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BYOT? Bring Your Own Technology and the Public Library

by on June 13, 2013

There is a new trend in education:  bring your own technology (sometimes called BYOD or Bring Your Own Device).  As the requirements of student’s tech needs grow and budgets shrink, one solution proposed is that students provide their own mandatory laptop, tablet, or other device.  The issues this raises for educational institutions are vast. Complications arise over security, equitable access, monitoring, and software licensing contracts, to name a few.

While listening to this discussion at a recent Board of Education finance meeting, I couldn’t help but wonder what this approach would mean for us, the public library. We are a public space that has traditionally provided both the technology and the facilities for people to bring their own, but depending on the community, this new educational trend could mean changes for us.

One striking issue for schools pertains to availability and equity.  Some families may not be able to afford to supply a device for their children. Given the structure of use and the school day, devices might not be able to be easily shared between siblings. Others may not wish their student to have such equipment or free, virtually unmonitored access.  What happens to these students? Would there be expectation that the public library pick up the slack?

There are libraries that already loan equipment. This is an expensive and risky collection for a public library, as there is no assurance that the devices will be returned or even returned intact. Still, I can see the argument forming – if a low income student can get their needed text book free from the library, why not a laptop?

It also raises questions about software licensing. I doubt there is a library that does not provide access to basic word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation software.  Some offer access to broader programs, such as desktop publishing and photo manipulation. With students needing to use their own hardware, rather than the school’s, will libraries also need to license specific educational software to support the needs of this population?

Librarians already struggle with being up to date on various devices, trends, and operating systems. With schools essentially bowing out of the mix and placing the burden of evaluation, purchase, and continued operation on families, where else can they go but the public library?   Will this increase the need for the librarian trainer or technology troubleshooter?

In all of this potential, I also wondered about the impact on library printers. Despite the perception that people read, edit, and compose, online, in our small corner of the world, we see it differently.In recent years our printing expenses have massively increased. We see a great deal more of what I would call multi-mode work. For example, the document is created and shared online, but is read, edited, and worked over in hard copy. Likewise, at all levels, we have seen the presentation or application submitted electronically, but saved in print.

In a school setting in which the student is expected to supply hardware, there is little expectation that the school will support the student’s printing habits. Might this also impact the public library? Will it require us to have WIFI printing capabilities?

Personally, I am not in favor of BYOT in education, but that is a different discussion.  I can see it changing the shape of Libraryland, though I am not certain its path would be significant for us.  Still…  Is anyone experiencing this transformation?  If so, I for one would love to hear about it.






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