Sumner library explores public laptop options

Derek Brownlee does school research at the library because he can't access the internet at home.

Patrons of the Sumner library can now be a part of a new pilot program that allows Pierce County Library members to check out laptops for a day. The program, which started on Jan. 5, gave the library 15 Chromebook laptops for public use.

While users can check out the laptops to use within the library, the Chromebooks cannot be taken from the building like books and movies.

“There’s always been a very clear need for computer access,” said Ben Haines, senior librarian . “The public computers have always been a really important service at the library, and they have always been in demand. It’s been hard to keep up with the need.”

While the Sumner library had some of its traffic dispersed to the Fife and Milton libraries, Haines said he has seen libraries with long waiting lists for the public desktops. With the new Chromebooks, though, the library hopes to sharply cut down on that traffic.

Haines said the new Chromebooks have several advantages over the traditional desktops in the library.

One advantage for library patrons is there is no time limit to check out a laptop, whereas the desktops retain their two hour time limit each day. Additionally, with an 11 hour battery, patrons could potentially check out and use the laptop for the entire day.

Haines also said the compact Chromebooks give users the flexibility to move around the library, and gives the library more flexibility with its space. “Adding more desktop spaces was not a viable option,” Haines said, because the desktops require the computer monitor, the tower, desk space and a chair, all of which takes up a lot of space. “But these Chromebooks, they’re compact and they’re eco-friendly, and they have the benefit of not having to be sitting for however at a desk staring at a screen. You can find a more comfortable place to sit.”

The laptops also cost the library about three quarters less than a desktop, said Haines, which means the library can purchase four laptops for the price of one desktop.

The only potential disadvantage to the Chromebooks, Haines said, is they are only for web browsing. The laptops are not equipped with the desktop versions of Microsoft Word or Adobe Photoshop, nor can users print documents from the laptop.

However, Haines said with the way technology is moving, many desktop programs will have online versions. In the meantime, though, library patrons can use Google Documents and other online Google programs for their various needs.

Because the program is new, Haines said security is still a question, although he believes the library is prepared.

The Chromebooks do not operate outside of the library, and because the laptops are checked out only with a library card, it is easy for the library to trace who had the laptop last.

Additionally, Haines said, users don’t have to worry about their personal information being stolen off the laptops. One the laptop is closed and logged off, all files, including temporary internet files and cookies, are deleted from the laptop.