By, Tim Gavin

Recently, Queens Library brought the following information to the attention of LTA:

In 2012, Queens Library began lending e-readers to customers, pre-loaded with content. It was a giant leap forward in customer service, and an opportunity for our library cardholders to become familiar with the advantages and uses of e-reading. A large percentage of library users in Queens depend solely on their public library for computer and broadband access, and many others lean on the library for baseline digital literacy. As more and more content is provided only in electronic format, the divide continues to grow between haves and have-nots. Queens Library seeks to bridge the digital divide by lending electronic devices as well as content. It will allow customers to experiment hands-on with devices and become comfortable using technology.
In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, a donor has pledged several thousand tablet computers to be lent to customers in the affected areas. In preparation, our Board approved a policy for lending electronic devices that is broad enough to cover most of the formats we currently envision lending. The library’s goals were to incentivize responsible care of expensive hardware, while at the same time keeping barriers to a minimum for good customer service. We hope to keep everyone in Queens plugged in and reading.  

It is certainly an inspiring story, and it is a testimony not only to the extremely important role that a library plays in a community, but how much of a positive impact even one patron can have on a library.

It is also a reminder that the services which libraries provide continue to evolve and that library policies need to do the same. In LTA’s policy database there are a few hundred lending policies. However, there are only a relatively small number of policies which address the lending of electronic devices, and within that group, most only allow patrons to borrow devices in-house.

Of course, not every library even has electronic devices to lend, and those that do, certainly do not have them to the extent that Queens anticipates. Also, every board has to weigh the risks of lending costly devices outside its library’s walls and draw its own conclusions when it comes to policies. Either way, the story from the Queens library gives food for thought.

The price of tablets, laptops, mp3 players and e-readers continue to decline as features improve. These e-devices are becoming a norm in society – yet many patrons still do not own one or know how to use them. Lending e-devices to patrons for use outside the library walls may soon be expected by patrons and affordable enough to become a reality, and just as with any other policy, it is good to be prepared.

Some questions to consider: How can patron confidentiality and privacy be ensured in devices with internal memory? How can patron compliance with Internet Use Policies be maintained? Who would be responsible for damages, an appropriate fine, and who would determine what constitutes “damage?” If e-devices are to be used for content, should patrons be allowed to download apps or other content, and if not who determines what content should be allowed and how?

Queens library was kind enough to share its electronic device policy outline with the library community. It can be found in the Database at the top of the home page. Just click on Advanced Search and search for the keywords:  “Electronic Device Loan Policy . Please take a look, and hopefully it will help generate some ideas for your own library’s lending policies.