Drexel sets up iPad lending machines at Mantua community center

“This is the first time I’ve held one of these in my hands,” said 60-year-old Mantua resident Jack Fischer as he looked down at an iPad – available for free loan at a Drexel University community center.

“It will give me an additional tool, knowing this is here. I’m blown away by it,” he said.

The iPad was made available through a Free Library of Philadelphia and Drexel University partnership that led to an iPad vending machine.

Now, Drexel’s Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships at 35th and Spring Garden has 12 iPads for loan to anyone with a Free Library card or Drexel ID.

The program will officially launch in May, but the iPad vending machine is already functional and logs in to the center’s wi-fi.

You swipe your Drexel ID or scan you Free Library card, push a few buttons on the screen, and with a satisfying “THUNK,” an iPad comes out of the machine.

“Not everyone has the Internet,” Fischer said. “That’s just amazing how much information is being made conveniently available to you. The world’s in the palm of your hand.”

The iPads are available to anyone for any kind of use, but they do come with apps like Mango language learning software and Overdrive, an ebook service.

“We came up with a list of apps and links and stuff that might be useful in terms of a free library customer who wants to use the internet,” said Joel Nichols, who works in Strategic Initiatives at the Free Library of Philadelphia and is the former branch manager of the Charles Durham branch – just around the corner from the Dornsife Center.

Those include educational apps for kids, image editing and art creation, video editing, science, astronomy, geography apps and some games.

The iPads can be borrowed for five-hour spans for for use at the center. All files on the iPads are erased when their returned to the machine so users have to save their personal data to the cloud.

The overall goal of the program is to “expand digital access,” said Jennifer Britton, Launch Director at the Dornsife Center.

The iPad vending machine was sold by Laptops Anytime – which also created the Macbook vending machine that is used in a Drexel library. After the success of that program, an iPad machine seemed like the next logical step, Britton said.

“This is part of Drexel’s neighborhood work,” Britton said. “Being able to bring this kind of technological opportunity to the center seemed like a really good fit.”