I recently spent some time at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City and mentioned it in this newsletter. I also wrote about using wireless Internet access and my laptop computer to verify information on various genealogy web sites while seated in the big genealogy library. A newsletter reader sent an e-mail questioning the wisdom of my using a laptop in the library.
The last sentence of his e-mail sums up his question: "I am against it as a matter of principle and security of a prize possession."
Indeed, his concern is real. Laptops frequently get stolen from libraries and other public places. A friend of mine lost his new (and expensive) laptop from a college law library not long ago. He left the table "for just a moment" to retrieve a book from the shelves. When he returned, the laptop and its power cube were gone. I have heard of many other, similar stories. In fact, I am told that laptops have been stolen from various genealogy libraries in Salt Lake City, Boston, and elsewhere. They also can be stolen easily at local libraries, courthouses, and almost any other place where genealogists congregate. Luckily, such thefts are easy to prevent.
If you own a laptop, you need to obtain a cable lock. A cable lock is a very simple device that looks and functions much like the cables and padlocks used to lock a bicycle. The cable typically is a cut-resistant, galvanized steel cable that loops around any secure object, such as a table leg or the leg of a microfilm viewer. The other end of the cable has a locking device on it.
Did you ever see the half-inch long slot on the back or side of your laptop and wonder what it was for? That is the computer’s "lock slot." All of today's Windows and Macintosh laptops have such a slot, designed to accept the locking device on a laptop cable lock. Once the cable lock is attached to your laptop, it is virtually impossible to remove without the correct key.
If you are not familiar with such devices, you can find a lot more information about them by starting at http://goo.gl/cnRMM. You will note they are made by a number of manufacturers.
I prefer the devices with a separate key. I keep the cable, lock, and key in my backpack alongside the laptop. However, some people will prefer the devices that have a combination lock instead of a key. Both are readily available at most any computer store or from hundreds of mail order suppliers.
Make sure that you wrap the cable around something that cannot be moved easily. It would defeat the purpose if you wrap the cable around a table leg and then the thief can simply pick up the table a half-inch or so and slip the cable off the bottom of the leg. However, the microfilm viewers and various tables in the Family History Library seem to have cross legs or braces in good places: you can easily loop the cable around something that is very secure. I suspect most other libraries have equally heavy-duty tables and equipment.
Will this stop all thieves? No lock on any device will ever stop a determined thief. After all, a very large and heavy bolt cutter will cut these cables. However, I doubt if any would-be thief will carry a four-foot-long bolt cutter or other heavy tool into the Family History Library. Even if he did, I doubt if he wants to be seen wrestling with your computer lock in the middle of a publicly accessible area. Someone might call security. I have never heard of anyone stealing a laptop with a properly attached cable lock from any genealogy library or archive. Instead, most thieves will continue to look for easier targets. Your laptop with the heavy-duty lock probably will be safe,
Cable locks are available most anywhere for $25 to $40 or so. I'd suggest that this is cheap insurance for the investment you made in your laptop, the genealogy software, and the many hours you spent entering the data. (Uh, you do have a backup of the data, don't you?)
Of course, another method is to use a two-pound netbook computer or a one-pound iPad or something similar and simply take it with you in your purse or book bag whenever you leave the table for a minute. I find that to be a bit too risky, however, as I often forget to take the device with me. A cable lock is safer; it remembers for me.
For more information or to order a cable lock for your laptop, click on the above link or stop in at your local computer store.