You aren't going to like this answer, because it's very boring, but I think you can't know if this would work without knowing why people aren't returning laptops. I'm not a public librarian, but my mom was an academic who spent her career working with a very poor population of domestic violence victims, and I was often pressed into service as an ad hoc research assistant. One of the things I learned from the experience was that people who are on the edge have very chaotic lives. Even if they intend to return the laptop, they may not.
I think you need to learn more about the population you are trying to address. Alternate explanations:
1. People checking out the laptops tend to be transient and move out of the area with short notice. Possible intervention: include a return envelope with prepaid postage.
2. People are selling the laptops to make quick money. Possible intervention: talk to local pawn shop owners about returning the laptops when they come into circulation.
3. People in shelters struggle with transportation to return the laptops. Possible intervention: talk to shelter workers about having them help to hold laptops at end of circulation period until they can be picked up.
I don't think any of these issues would be solved by a ransomware like you mention. But I think you need more data to decide what to do. Probably that means talking to people who already work with your local homeless community (if, indeed, homeless patrons are the source of most missing laptops -- you probably want to run some sort of analysis to figure this out), and, if you can find the time to do so, interviewing patrons.
Data and Research Impact Librarian
Long Island Jewish - Forest Hills Liaison
Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell
From: Code for Libraries <[log in to unmask]> on behalf of Lolis, John <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Monday, February 6, 2023 11:30 AM
To: [log in to unmask] <[log in to unmask]>
Subject: [CODE4LIB] A Modest Proposal
(apologies to Jonathan Swift)
Please take this as only half-joking. While it is eminently do-able, the
question is would it be ethical? Other than stirring things up on a Monday
morning, I'd also love to hear alternative solutions others have brought to
bear on this problem.
We circulate laptops bundled with hotspots, and as expected we've seen too
many of them fail to return. Of course, we disable the hotspot when it
fails to return, but that doesn't always result in the return of the
bundle. What makes matters worse is that in the spirit of combating
digital inequity, we do our best to accommodate those who are homeless, who
have no permanent address other than a shelter, who have no cellphone and
have no credit card.
Other than Scalefusion MDM software which we're evaluating, I had a
wonderful, deliciously evil thought: suppose, upon checkout, we started a
clock ticking on the laptop. Three days after the due date, our very own
branded ransomware kicks in. The patron sees a message: to recover your
files, return the laptop. It'd be like a prisoner exchange; they return
the laptop and we return their files. Of course, this only works with
those who actually create data files that they value.
So who's in on this (he asks tongue in cheek)?
Coordinator of Computer Systems
100 Martine Avenue
White Plains, NY 10601
*“I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that
can’t be questioned.”*
— Richard Feynman
theoretical physicist and recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965
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