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Loaning laptops leave libraries flexible

MONEY well spent. Not always something written about in the newspaper. If looking for an example around Grounds, how about serving up a laptop with your next latte? Available at Alderman (as part of the new Cyber-Café), Clemons and the Science and Engineering Libraries, new wireless networked laptop computers are available for check-out.

The new laptop-lending program at our main libraries is an effective and valuable resource for students. The decision to allocate resources for such an initiative was worthwhile and students should recognize this and support it.

Funded jointly by the Parent's Program and ITC, these new laptops are equipped with wireless networking technology. This feature allows a student to enjoy private laptop use with the ever-vital Internet and email access available. The computers themselves can be used anywhere in the libraries. The networking capabilities, however, extend only to the main floors.

This program, currently in a pilot stage, was designed with both finances and frazzled students in mind. The service enables the libraries to keep expanding their technology infrastructure in a cost-effective manner. While the traditional computer labs clearly provide all the resources that students need, the laptop check-out takes these resources into areas that a lab cannot encompass.

Particularly in the Alderman Café area, the laptops are quite a useful addition to the atmosphere. The café, a wildly popular studying destination, now offers a casual and relaxed area for private work with the conveniences of a wireless networked computer. ITC and the libraries are able to extend networking options to students into formerly unusable area. As a result, anyone can comfortably sit back and browse the Web or work on a paper.

For an individual student, computer capabilities increase dramatically. The hectic and almost social atmosphere of some labs is rarely conducive to writing papers and reports. By equipping students with a computer that they can take with them into the abyss of Alderman stacks while they work in silence, the program serves a worthwhile function. This also reduces financial burdens upon students because it is an additional resource available at no cost.

For students working in groups, the laptop-lending idea is also valuable. It enables students who are working together to check out a computer and find a good place for group work. The alternative, as many of us have encountered, is for four or five people to crouch around one computer. Subsequently, excess chairs block the aisles and an assortment of books and notes crowd the table.

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    The program clearly expands the options for computer use in the libraries. The end result is an improved work area for all students. The response so far seems to affirm this conclusion.

    In a personal interview, Clemons Senior Computer Network Support Technician Ursula Hull emphasized the program's success. Since they became available on April 6th at Clemons and a bit earlier at Alderman, the laptops seem quite popular. There are 10 available for check out at each of these libraries and 3 at the Science and Engineering Library. Oftentimes, all laptops are checked out and in use. There has been virtually no negative feedback, only a positive response by those students trying out the program. It has not been advertised outside of the libraries -- they are trying to promote the program through word of mouth and a few flyers. The decision to make it a permanent fixture at our libraries will be greatly influenced by the amount of student interest they detect. Thus, the more support they receive, the more laptops available to check out.

    It is clear that a wired university is an asset to everyone -- students and administrators alike. The University was even recently rated 8th in Yahoo!'s "Most Wired Colleges." It's increasingly clear that "undergraduates are as interested in a college's Net resources as in its curriculum or social life," as the Yahoo! article explains.

    The new laptop-lending program achieves a laudable balance of many concerns. At a minimal expense of both money and labor, this initiative is of great value to the University, especially to students. Support it. Enjoy that double espresso with a wireless laptop -- they're going fast.

    (Katherine Martini is a Cavalier Daily viewpoint writer.)


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