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September 2020 Library Tech Newsbytes

What's new in library tech! Welcome to our monthly collection of fun and hopefully useful news items from our great twitter feed and wherever else we find them.

It's back-to-school time like no other. OK. To be frank, it's a lot like last spring. Many schools are trying to reopen in person, but lots have to stay with remote learning. Libraries can definitely help, so we're all about distance learning resources that we hope you'll find useful.

We explain why there's a huge laptop shortage throughout the country and how you can help patrons find computers for home. There's news about hotspot lending in Southern Oklahoma, learning hubs in New Orleans, and at-home online resources for teens — compliments of Onondaga County Public Library. We offer a nice new batch of virtual maker and STEM resources for 2020 and the surprising news that even amidst closures, Americans have increased their use of libraries during the pandemic. How can that be?

We reveal all in your library tech newsbytes for the new virtual school year.

drawing of a woman standing on a laptop screen using a megaphone

The Massive U.S. Laptop Shortage This Fall

ExtremeTech reports that because so many school districts have opted for remote learning this fall plus strained trade relations with China (where most PC parts are still made), there is now a massive laptop shortage in the U.S. Dell, HP, and Lenovo report that they have a collective shortage of 5 million laptops.

How to Help Patrons Who Need a School Computer for Home

OK. It's helpful to know that school computers for home are in short supply these days. But what can librarians do? The New York Times' Shira Ovide in her OnTech newsletter describes some interesting ways you can help your patrons.

  • If patrons know the model they want and can't find it, NowInStock.net sends alerts when computers are available at online retailers, and the Keepa browser add-on does the same for products on Amazon.
  • New York Times technology writer Andrew Cunningham explains how to buy an affordable used computer without getting into trouble. He talks about the minimum requirements your patrons will probably want, things to avoid with used PCs and Macs, and where to buy from reputable places.
  • If patrons have some tech chops and have an older PC around the house, New York Times Wirecutter explains how to update an old computer and also how to turn an old PC into a Chromebook using the free OS CloudReady Home Edition.

Hotspot Lending in Southern Oklahoma

It's fun to see how far and wide hotspot lending is spreading. Of course, closely associated with the laptop shortage is the rural broadband shortage. Gizmodo reports on how the pandemic has exposed a massive digital divide in U.S. schools and among low-income and rural people. On the brighter side, the Daily Ardmoreite reports that the Southern Oklahoma Library System has gotten significant grant funding to roll out public library hotspot lending across five rural counties. It's worth mentioning that TechSoup has had a huge uptick in requests for hotspots in our Mobile Beacon Donation Program.

New Orleans Learning Hubs at the Public Libraries

While schools are doing virtual classes, pandemic pods are for people who can afford them. They are arrangements where the children in one or more households regularly meet in person at each other's houses in small educational groups. For low-income students, New Orleans has launched community learning hubs at public libraries and rec centers to help students without Internet access as schools start up remotely there. See The Lens reporting on this to see how it works.

At-Home Online Resources for Teens

Onondaga County Public Library in upstate New York offers some interesting online resources for teen patrons.

  • Britannica School has great learning tools for younger kids, and they also offer a separate database geared at high schoolers.
  • NewsBank America's News & Access World News offers an extensive collection of articles from local, national, and global news outlets. It also offers lesson plans for the top stories each day.
  • Opposing Viewpoints in Context has articles, videos, and links to podcasts that examine current events.
  • Testing and Education Reference Center has practice tests for the SAT, ACT, and AP exams. It also has tutorials for brushing up on basic math and writing skills.

Virtual Maker and STEM Resources for 2020

IdaMae Craddock of School Library Journal describes 10 virtual maker and STEM resources for your student patrons. Here are her recommendations.

  • CoBuild At Home includes projects from luminaries in the making world.
  • The Community Science Workshop Network in which all the projects can be made with low-cost or recycled materials, including a functioning bagpipe.
  • San Francisco's great Exploratorium.
  • The NPR Science Friday maker challenge archive.
  • Microsoft's MakeCode for upper elementary through middle school kids.
  • ScratchEd includes 323 math activities and 302 visual arts ones.
  • Algodoo allows students to create, alter, and run engineering simulations.
  • BlocksCAD is a simple block coding program for middle-school-aged kids and up.
  • Google Experiments require little to no equipment and are for middle-school-aged kids and up.

EdSurge's List of the Ways Public Libraries Can Improve Remote Learning

Whether it's puzzles, games, music and languages — or more serious online tutoring or plain old books — EdSurge columnist Kimberly Rues presents her inventory on how public libraries can improve remote learning.

Even Amidst Closures, Americans Have Increased Their Use of Libraries During the Pandemic

The facts are in. Thomas Wilburn of NPR reports that Americans have increased their use of libraries during the pandemic. However, borrowing patterns have changed a bit. Demand for children's fiction and e-book checkouts have passed adult nonfiction. Parents are probably trying to enrich their kids during the school week when they would typically be in school. Also, some sub-sub-genres are showing signs of our collective psychological strain. Within the self-help category, "motivation" and "happiness" titles have seen an increased number of checkouts. Not all that surprising.

We hope you like our new batch of newsbytes this month!