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Managing iPads – The Volume Purchase Program

Photo (c) John Klima
Photo (c) John Klima

This is part 2 in a series of managing iPads in the library. Part 1 (about the physical process of maintaining devices) was posted back in August. Part 3 (how to manage the software aspect of your devices) will come out next month.

If you’re going to offer iPad services to your patrons—either as a part of programming/instruction or as items they can check out and take home—you’re going to want some way to get apps in bulk. If you’re only looking at free apps then you’ll want to wait for the next post where I talk about how to get apps onto devices. But if you’re going to use pay apps (which is really what you want to do, right?) then read on.

You could set up each iPad individually and add a credit card/gift card to each one and buy apps as you needed them. That might not be too onerous if you’re managing a handful of devices. What if you have more than 20? What if you have hundreds? Then you’ll want a different solution.

Thankfully Apple has a solution called the Volume Purchase Program (VPP). You’ll notice there are two links on that page: one for Education and one for Business. If you’re an academic or school library you can probably use the Education link (you might need to work with some in your finance department to get things set up). If you’re at a public library, like I am, you’ll have to use the Business link. If you’re not sure which you should use Apple defines institutions eligible for the Education program as:

Any K-12 institution or district or any accredited, degree-granting higher institution in the U.S. may apply to participate.

If you qualify for the Education VPP you’ll get discounts on app purchases (typically in volumes of 20 or more) and you’ll also be able to purchase books for classrooms through the iBooks store. Apple has a wonderful guide on how the VPP program works for education. A Business VPP account doesn’t get the discounts that an Education account does but it can still be used to buy apps in bulk and buy books from the iBooks store.

The process of creating the account is roughly the same for either the Education or Business VPP. First, you need to verify that you are authorized to enroll your institution in a VPP account. In my case this involved using a verified email address and then accepting terms and conditions on behalf of my library. It’s more complicated for an Education VPP account and you can read the details on the link above. The Business VPP account has a fairly comprehensive faq for any questions not covered in this post.

After that you create a special Apple id that works as an administrator of the VPP account. This id will only be used to purchase apps/books through the VPP. You can have as many administrators as you want, but I find having only one or two works best so that can better manage how the VPP account is used. I find having too many people working on the same thing ends up with people inadvertently working against each other.

Quick note: if you are a Business VPP user, you cannot set yourself up as tax exempt (assuming you are a tax-exempt institution). All is not lost, however. You can submit your email receipts to Apple to be reimbursed for taxes after you send them your paperwork showing that you are a tax-exempt institution. The process, despite being an extra step, works pretty well. I email my claims to Apple and we get a check for the taxes within a few weeks.

The whole process of creating a VPP account is pretty straightforward*. It makes the whole process of managing multiple iPads/iPhones a lot easier so it’s worth doing. All that’s left at this point is getting your purchased apps onto the devices.

When you buy apps in bulk you’re given a list of redemption codes to download. I use Apple’s Configurator to deploy apps and manage devices. With the release of iOS9 Apple is rolling out Mobile Device Management and I’ll address both of those in the next post. Honestly the VPP is one of the easier pieces of managing multiple iPads but it’s a step you need to take.

Jump in the comments if you have follow-up questions!

* If you run into any problems, contact Apple support. They are super helpful and will get you the answers you need.