November 30, 2022

Libraries, Chromebooks, and Google Apps


Will Chromebooks be the next big thing in libraries? The Palo Alto City Library, CA, recently rolled out a limited program to allow patrons to borrow Chromebook laptops, which use Google’s Chrome OS, a recent Wired article pointed out. Other libraries, such as Multnomah County Library, Portland, OR, are eyeing similar programs; Jeremy Graybill, Multnomah’s marketing and communications director, told LJ that the library will make a decision on Chromebook lending shortly after the new year.

On the plus side, the laptops are easy to loan, as they are lightweight, relatively inexpensive (and getting cheaper), and easy to use; they are also consistently upgraded with new updates by Google. On the minus side, Chromebook functionality is based almost entirely on cloud-based applications, and users can’t do as much when not online (though several apps have added offline functionality, including Gmail and Google Docs).

Whether Chromebooks will catch on remains to be seen, but Google Apps, the free-to-use cloud-based suite of office tools at the heart of the Chromebook, has been making inroads in libraries for years, due in part to its relatively low cost compared to Microsoft Office.

The Missouri River Regional Library, Jefferson City, MO, for example, switched over in 2008. As School Library Journal has reported, several K-12 school systems, and their libraries, are using Google Apps for Education. All 4500 government employees in Multnomah County, OR, migrated over to Google Apps from Microsoft Office, including the library system, in October 2010—a change which the county estimated would save about $600,000 per year. It’s one of several local governments to switch to Google in the last few years.

The Los Angeles Public Library, however, is so far the largest system to move to Google Apps. More than two years ago, in October 2009, Google announced that they had struck a $7.25 million deal with the city of Los Angeles for all local government departments to migrate over to Google Apps for its internal office software, in part to save money. The library finished its migration to using Gmail last year, and Google Docs may also be used by library employees (though they continue to have the option to use Microsoft Word).

The majority of L.A. city employees—about 17,000—are now using Gmail, but not all of them. Just last week, following a long evaluation process, the L.A. City Council rejected using Google’s services for the police department and the city attorney’s office, and other of its most high-security departments, despite Google’s attempt to respond to security concerns with Google Apps for Government, released in July 2010. Several other local governments, however, including the city of Orlando, FL, have switched over entirely.

This past October, Darien Library’s John Blyberg noted during a keynote at the Library & Information Technology Association National Forum that projects at huge media and technology companies like Google “set the pace” for technological change, and libraries are not immune. If the LAPL is using Google Apps, it could very well spread to even more libraries. At the very least, Google will not be ignored.

[Photo credit: Google Chromebooks on display at #senchacon – interesting concept, nice hardware, awful albeit useful software. by Adrian Kosmaczewski (Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License)]

David Rapp About David Rapp

Associate editor David Rapp previously covered technology for Library Journal.