Libraries are known for books. And despite the constant march of technology, despite the fact that we can put a bazillion songs in our pocket, despite the availability of the New York Times and so many other newspapers and thousands of journals online, books are a big part of what libraries are. Books, dead tree books with that rotting paper smell. And though I dare not prognosticate, I expect they’ll be an emblematic feature of libraries for a while now.
Problem is, books are increasingly anachronistic to young patrons who’ve grown up with the wonders of Google and full text searching.
Find a patron who can explain whatever call number system is in use at your library. Find a patron who can locate a book as fast as they can find movie times in any random city.
That’s why I was anxious to speak with Pepper Computer‘s Jon Melamut last week. The Pepper Pad (pictured left) is a delightful, but hard to define post-PC device. Take a look at the specs or my hardware review (coming soon) to learn more.
What’s so special about the Pepper Pad? It’s portable, more portable than a laptop. Laptops move from desk to desk, but patrons often leave them behind when they go looking for books or other materials. See it? Books and computers — even laptops — don’t mix. In this age of computers, PDAs, and iPods, a pen and notepad are still one among our best information tools. The Pepper Pad is small enough, light enough to go with the patron among the stacks, around reference, even (god forbid) into the bathroom.
It’s portable, but it has a big bright screen (8.4“ diagonally) that makes web pages (displayed in Mozilla) and other text easy to read. Your library catalog will look great on it, and any maps or location guides will make a lot more sense when patrons can view them in-situ. It will help them find the books they’re looking for, then offer them a lot more once they do. They should be able to use it to mark the book as useful, or not. And if they stumble across something they didn’t expect, they should be able to mark that too — or look up bibliographic details to help decide what to do with it. Got search-inside-the-book going? How better to use it than on a Pepper Pad from within the stacks?
The portability, the touchscreen, and the stand that keeps it upright and available at all times could make it an ideal research companion. Of course, the built in web radio and AIM client help too. Better, it could enable new applications, new modes of accessing library resources that current technology hasn’t yet revealed.
No matter how small laptops get, they’ll still be deskbound. Tablet PCs change that, but they’re expensive and depend on touchy handwriting recognition. Libraries need inexpensive, useful devices like the Pepper Pad. Libraries are rethinking the OPAC, but the way we access the OPAC must change too.