Last week, Molly Wood, the NYT’s tech blogger, asked if a Chromebook is all you need. Last year, I asked myself the same question. My library was due for computer replacements and I wanted to use the opportunity to make the room’s workspace more spacious, flexible, and efficient. Chromebooks seemed perfect. I thought that by removing desktops and bringing in a cart of ultra-thin laptops, table space would emerge, as would the ability for students to work in comfortable chairs or even on the floor. Further, it’d be easy to collaborate in small, ad-hoc groupings. And it could be done quickly. The Chromebook’s solid-state structure, with its fast boot-up time, seemed like an excellent way to be “always on.” I wondered, though, how the place would function with a whole new OS and a whole new approach to computing. Would browser-based cloud computing meet the academic requirements of my school?
After a full year of trying it, it’s clear that the answer to this question is, yes. The desktops, along with their slow network connection time, weren’t missed. Initially, more limited printing seemed like a significant loss, but it didn’t take long for teachers and students to become experts at sharing work through Drive. Similarly, my school’s adoption of Google Apps for Education seemed to be accelerated by the Chromebooks’ single sign-on for multiple integrated services, like mail, calendar, Docs, and add-ons like EasyBib. Now, many students can’t even imagine working with clunky software on a big, bulky machine. In short, as a result of abandoning desktop (and laptop) computing for a mobile approach to schoolwork, my library has become a more modern, more collaborative, and more productive workspace.
We also chose to deliver this new computing throughout the building. By using cushioned camera cases for five Chromebooks, we created what we call “Chromepacks” — kind of like field packs, but for computers. The library has a total of 41 Chromebooks, 25 of which are in Chromepacks available for use in the library or for classroom check-out. At the end of the day the camera cases are simply opened and placed alongside a DIY charging cart. The charging system, like the use of the Chromebooks themselves, is fast and easy.