CTR Home Internal  Relations and Communications Home About CTR Publication Schedule CTR Archives

October 26, 2000 Library users go for the ibook in a big way



Photo of Susie Breier, Web services librarian

Above, Susie Breier, Web Services Librarian, with the object of the pilot project. Below, third-year Fine Arts student Stefano Strocelri uses an ibook in the library.

Photo of student using an ibook

by David Weatherall

For students looking to add a little colour and a lot of mobility to their next library experience, the Webster Library at the downtown campus is now equipped to meet both of those demands. That’s because this fall marked the beginning of the ibook pilot project by Instructional and Information Technology Services (IITS) and the Library.

The project provides students with access to six Apple laptops (five blue and one orange) and also provides the user with wireless Internet access within a designated area on the library’s third floor.

“We had a strong desire to test the practicality of wireless technology within the building,” said John Woodrow, Director of IITS. “As it happened, the library was also looking to increase the access to their resources. Out of these two needs came the ibook project.”

As an ever-increasing number of the library’s resources are becoming electronic and available through the library’s Web site, making access to that information simpler and more versatile is becoming an important mandate.

“The tremendous problem with a wired network is that it is very cumbersome to run wires and to maintain the network. There is also the fact that with a wired CPU you are restricted in terms of your mobility,” Woodrow said. “With wireless, there is the obvious plus of being mobile.”

The results of the project, at least thus far, have been very encouraging. “All of the ibooks were out for the first day and they have been taken out 1,132 times since then,” said Jean-Marc Edwards, Assistant Director of Library Systems.

With this high-volume use, the question of security is a serious concern in terms of the project’s success. Susie Breier, Web services librarian, explained, “First, we have to make sure that the ibooks come back, and we’ve taken measures to ensure that. We also have to preserve the integrity of the university’s own network, so certain restrictions have been built into the system.”

The project, now two months into its 10-month lifespan, is still experiencing a few growing pains. The connection to the Internet depends entirely on the ibook’s reception of the broadcast signal. According to Mike Babin, assistant director at IITS, the signal is weaker when the ibook is between the racks of books in the library.

People also present a bit of a interference problem, too. “The trouble with working with this type of technology is that you cease to see people as people,” Babin explained. “You have to start looking at them as if they were six feet columns of water.”

Despite these mild glitches during the early stages, both parties involved hold realistic high hopes for the goals of the endeavour. “The purpose of the project is to see for ourselves how well the technology will work in our buildings and to eventually determine what role wireless will take in the library’s future,” Edwards said.

The process for borrowing one of the ibook’s is quite extensive, as is to be expected when borrowing a $3,000 machine. Those wishing to use the ibook services must first complete a registration form, which allows them to take out the laptop for up to two hours. Upon return of the ibook, users are encouraged to fill out a questionnaire that Breier will use to measure the success of the project from the users’ perspective.

The ibook is open to all faculty, staff and students, and is offered on a first-come, first-serve basis, so those wishing to use the services should make haste to the periodicals desk. “I hear the orange one is the most popular,” Babin added with a laugh, "so don’t be disappointed if you end up with a blueberry one.