Drexel U. Library Adds Vending Machine to Dispense Laptops

The new vending machine in Drexel University’s main library doesn’t dispense soda or study-time snacks. In fact, those snacks should be kept away from what this machine delivers, to keep crumbs from getting in the keyboards.

This kiosk lends out 15-inch MacBooks free, with the swipe of a Drexel ID card.

When the library started staying open 24 hours a day during midterms, in 2012, a student-government representative noticed a potential problem.

“From a safety standpoint, students carrying expensive laptops, especially at night, is not a good idea,” said the student leader, Omer I. Hashmi. The library has long lent laptops at a desk the old-fashioned way—having people sign them in and out. But staff members were not always available to check the equipment out during the late shift. So Mr. Hashmi, who has since graduated, approached the library last year with his safety concerns.

The solution? A 24-hour machine that dispenses MacBooks with the touch of a button.

Danuta A. Nitecki, the university’s dean of libraries, said the administration was already talking about expanding laptop access in its libraries, particularly late at night. “This was a nice way of being able to respond to a very specific student need, but then it also dovetailed into a spirit of innovation,” Ms. Nitecki said.

The dispenser, manufactured by the Dallas-based company LaptopsAnytime, functions much like the automated DVD-rental units run by Redbox. Students, faculty, and staff can use a touch screen to select an available MacBook before swiping their Drexel ID card to confirm the rental.

A MacBook then pops out of one of the 12 slots at the front of the machine. The computer, which must remain within the library, has to be returned to its slot within five hours. Once returned, the vending machine recharges the laptop.

The vending machine cost about $30,000, Ms. Nitecki said, including the price of the 12 15-inch MacBooks.

Drexel is one of only a handful of universities to install the kiosks, but Rick Anderson, interim dean of the University of Utah’s library, said that other institutions across the country could soon follow suit.

“On one hand, as a librarian, you go, ‘Wow, it’s so sci-fi, so futuristic,’” Mr. Anderson said of the kiosk. “But at the same time, you see it as a step back into the old way of doing things, of delivering objects to people.”

Ms. Nitecki said the machines were proving popular at Drexel. MacBooks have been checked out more than 400 times, or about 30 times per day.

The university is looking at other possibilities for the kiosks, Ms. Nitecki said, noting that they could one day be found around the campus, lending out other devices, like iPads.

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