Self-Checkout for Laptops

This week, we turned on the kiosk that lets our students check out laptops to themselves. Here’s what it looks like:

elf-Checkout Kiosk for Laptops

The laptops can be checked out for the entire day by Baruch College students (our library is typically open from 7 am to 12 midnight). As you can see, there are 12 Macs and 12 Dell laptops available:

Macs 2014-04-24 08.02.20

The units recharge in the kiosk (students can check out chargers if they want from the desk where we check out other laptops). Students will swipe their ID cards and then be asked to type in on the touchscreen their Baruch username and password:

Cardswip 2014-04-24 08.02.03

As you can see, we’ve put a custom skin on the units, which are otherwise an unremarkable gray color.

It was nearly two years ago that a colleague from campus IT and I saw a demo of an earlier version of these kiosks from LaptopsAnytime. We’ve had the units next to the reference desk for a while now, something that attracted a lot of attention from students, who kept asking if the kiosks were ready yet. It’s exciting to have them finally on and available This pilot may lead to additional units on campus (maybe not all in the library!)

3 thoughts on “Self-Checkout for Laptops

  1. Hi, I’m Penelope Singer’s husband and work at Syracuse University’s Bird Library. There’s been talk of going in the direction of getting a few of these self-checkout units for our Learning Commons, but admin never seems to be able to take the plunge. It’s probably still cheaper for us to pay undergrads to sit at a desk and do the same thing this marvelous device does…

    A few facts about us: we service approximately 30K patrons, two-thirds of which are undergrads. We loan out 32 laptops (equal parts Mac and Dell) for 3-hours with one renewal. All items are due back before close at midnight or 10pm, depending on the day. We employ 26 FWS undergrads. They staff our desk daily from 8am-midnight, with fluctuations. Their duties include circulating laptops and other technology such as chargers and cameras, assisting patrons in our learning commons with printing/software/hardware issues, and basic patron-owned technology quires as they relate to university services (ie- printing quotas.)

    Anyway, I have a few random questions I thought of after reading your post. Forgive me if any are inappropriate!

    What security measures do you take to make sure the kiosk is not vandalized? Our library is open 24-hours during peak periods although the service points are locked down, is this kiosk mobile and/or does it come with some sort of security ‘cover’?

    What happens if kiosk breaks? Do you have staff trained and ready to go? Due to the short loan period of our laptops we have a high circulation rate and may not be able to pull staff ‘on the fly’ to jump in until the unit can be brought back up, that’s a concern. If the kiosk needs servicing are the service folk local?

    Charging, chargers, and battery life- Is there an on-screen (or other) indication letting patrons know that even though there are laptops in the unit they’re not currently available due to being in a recharge state? Or does the machine let them circulate no matter the charge level? Do you have spare chargers at desk for each laptop? What if all chargers out and patron takes a low-charge unit (if they’re able to do so)? And on a related note- do you burn through Mac chargers like nobody’s business? Those things are fragile and tend to only last about 6 months in circulation…

    Who can borrow a laptop? I assume guest/visitors cannot? What if- say an instructor- wishes to loan a laptop longer than the kiosk allows?

    You say that laptops can be checked out for entire day- So theoretically a patron could borrow a laptop for 17 hours? Are laptops due back by close? Can patrons check them out overnight?

    Have you ever gotten the excuse- “Hey man, I returned the laptop! Put it in this slot right here yesterday!” when in fact the laptop was either never returned or not seated correctly in the kiosk, resulting in theft?

  2. Hi Stephen. I remember meeting you in Tallahassee a few years ago at the zoo.

    Since it’s only been a week since we turned the kiosk on and since I am not involved in any way in managing the service, I don’t know how many of your questions I can answer, but you can reach out to Edwin Melendez at the Baruch Computing and Technology Center for info on the kiosk itself (hardware/software questions) and to Monique Prince, our head of access services, for info on our laptop loan program generally and how this new kiosk service fits in with it. To get more context about the kiosk, you may want to look at our overall technology lending services in detail on this page of the library site.

    Regarding security, you should know that the kiosk less than 50 feet from the security guard’s desk at the entrance to the library. The laptops themselves are locked in and won’t come out until you are done with the checkout process. I don’t think there is any way to put a cover on it to lock it down entirely (maybe you could get in touch with the manufacturer, LaptopsAnytime, about that). We’ll soon find out what happens when the library is open 24 hours a day, as finals week will soon be here and our library will open around the clock then.

    Staff from the Baruch Computing and Technology Center are in the library much of the time that it is open and are keeping a close eye on it. I don’t know if the kiosk is also (or can be) remotely monitored in case the kiosk goes down. The number of laptops available at the kiosk is a small fraction of the total number we loan out (there are roughly 325 others that we loan out from a separate desk on the 3rd floor of the library). So if the kiosk is inoperable, we still have the desk to serve students from. I suspect that the kiosk, which is just a pilot project right now, will help cut down on the line at that desk and offer a measure of convenience that our students will find appealing.

    I don’t know if the screen on the kiosk indicates a low battery level on any unit; it does indicate when a unit has been reported as having a problem and is no longer available for checkout until it can be serviced. I think that if battery level is below a certain percentage then that unit can’t be checked out (but I’m not 100% sure about that). I don’t know how many students are going to bother getting a charger as well, as that would mean trooping up one flight to the third floor. I don’t know how many chargers they have on hand at the desk but I suppose they could always buy more if demand outstrips supply.

    The only people that can borrow the laptops are Baruch students. There are a small number of laptops elsewhere that Baruch faculty can borrow.

    Yes, a patron could check out a laptop for 17 hours, and that’s fine by us as long as it is back by midnight. I’m not quite sure how the loan period will work during the period when we’re open 24 hours, though. The head of access services would know that detail.

    Regarding excuses from students about late returns, I’d also direct you to our head of access services. I don’t think we’ve had the system long enough for this to come up yet.

    That’s about all I know about this brand new service. I think we’ll know a lot more in a few months.

  3. As I walked by the kiosk this morning, I noticed that the screen on the front indicates which machines need charging and which ones have been reported as needing repair/tech support:

    green: checked in and charge
    gray: checked out
    yellow with battery icon: low battery charge
    yellow with wrench icon: needs tech support

    Here is a picture I took that shows all four icons.

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