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Washington County looking at offering iPad service to patrons

Kaitlin Pakkala sat near the R.H. Stafford Library swiping on her iPad and typing on her computer as she worked on a business etiquette paper.

The East Ridge High School senior prefers her iPad over books for its lightweight and convenient features.

“You don’t have the big keyboard, you can hold it whatever way you want,” she said. “You don’t have the pages flopping everywhere.”

Like many tablet users, Pakkala is a proponent of the technology. According to Pew Internet Project data released in January, 42 percent of American adults own a tablet computer and 32 percent own an e-reader.

In Washington County, library officials are toying with the idea of providing iPads to library users. Patrons would be able to use them in the library.

It’s still unclear how security, funding and logistics would be mapped out.

“There are so many questions about how you manage them, how you keep them up to date,” Washington County Libraries Director Pat Conley said. “It’s not as simple as buying them and hooking them up.”

If it were implemented in the county, the pilot program would begin at Wildwood Library in Mahtomedi. It’s a smaller library and computers need to be replaced after recent flooding anyway, Conley said.

Many computers are becoming less of an attraction, especially to the younger population, and providing iPads in area school districts has been a popular trend.

“You see kids hitting the screen trying to make things work on the traditional PCs,” Conley said.

Some metro county libraries have implemented similar programs over the past few months.

Anoka County Libraries received a grant to install iPad-dispensing kiosks at two of its branches where the need is imminent.

One of the locations requires a two-hour in-house checkout, while the other allows for up to a week timeframe.

Once library users’ records are verified by staff the first time, all they have to do is swipe their library cards and check out a tablet each time after that.

The iPad vending machine is set up with fully charged tablets pre-loaded with library applications for e-book and magazine reading as well as access to the library catalog.

Once the user is done and returns the iPad to the machine, it’s rebooted back to its original state.

“There is no concern about privacy so that somebody else can get into something that you put on the iPad,” Anoka County Libraries Director Marlene Moulton Janssen said. “There is no worries on the part of the library that somebody put malware or something because it’s wiped clean.”

Anoka County chose the two locations based on demographics and the need for tablets with a number of children attending school in those communities on free or reduced-price lunch.

“One of the primary goals is to address service and equity or ways of improving an underserved community in having access to technology and library services,” Moulton Janssen said. “We’re looking to reach out to communities who perhaps do not have access to technology.”

A single machine with 16 iPads cost about $20,000, she added.

Though iPads, e-readers and tablet computers are popular amenities, not all Washington County library users would take advantage of a tablet dispensing service.

Mark Guerrino flipped through the pages of a newspaper recently as he discussed why he’s not a fan of screen reading.

“I can see everything on the page: the advertisements, the main story,” he said of a newspaper, “rather than pulling down or moving them with my finger.”

Guerrino, an Oakdale resident who frequents the R.H. Stafford Library in Woodbury, works for TE Connectivity, a technology company that makes networks possible for many smartphones.

So he’s not against moving ahead with the times. “I worked on devices that are bigger than this room.”

But for reading, he’ll stick with flipping the pages as opposed to swiping them.

“I have tried e-books from the library and I found the wait was too long for me to get what I wanted,” Guerrino said.

The demand for Anoka County iPads has been high as well, Moulton Janssen said. However, it’s only been eight months since the kiosks were installed.

“We know that there is been a lot of interest on the part of the community,” she said. “Our iPads at Ramsey in particular are circulating frequently. We know that we’re meeting a need.”

Washington County is still far from implementing an iPad dispensing system, but for now planning continues with the county’s Information Technology Department and potential vendors. Funding also is being explored.

“You have to meet the person where they’re at. Today a lot of our users whether they’re young or old are using tablets,” Conley said. “It’s a work in progress and we’re just in the beginning stages.”