores emerging mobile technologies in education.  While new technologies and educational opportunities are inviting and exciting, I am hesitant to rush headlong to embrace any particular platform.  I believe that there should be consultation with all stakeholders.  It is critical and essential to engage IT departments at all stages of the project.  Maintaining and servicing tablets and other technologies is not in a library clerk or technician’s wheelhouse; therefore, before any technology is considered, IT departments must be engaged.

The library, where I work in the role of Instructional and Research Librarian, is considering the use of tablets as an addition to the 15 laptops currently available, specifically with an agenda to increase use of the e-book collection. I was given the responsibility of gathering information upon which the library would base a purchasing and service decision. Consulting with my colleagues, I developed two surveys:  one student facing, and another for other provincial comprehensive college libraries having similar FTE and programming as this library.

Both survey results indicated that tablets are NOT a technology for use to expand nor enhance library services or collection use (specifically e-book reading and use).

Student Survey

  • 114 respondents: 56% read e-books.
  • Of those who read e-books, 1.75% use a tablet, 39.5% use a laptop, and 19% use an iPad.
  • 36% would borrow a laptop, 9.5 % would borrow a tablet; 27% would borrow an iPad.
  • 58% of the respondents own a laptop, 34% own an iPad, and 15% own a tablet.

College Library Survey

  • Seven British Columbia comprehensive college libraries were surveyed.
  • 71% do not have tablets nor e-readers; 29% purchased tablets but NOT for reading e-books.
  • Of the 71% not owning tablets nor e-readers, 100% will not be purchasing tablets.
  • The colleges owning tablets or iPads strongly recommend tight controls and setting expectations and ensuring IT has been consulted for input well before any purchasing decision and that there is a plan for IT ongoing support..
  • Tablets and iPads require circulation staff to possess advanced knowledge of device technologies and to take increased amounts of time to process devices between uses, troubleshooting a myriad of technological issues.
  • iPads, while popular, are not used for reading e-books but are used to support multi-media projects in specific courses (the library does not have programs that would be supported by use of iPads).


  • Purchasing tablets or iPads or e-readers is not warranted; there is no demonstrated need for this technology at the library.
  • My recommendation is to create a targeted and strategic technology adoption plan in collaboration with IT for any future technology considerations; further,
    • To strategically plan a professional collateral promotion series for using e-books for research and study, also promoting the availability of laptops;
    • To explore options to reduce barriers for downloading e-books to personal devices.
  • The library currently has 15 laptops available for students to borrow yet only an average of 6 per day are loaned out. Removing the perceived barriers for borrowing would increase use of laptops and offer students the opportunity to read the library’s e-book collection online.  Loan periods could be the primary barrier.  Adopting a more respectful and responsive loan period and return policy would likely result in an increase in use.

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This entry was posted on 12/08/2014 by in Competency, Transliteracy and tagged , .
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