Using the iPad for reference services: Librarians go mobile!

Megan Lotts is fine arts librarian, e-mail:, and
Stephanie Graves is humanities librarian at 
Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, e-mail:

Background and setup

The Virtual Reference Coordinator submitted a proposal for the purchase of several iPads when end of fiscal year contingency monies were released in the spring of 2010. The Friends of Morris Library were also hosting their first grant process and a similar proposal was submitted. With the help of both the Library Administration and Friends group, we were able to purchase three 32GB, Wi-Fi only iPads and cases. University requirements also necessitated the purchase of the Apple Protection plan for each device.

picture credit: HERE

In summer of 2010, the iPads arrived and were distributed to the virtual reference coordinator, the Fine Arts librarian, and a member of the library systems staff. Each person tested the device, explored the available apps, and recorded their experiences in a shared document. This testing phase lasted approximately eight weeks. After the testers were comfortable with the devices, we began discussing how best to share the iPads among nine reference librarians for use during the Fall 2010 semester.
We began by labeling each iPad, both by writing on the device and naming the device in the iTunes account. This would help us identify which device was checked out to staff and would also help us keep track of which device needed updates or servicing. We indulged a sense of playfulness and named each after a variety of apple: Fuji, Pink Lady, and Red Delicious.
Next, we configured them to work with the campus VPN client for Internet access. Because the iPads are primarily designed as personal use devices, we had to adjust them to facilitate use by multiple librarians. Each university user has a unique username called a Network ID and password. We were unable to obtain a generic Network ID for the iPads from the Information Technology (IT) unit. Instead, we had to use the iPad Setting menu and establish individual Network ID accounts for every librarian.
Each librarian’s account had to be typed into the three iPads separately. The virtual reference coordinator set up all the accounts with the help of several student workers. The set up is also impermanent, because the university requires a change in Network ID password every 120 days. Every time a librarian changes passwords, their account on each iPad has to be altered. This setup is less than ideal and requires constant maintenance. We are working with IT to develop a generic user ID that will establish a Wi-Fi connection independent of individual accounts. Ideally, we would like to hand the librarians an iPad that “just works” on campus without any intervention by the individual user.
read more: HERE

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