or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk


Text Message App for Public Libraries

   May 1st, 2013 Brian Herzog

I received a marketing email recently about TxtReads, a new text message service app for libraries. My immediate reaction was quite mixed.

Technically, it looks like a great thing - it allows patrons to interact with their library account via simple, plain-English text messages. So if they want to look up a book, place a hold, etc., it's very easy for them to do - and without having to log into the catalog.

So, all good, right? Well, I spotted some negative points, too.

When I visited their website, their primary marketing message kind of shocked me:

TxtReads will change your next trip to your local bookstore. Simply use your mobile phone and send two text messages: One to see if the book you found is available at the library, and the second to place a hold.

Certainly this sort of functionality is possible with existing library apps and mobile sites (I've even built it into my library's mobile website), but promoting it so prominently like this kind of rubbed me the wrong way. Showrooming is such a problem for brick-and-mortar retail stores that some are charging people to even come into their store, and refunding it only if they buy something.

Libraries and bookstores are not competitors, and in fact have the opportunity to enjoy close relationships. But this activity - and blatantly encouraging it - could kill real-life bookstores, which in turn will hurt the book world and, as a result, libraries too.

Secondly, this text feature is so good that it makes me mad that our catalog doesn't already have this functionality built into it. I would much rather have integrated features than a mish-mash of third-party addons - I know that's hardly the reality, but still something to strive for. So, before signing up for this app, my first stop would be to check in with out ILS developers to see if they can make it happen internally.

I suppose that right there is its own type of showrooming - oh well.

At any rate, neat features in a clean-looking app. Just, I don't know, I don't like their marketing approach.



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Print From Anywhere to the Library

   March 27th, 2013 Brian Herzog

PrinterOn: mobile printing solutionLast week's reference question reminded me to post about a new service we've just started offering in my library - wireless "print from anywhere" for patrons.

We use Envisionware's LPT:One for our pay-for-print station in the library, which does have wireless capability. But patrons need to install a driver on their laptop, and only really works within the library - which is great for people printing from their own laptops, but we were hoping for more.

A couple nearby libraries were using PrinterOn, and that's what we decided to go with. It is web-based printing, which lets people really print from anywhere - the library, home, the coffee shop in the Town center, their smartphone while standing on the sidewalk, Canada - anything that can get to the internet can now send print jobs to be picked up at my library. Pretty neat.

Getting it Set Up
Of course we kept LPT:One for printing from our public workstations, because it works really well. Our initial intent was to integrate the wireless printing with our existing pay-for-print station, so it would be totally self-serve for patrons. However, when we spoke with our printer/copier management company, the cost of integration was prohibitive (about $4,000, mainly to update the hardware already in place) - especially for a service that we had no idea how much use it would get.

So we decided to do it the cheap way and run everything out of the Reference Desk. We lose the self-service aspect, and staff have to release each print job and manually handle patron payments, but it was worth it for a trial (and, if use justifies the $4,000, I'm sure we can negotiate with the print management company later on).

The PrinterOn software works well and was easy to install. There was a $200 setup fee and about a $500 annual subscription (roughly - and our Friends group provided the funding), and PrinterOn tech support installed everything we needed on our existing network server. The only other cost was that we bought a new printer, because we wanted to offer B&W and color, single- and double-sided printing, all from one printer. The printer we chose was the Xerox Phaser 6500, which, so far, has been just fine.

How It Works
To use it, patrons start at http://www.chelmsfordlibrary.org/webprint, and it's pretty straight-forward. You can upload a file from your computer or print a website, choose between B&W/color, single- or double-sided, and page orientation. Patrons both name their print job and get a job number, so we know which is theirs when they pick it up. There's also an option to print from email - you just email an attachment to our "print" email address (provided by PrinterOn), and the software knows to add the attachment to the print queue.

When patrons come to the Reference Desk, we log into the print queue and locate their job, hit print, and then calculate cost X number of pages after the job prints. We charge $0.15 for B&W and $0.25 for color, and charge based on pages - so, printing double-sided still only counts as one page. We also set it so jobs stay in the queue for 72 hours - after that, they automatically disappear.

Promotion and Results
We've got handouts for in-library promotion, and we're going to try to leave them at other likely spots around town - coffee shops, hotels, etc. It's fairly simple, but anyone is free to use and adapt it for your library if you like:

We launched this service about two weeks ago, and I have been shocked at how much it's been used so far - about once a day, at least. When it was ready, I added a link to our homepage (and mobile and Library Anytime sites too), and we put it on Facebook and in our weekly email newsletter. The next day three different patrons casually picked up print jobs, as if we'd been offering it for years.

But best of all, all patrons have figured out the interface, and no one has had any trouble sending print jobs.* The whole thing couldn't have gone more smoothly, and I love offering library services people can use from home.

 


*We did encounter one Acrobat PDF that the system couldn't handle - a complex text form that had a special print button built in, but we sometimes have trouble with PDFs on our public workstations, so I can't fault PrinterOn for that.



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Can Anyone Help With This Gmail Issue?

   November 28th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Gmail LogoI'm hoping someone can help with a solution to this. A librarian in Florida emailed me with this situation:

I recently ran across Google's "phone verification" for Gmail account creation. Essentially, our computers have been used to create Gmail accounts enough times that patrons are now asked to provide a working cell phone number when creating a new account - one that they can use to retrieve a passcode within minutes and one that hasn't already been used to verify accounts too many times (so I can't just give them the library's number).

This is just not an option for a good number of our patrons - they either don't have a phone or their phone is out of minutes or they're saving the minutes they have for job call-backs. Mind you, the library is often their only source of internet access and an e-mail address is often required to apply online for jobs, social services, unemployment benefits, etc.

The only solution I know of is to recommend Yahoo or a similar non-Google number. Have you heard of a way around this (eg. a Google-provided rotating list of phone numbers just for librarians to use) - or baring that, a petition I could sign regarding this issue?

We haven't encountered this in my library, but Yahoo is still the go-to for free email accounts. Has anyone else had this happened to them, and hopefully found a solution to it? Thanks.

Update 11/28/12: Based on the first couple comments, I wanted to clarify what we're talking about here. It's not just logging into an existing account (I have no cellphone, so I always skip that by just clicking the "Continue" button) - it's when you create a new account. After you create a username and password and other fields required during signup, you see the following screen:

Gmail verification screen

That's the problem - patron's don't have their own phones, or enough minutes, to receive this verification, and the library phone has been used to verify too many times so now it's blocked. On Google's Verifying your account via SMS or Voice Call info page, among other things they say:

Signing up without a phone

If you don't have a phone, you can use a friend's number to request the code via text message or voice call...

and

Maximum number of accounts reached

If you see the error message, "This phone number has already created the maximum number of accounts," you'll have to use a different number. In an effort to protect our users from abuse, we limit the number of accounts each phone number can create.

Both of which really back certain patrons (and librarians) into a corner. What is a patron to do?



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NHLA11 Talk on Building a Mobile Website

   May 5th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Mobile website mockup in testiphone.comI'm doing a few talks this year about how to build a mobile website for libraries - based, mainly, on my posts about the one I made for my library. This Friday is the first of those talks, for the New Hampshire Library Association's Spring Conference.

For a sneak preview, I put my slides and a few more "going mobile" type resources up at SwissArmyLibrarian.net/mobile.

I also posted there my first attempt at a downloadable template version of the site I made, that other libraries can use to build a mobile site for themselves. It takes a lot of customization (obviously, it all has to be customized with your information), but I tried to provide instructions. If anyone tries it, please let me know how it can be improved.

I've never been to NHLA before, but I have heard nothing but good things, so I'm looking forward to it. Besides, any time spent in New Hampshire is time well spent.



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Upcoming Workshop: Mobilize Your Patrons

   April 26th, 2011 Brian Herzog

NELA: New England Library AssociationEvery spring, the IT Section of the New England Library Association hosts a workshop on some aspect of technology in libraries (past workshops rocked). I'm actually one of the presenters at this year's workshop, along with far more interesting people, and the topic is:

Mobilize Your Patrons: Library Services in a Hand-Held World

2011 ITS Spring Event
New England Library Association - Information Technology Section

When Friday, June 17, 2011, 9:30 am – 3:30 pm

Where Tower Hill Botanic Garden, 11 French Drive, Boylston MA 01505 (directions)

Registration (includes lunch!)

  • NELA members - $50
  • Non-members - $65
  • Library school students & unemployed librarians - $35

Registration closes Friday June 3th. Space is limited.

Agenda

9:00 AM Registration

9:30 AM Keynote - Megan K. Fox, the Director of Knowledge Management and IT, Jobs for the Future

Libraries on the Go: Trends in Mobile Tools and Applications
Current hardware and new technologies are making hand-held computers essential for on-the-go users. Fox highlights the latest development in applications for mobile and hand-held tools and how these can and are being utilized by libraries and information seekers of all kinds.

11:15 AM - Jessamyn West, a technologist living in rural Vermont studying the digital divide and solving technology problems for schools and libraries

The Mayor of Everywhere Using Social Tools to be More Places at Once
Web 2.0 tools are uncomplicated to use and freely available online, and they have been making it easy and even enjoyable to remix, share, and repurpose content. The added new dimension of ubiquitous mobile computing is providing more opportunities for libraries to reach patrons and for patrons to interact with librarians. This presentation will address trends in Web 2.0 and social technology.

12:30 PM Lunch (included in registration)

1:30 PM – 3:30 PM Panel presentation/discussion on practical library applications

  • Brian Herzog: Making your Library Mobile-Friendly
    Tools and techniques to create a useful resource for your mobile patrons
  • Bonnie Roalsen & Ryan Livergood: Talking Walls & Augmented Realities
    Using QR codes to extend your library’s services and programs, engage your communities and construct mobile knowledge networks
  • Christine Drew: Enabling Mobile Academic Library Users
    Accessing student’s technology-use, deploying a mobile site, dabbling with QR codes

3:30 PM The End

It should be a great day. For my part, I'm basically going to go through the steps I took to make a mobile site for my library, and also mention a few other mobile options for libraries.

Whether you're considering maybe possibly thinking about doing something in the mobile world, or looking for new ways to interact with the mobile patrons you're already serving, there should be something for everyone at this workshop - I hope to see you there.



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CIL2011: Mobile Landscape and Location

   March 23rd, 2011 Brian Herzog

CIL2011: Mobile Landscape and LocationJoe Murphy, Science Librarian, Coordinator of Instruction & Technology, Yale University
Chanitra Bishop, Instruction & Emerging Technologies Librarian, Indiana University
Jason Clark, Head, Digital Access & Web Services, Montana State University

 

Foursquare and Libraries - Chanitra Bishop

Location-based mobile apps use your device's GPS data to locate information about what is going on around you. The advantage is the potential for targeted marketing to users in a specific geographic location
Examples: Foursquare, Brightkite, Yelp, Gowalla, Google Places

People like them because they are fun, almost like games, and can earn points and badges for their activity.

Foursquare allows you to

  • check in to different location
  • create a to-do list for locations
  • find out what frineds are doing
  • learn about events, restaurants, etc in a location

Notes of caution: you are broadcasting where you are, so people could follow up, or know where you are not (ie, your house)

Foursquare and Libraries

Libraries can claim your location and/or add new locations

  • give each feature of your library a location (cafe, DVD collection, reference desk, etc) to promote those services to people on Foursquare
  • gives you the opportunity to run promotions
  • engage with patrons, award the mayor
  • use tips, descriptions, photos, and tags to share information
  • update incorrect user-generated information

 

Where are You? Locations and Library Applications - Jason Clark

How does location matter for libraries?
Content isn't just enough anymore - now the context is also important (about 50% of Google searches have some geographic component). Neat mashup: Wildlife near you (plotting flickr photos on a map to show animals in your area)

Library applications

  • Mapping (give context in a snapshot)
  • Check-in like Foursquare - Darien Library gives a totebag to patrons who check in
  • Crowdsourcing geo information - maps.nypl.org allows people to overlay historical infomration on current city maps, and also allow people to correct errors
  • Local interest apps - San Jose WolfWalk historical walking tour of campus

Getting Started - Tools



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