Harvard College Library News: News from around the libraries

The Comfort of the Periodicals Room, the Ease of E-Access


Johnny Weyand, left, head of Collections Management
at Widener Library, demonstrates one of the library's
new netbook computers for Cheryl McGrath,
Head of Widener Library Access Services.

September 2, 2009 – With the migration of journals – over 1,000 to date – to electronic-only format, Widener Library has begun a service that will allow users to continue to be able to read those titles in the comfort of the Periodicals Reading Room.  Last month the library began circulating 20 netbooks, miniaturized laptop computers designed mainly for Internet use.

Modeled on a similar laptop loaner program at Cabot and Lamont libraries, the intent is that the machines will be used by patrons to read online-only resources and do research, freeing up the stationary library terminals for catalog searches and other quick transactions.

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“We know a lot of people come into the Periodicals Reading Room to sit and read the journals, and we thought it would be nice if we had a way for them to continue doing that, and at the same time leave the desktop computer terminals available to patrons who want to use them for quick searches,” McGrath said. “There has been some concern from patrons about the migration of paper journals to electronic form, and given the popularity of the laptop loaner program at Cabot and Lamont, we felt offering netbooks would be a useful service.”

The netbooks won’t be limited to the Periodicals Reading Room, though. Library patrons can check one out from the Widener Circulation Desk (located in Room 160, off the main lobby) and use it anywhere in the building wireless Internet access is available, but won’t be able to remove the machines from the building.

“The netbooks can be checked out for three hours at a time,” said Johnny Weyand, head of Collections Management, the unit overseeing the service. “Along with the small laptop, patrons will receive a charging cable and a lock, allowing them to secure the comptuers in their study space if they need to leave for a short time.” 

“Netbooks are currently the fastest growing segment of the PC market, and we want to try this up-and-coming technology to see if it is a good fit with patrons” said Karen Moore, Senior Computer Support Specialist at HCL ITS, who collaborated on the planning with Weyand and McGrath.

“The great thing about the netbooks is that they’re portable,” McGrath said. “If a student or a researcher is working on a stationary terminal and they can’t find what they’re looking for, they have to leave that terminal and go upstairs to the Reference Desk to get help.  If they’re using a netbook, however, they can simply take the computer to a Reference librarian, show them the problem, and get their question answered. These computers will give patrons a lot more flexibility in getting the help they need.”

For more information about the netbooks, visit the Widener Library Circulation Desk, or call 617-495-2414.