Ina Fried

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An Inside Look at the FCC’s Gadget Library (Video)

The library of the Federal Communications Commission houses plenty of books and newspapers, but it is also home to a growing collection of TVs, smartphones and tablets.

About a year ago, the agency started amassing the latest gadgets in an effort to ensure that its staff is able to try out the technology they are overseeing.

“You want people writing policies in this area to have hands-on contact,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in an interview at January’s Consumer Electronics Show. Earlier this week, AllThingsD got a behind-the-scenes tour of the library.

The gadget room is separated by a glass wall from the more traditional part of the library. Inside are tablets from RIM, Samsung and Apple, as well as phones ranging from the latest Androids to the big-button Jitterbug phone aimed at seniors. There are also 3-D televisions, a Sonos digital audio player and various set-top boxes.

Each of the devices is on loan, with the agency aiming to refresh its collection each month with whatever the latest and greatest devices are. In some cases, the technology arrives in the FCC’s library even before it goes on sale.

That said, they are still waiting on the new iPad.

The device library is the FCC’s effort to deal with the fact that its workers can’t afford to buy all of the latest products, nor are they allowed to accept them for free, due to ethics rules. But, at the same time, they really need to be familiar with what’s out there, in order to make smart policies.

Genachowski and the agency’s previous managing director, former Microsoft executive Steven VanRoekel, were two of the key figures behind the library. VanRoekel is now the federal government’s chief information officer.

In addition to its standard collection, the agency also organizes special events around specific topics, such as public-safety technology or accessible products for people with disabilities.

With some of the special exhibits, the agency lets things spill over into the main library. In the case of the public-safety collection, things even spilled into the streets, as FCC staffers got a look at in-car technology and even a hot air balloon that could be used to send up new wireless infrastructure in the event of a natural disaster.

For now, workers can only play around with the products inside the library itself, though Genachowski would like to see it expand further.

“Our goal is to have it be a lending library,” he said.

For a closer look inside the library, check out the photo gallery and video, as well as this immersive Photosynth photo.

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