There are a number of different ways that media centers and equipment stores run their operations. In this article, we look at how equipment checkout systems work and why universities and colleges opt to use this type of software.
An equipment checkout system is a piece of software that supports a quick and largely automated way of managing loans of circulatory assets.
Systems are largely designed for portable resources, such as laptops, tablets, cameras, cables and other types of equipment and hardware. They may be equally suited to manage booking and use of labs, studios, study rooms and some fixed equipment.
Key functionalities of a checkout system typically include:
Reservations – the agreed time, date and duration of each loan
Issuing of items – essentially the checkout and check-in process
Rules and permissions – for safe and secure borrowing practices
Tracking – who’s got what and when, both in real time and as a record
Reporting – mainly for management information on asset usage
The software will always link the loan of each equipment item to a specific user so that its location can always be traced back to an individual with an agreed return time and date. Checkout systems sometimes utilize a barcode system and scanner, or they may be used with a NFC reader. Systems may have a connection to the student record system for authentication of users and also to check student details when issuing items. However, some systems may rely on self-registration of users in the system.
The main reasons for using checkout systems are summarized as follows:
Speed – faster checkout turnaround, minimizing repetitive manual tasks and lines forming at the desk
Accuracy – knowledge of each item’s location in a central database
Accountability – the system holds each individual responsible for what they borrow, with a usage history of each item by user
Control – to automatically limit or stagger bookings to allow for cleaning and social distancing
The checkout system is published online, often from a relevant departmental webpage, with each student and staff user having a personal login to the system. The software lists all inventory that the individual is authorized to borrow, together with the times that each item is available. When the user logs in, they select the item(s) required, and reserve them for the desired time within the automated access rules. When the time comes, they would go to the counter to pick up the item. This is a ‘web self-service reservation’.
The checkout process should be fast, and especially rapid if using a barcode system. Counter staff scan the student’s ID card to retrieve any reservation information in the system. The staff member then scans the reserved item of equipment and effectively issues it to the student. There’s no need for paperwork – the loan record is created and the student’s use of the system has already required acceptance of borrowing terms and conditions.
Alternatively if college policy allows, students without an advance reservation would first visit the counter, and request a staff member to checkout an item using the system. The checkout process simultaneously makes the reservation in the system for an agreed amount of time. This is an ‘instant checkout’ reservation and processes the loan in the same way but without the advance booking.
Automated communications (e.g. via email) serve as a record of the loan to the user; they will also be sent reminders to return the items promptly. At the return time, the student hands the equipment to the counter staff, who scans the items and returns them to the shelf. The system ends the reservation, freeing up the item for the next checkout or reservation.
If the software has an inbuilt penalty system, fines can be applied for late returns or users suspended from borrowing further equipment until an item is returned or a fine is paid.
Certainty: these systems provide instant information on each item’s location and return time, and give a reliable overview of all stock available within the media center; use of barcoding and authentication also prevents unauthorized users from blagging their way to borrowing items!
Professionalism: systems designed for academic media environments bring efficiencies that enable departments to capably manage any size of inventory or number of students
Fairness: reservation limitations ensure there’s enough equipment to go round; plus items can be secured by those who are prepared to plan ahead using the online reservation functionality
Loss reduction: integrated penalty and communication systems help reduce equipment losses
Planning: all future reservations should be easily viewable in the system; plus usage reporting can support new purchases and help manage equipment life-cycles. The complete and up-to-date online inventory record may also support other activities, such as stock taking or fault management
Communication: with all equipment lending activity recorded in a central database, there's much less time spent sharing information between team members. This is helpful when handing over between shifts e.g. when a number of student workers are involved
Online self-service: checkout software published online enables authenticated users to browse and reserve items without the need to consult directly with staff, and so minimizing in-person interactions - a desirable outcome in the Covid-era
- Make sure your supplier works with your preferred authentication process (e.g. LDAP, Shibboleth, SAML, CAS etc) to ensure that the automated authorizations and web self-service reservations work without a hitch
- How intuitive is the system? The system will have a greater impact if you ask students to create their own reservations in advance, so it helps if it is attractive and easy to use! Some institutions report getting self-service reservations up to as many as 90% of all loans
- Consider how you’re going to get your inventory in the system – does the system have the tools to achieve this and to keep it updated?
- Will you want the system to be hosted or on premise? Check that your supplier can meet your ICT requirements in this respect
An experienced software supplier with a track record of working in higher education should be able to advise you on all these aspects. Talk to Lorensbergs about connect2 - further details provided below.
Connect2 is online software designed for universities and colleges to manage inventory, checkout equipment and offer students an easy to use reservation facility.
Connect2 enables academic institutions to support fair access, promote good borrowing practices while increasing resource utilization. The connect2 solution is integrated into the operations of over 100 universities and colleges.
For further information, please contact Lorensbergs on 646 583 2215 or email firstname.lastname@example.org