Baltimore County Public Library patrons will be able to check out and take home pre-loaded e-book readers and laptop computers starting immediately, county officials announced today.
The 19-branch system has added about 600 electronic devices to its collection, including 210 Playaway Locks, which are hand-held electronic reading devices that come pre-loaded with electronic books. The library has also added 380 Chromebooks, which are laptop computers that require a connection to the Internet to be used.
The addition of the devices will connect patrons with technology and services that are important to their lives, Baltimore County Public Library Director Paula Miller said Wednesday afternoon. Patrons frequently use the desktop computers at county libraries to apply for jobs, write resumes, and learn new job-related skills, Miller said.
Many people still don't have personal laptops and other devices, said Tyler Wolfe, the manager of the Towson branch of the library.
Miller added that the devices will hopefully help bridge a "digital divide" and provide equal access to people who haven't had a chance to experiment and learn with technology.
Each branch received 20 Chromebooks to lend; the number of Playaway Locks varies from branch to branch.
The branch will loan the Chromebooks in two ways, library officials said — some will be available for a short-term check out of two hours, with the option of renewing that period twice, for a total of six hours, and some will be available to check out for seven days, with the options of renewing twice, for a total of 21 days. In both instances the item can't be renewed if someone else has requested to borrow it. To check out a Chromebook a patron must fill out a borrowing policy and agreement. If the device is lost or damaged the fee is $386.
The check-out period for the Playaway Locks will be longer, and no borrowing policy or agreement is required. The electronic reading device can be borrowed for up to three weeks, with the opportunity to renew that loan period twice, for a total of nine weeks, so long as no one else has requested the item.
The purchase of the items was made possible by $500,000 allocated through the Baltimore County Office of Information Technology's Enhanced Productivity Thru Technology capital project, library officials said.
"We initiated this new tech option in our libraries because adding these e-devices allows county residents to access the latest technology, be more computer-literate, and learn the technical skills that are so vital now in our workplaces and global economy," Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said in a statement Wednesday.
Miller said officials are seeking feedback about the program from patrons, and would like to expand the program in the future.
The money from Baltimore County has also funded two new mobile computer labs to be used across the library's branches. The labs, which include 20 laptops for students and one laptop for an instructor, will allow the library to expand the variety of classes it can offer, Wolfe said.
For example, without the mobile lab, if the Towson branch wanted to host a class on how to use genealogy databases it would need to do so using the desktop computers that are available to patrons in the atrium portion of the library. That takes those computers away from general use and requires the class to be taught in the middle of the library.
With the mobile lab, a librarian could arrange a course in one of the meeting rooms at the Towson branch, allowing for a more private class, Wolfe said, adding that the lab could also be used for programs such as writing groups.
Library officials also hope to add a device called GoChip to the system's collection, which would be available to borrow. A GoChip is a chocolate bar-sized device that comes pre-loaded with video, such as a season of a television show, which can then be streamed from the device to a person's phone, without the need for wireless Internet and without using the data plan associated with the phone. Miller expects the device to be available through the library in early 2017, though how many will be purchased has not been determined.
This story has been updated.