A co-operative model to circulating technology collections

Circulating technology collections are seeing increased popularity in academic settings. Devices like the iPad are designed to be refreshed about every year. Observers of the consumer electronics market will note that many of the devices so coveted are designed for obsolescence. This planned obsolescence poses problems for collecting and circulating technology.

Technology is a different type of resource than a book. Librarians know how to preserve books, but in general, the preservation and conservation of electronics is related to a rapidly changing marketplace. Considering the rate of obsolesce and the game we continually lose in the purchase of consumer electronics, what rental models do libraries need in order to maximize collections budgets in this area?

image of circulating technology
Circulating technology at the Undergraduate Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


The Nash Equilibrium may be instructive for co-operative models applied to library circulating collections. Two or more libraries that know each other’s choices can cooperate and still pursue individual best interests.  In general, this works because each cooperating group doesn’t change its approach based on what the other agent is doing; it assumes the other will continue its maximally beneficial strategy. This is germane to the collection of tech in circulating collections if we consider that no library is entering into the consumer electronics market alone; rather, we are all entering into the same problem area.

We all have a limited collections budget and we are all highly concerned with getting the most out of our shrinking collections budgets — all while innovating and keeping pace with a changing digital landscape.

One non-profit business model I’ve pondered is setting up a type of library co-operative where libraries (the set of all libraries that collect technology for loaning to patrons) do not actually purchase any of the electronics that are planned to become obsolete but rather, by size of their co-operative set are able to pool resources into rental paradigms. We would be able to do this through an open online interface that showed what individual libraries wanted to offer, and what they were able to contribute in order to rent the given technology.

On the co-op’s website, a library or other educational institution would indicate they would like to rent consumer electronics equipment, once the co-op hits a profitable/break-even threshold for renting, then all libraries will get the contract to rent. The reason why this works is because all libraries have chosen to rent for a set period at a set price using Nash equilibria to modulate the rental threshold algorithm.

When the renting contract expires, the co-op can (a) get our rentals back, and sell wholesale, but not as a rule keep any inventory, or (b) if the library (rentee) thinks the technology isn’t obsolete by the time the contract ends, they can purchase at a marked down rate. This is not completely without precedent, since many libraries use a rental option for their new release books.

Such a tech cooperative helps to mitigate the risk of consumer electronic obsolescence for libraries – – there isn’t any purchase, except as managed through the cooperative. And since we know all too well that consumer electronics are built in with designed-obsolescence, it doesn’t make financial sense for a library or educational institution to purchase an item that will not be in demand later, or will only be useful for a short time.

Is this the year for a library technology co-op? Is ALA a place that could manage such an operation; a Tech Co-op housed within LITA? Would your institution participate in such a rental paradigm?