Laptop Requirements & Access in LIS Education

This past semester my institution decided to spread the news that beginning in the fall semester it would institute a mandatory (for enrolled students) laptop requirement for our program. My gut reaction was negative: wouldn’t this only serve to inhibit access to the program? Couldn’t we just stick with what we had: putting out suggested specifications and letting students do with that what they will?

But after attending a faculty meeting where the laptop requirement was discussed and listening in on a student meeting with Student Affairs, I started to see the other side:

  • Many schools (information and other subjects) already have laptop requirements and are making it work.
  • Some amount of financial assistance will be available for students who cannot afford their own machine.
  • There will also be a set of loaner laptops available for in-building use.
  • Making the laptop a requirement is necessary for it to be considered a tax break under the American Opportunity Tax Credit.
Laptop

Sadly kittens are not part of our laptop requirement… (Photo source: Wikimedia Commons | CC BY 2.0

Curious about all of this, I decided to look into laptop requirements across different institutions. It turns out they take many different forms and can mean different things for students. Some LIS programs have requirements similar to my program’s (such as UNC), while others (such as St. John’s) go beyond a requirement and just give every student a laptop. These are all better outcomes than some of the programs at non-LIS institutions; some undergraduate programs set up “deals” with computer companies and strongly encourage students to take advantage of said “deals,” even when students could really find better computers for lower prices elsewhere (the “deal” computers often come with expensive multi-year warranties and unnecessary features).1 

All things considered I can see why my program’s administration made this decision and our laptop requirement seems to be better than most. But I do hope it doesn’t inhibit access to our program. When I finished undergrad and had a summer before starting library school I ended up buying a new laptop – my laptop was 4 years old and on its last leg, so I saved up my summer job earnings to buy a new laptop. But not everyone has the luxuries I did: a decent summer job, no rent to pay (because I was living with family), no moving expenses to worry about (because I was already living in the town where my grad program is). I had strongly considered buying a laptop the previous year – if I’d done so (and the current requirement had been in place), I could have been faced with a brand new laptop that might not have met the requirements. I fear for the students who will see this as a burden – who don’t have the resources and circumstances I did. I hope the financial aid options will be well advertised. I hope potential students won’t rule out our program (or even library school itself) based on this.

Does your school have a laptop requirement? If it had(/did), would that have affected your decision to attend? How can we make access to LIS education as equitable as possible?

Notes

1. Baker, Mallory. “Laptop program doesn’t compute – Experts say students pay too much through college deal.” The Enterprise, July 18, 2010. Pages 1, 5.

1 reply

  1. We didn’t have a laptop requirement, and what this meant was that all (*almost all) of our courses were held in computer labs, even if computer use wasn’t central to the class and they might never have been needed. The layout of computer labs generally sucks for discussion, but the explanation was “we don’t want to create a barrier by requiring/assuming students have laptops.” Which is totally fair and important, but so is having class where students are sitting facing the wall instead of the professor and each other.

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