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Surprising Gadgets, Not Just Books, Are Ready for Checkout at College Libraries

Justin Ellis’s official title at the Georgia Institute of Technology’s library is instructional-technology associate, but he thinks of himself as the gadget guy. He manages a program at the library that lets students and professors check out a growing catalog of computers, cameras, and other electronics—a selection more akin to a Best Buy store than a lending library. A colleague, Ameet Doshi, compares him to the character Q in the James Bond series because he not only has the latest device but is expert at giving “the two-minute drill on how to use it.”

Georgia Tech is not alone in having a Q on the library staff. Colleges and universities across the country now lend tech hardware in addition to books. And we’re not just talking laptops, netbooks, and iPads, which Mr. Doshi says have become pretty standard fare. The latest offerings are increasingly exotic.

Here are three that surprised us:

Drones. Colgate University’s library is among several around the country that offer what are known as “drone loan” programs. Students and professors can check out a remote-controlled “quadcopter” equipped with a camera that can beam back video to a computer. You can’t just show your library card and grab the drone, though. The library is well aware of the legal and ethical questions about when and where drones may be flown, so library patrons must first go through a training program and explain the research purpose for which they need the gadget, says Kevin P. Lynch, the university’s top tech official, who is also a pilot and drone hobbyist. “And you always have to have a spotter, so two people have to check it out,” he adds. One of the first takers was a biology professor doing field research in Ethiopia.

Google Glass. Wearable computers are a hot topic these days, but Google’s computer eyeglasses remain hard to come by because they are not yet available for general purchase. But a few college libraries have managed to get their hands on the gadgets and make them available for checkout. North Carolina State University is among them, though an announcement on its website notes that, at first, only “selected faculty and graduate students with an urgent research need for the technology” may borrow the device. Mr. Lynch says Colgate has a pair for checkout as well.

iPhone power cords (and other chargers). Drones and wearables are trendy, but a popular item for checkout at some college libraries is the mundane power cord. Georgia Tech’s Mr. Ellis says the library offers a range of chargers for students who need to power up their smartphones. That’s a “little thing that’s not terribly expensive,” he says. But it is a symbol of the increasing role of the library as an all-purpose information-technology resource center.

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