iPad in the Library

Yesterday I saw a student with an iPad in the library for the first time.  It looked like he was actually unboxing it.  It’s interesting because it took a while to see iPhone’s around Anchorage when they first came out (admittedly AT&T was not here yet) or netbooks for that matter.

In my view, students aren’t usually early adopters at least in terms of gadgets and devices, i.e. not a lot of disposable income.  I got a Nokia 770 Internet Tablet when they first came out in late 2005.  The 770 was like an iTouch, a media player with wifi for Internet browsing but no celluar. But it could  tether via bluetooth to a phone with data and was extremely hackable (based on Debian Linux). I was so excited when I saw a student with a 770 a few months later.  Over the years, the iPhone and other comsumer “smart” phones have become standard equipment and herald the growth of the mobile web.

I also bought a OLPC XO when they first came out in late 2007, mainly to support the project (you actually had to buy two, the second one was sent to a child in a developing country).  They look like Fisher Price toys and students had no idea what they were.  But netbooks came out in the following months and finally last fall I started to see students on campus with them.

So back to the iPad.  I was pretty shocked to see a student with one so soon.  Will we see a good number of them on campus next Fall?  Will it replace a laptop or netbook as the device to carry to campus?

The other interesting challenge posed by the iPad (or maybe just brought into sharper focus) is the implications of widespread adoption of dedicated e-content devices (ebook readers, media players, etc) for libraries.  Traditionally libraries bought physical media that was borrowed by users.  While the shift to electronic content via the Internet posed some challenges, libraries have adopted fairly well, i.e. we buy subscriptions to content that our patrons can then access using their web browser.

But mobile devices pose two challenges:

  1. Can libraries offer content in the multitude of DRM restricted formats offered by the device vendors?
  2. Will publishers use this shift in the market to squeeze libraries out of the equation?

I think libraries can handle challenge # 1, it’s challenge # 2 that has me worried.  Where does the library fit into the iTunes equation?