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

Another Great Feature for a Library App

   September 10th, 2014 Brian Herzog

mute buttonAt the risk of this blog becoming a list of things only interesting to me, here's another cool new-to-me app I just recently learned about.

It's called Mr. Silent, and it lets you auto-mute your phone based on time, location, or contact. It seems like a fairly obvious idea, but apparently this one works better than most - it integrates with your phone's calendar, contacts list, and GPS, and has a nice interface.

So now see, if I were designing the perfect library app, this feature would definitely be in there. As an opt-in thing, of course, but how nice would it be if people could set their phones to automatically go to vibrate when they were at the library? You could even gamify it by rewarding people by moving them up higher on wait lists for every time their phone ringer gets turned off by this app. Or something. I would trade all the hot dogs in the world for this to be a universal thing.

Plus, combine it with the location-based notes feature from a couple weeks ago, and you'd really have something.

Existing library apps are pretty good at covering the basics of catalog search, events calendar, and static information like hours and stuff. And Boopsie's self-check feature is also pretty awesome.

One other feature I'd like to integrate into a library app is an updatable resource map - one that library staff (or anyone I suppose) could add information to. For instance, local points of interest for a walking tour, where public bathrooms are, pay phones, free wifi, etc. Although I guess if you're already using your phone, looking for a pay phone or wifi might be irrelevant. Hmm, one of these days I'll get the hang of cell phones.

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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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Mobile Option: Boopsie For Libraries

   February 1st, 2011 Brian Herzog

Boopise for... LibrariesI don't know how I missed this before, but only recently Boopsie for libraries reached my radar screen - it's a company that will create a mobile version of a library's website and catalog.

There are other options* out there, but Boopsie seems like a great and easy alternative to creating your own mobile website. And even better, they also mobile-ize the catalog, which I couldn't do (although apparently non-catalog services are more popular with mobile patrons).

Pricing seemed reasonable (for what you get) - a library near me is in the process of signing up, and reported the cost is in the few-thousand dollar range (or, it would be roughly $10,000 for our whole 36-library consortium to sign up). Lots of libraries are already using them - Sarah has a good write-up on San Jose's experience, and WorldCat and ALA also use their app.

I'm not trying to pitch Boopise, so much as I'm pitching the importance of libraries having a way to serve mobile patrons - using vendors like this* are an option for libraries who can't do it themselves.


*Library Anywhere from LibraryThing is another mobile website+catalog solution, and seems to be cheaper than Boopsie

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Mobile App for Searching Libraries

   February 2nd, 2010 Brian Herzog

redlaser logoNot having a cell phone, I can be a bit behind when it comes mobile apps - but this is still cool even to tech-no's like me.

My former co-worker Chris pointed out the iPhone app RedLaser, that turns the iPhone's camera into a barcode scanner. The app was designed to do instant price checks while you're in a store, to see if you could buy something cheaper online.

He also found that the database it scans can be customized - which means it could be modded to search a library catalog (among other things).

So a patron with an iPhone (or an Android) could be shopping in a bookstore, see a book they'd like to read, and instantly scan it to see if it's available at their local library. Great stuff.

But wait, there's more...
Another colleague, Scott Kehoe of NMRLS, posted about making customized versions that can search the MVLC (my library consortium), MassCat and the NOBLE consortium catalog. His post shows how he did it, links to Delicious for the customized databases, and explains how you can customize it yourself.

I think this is a great thing to promote to patrons, but they need to be careful about walking around bookstores scanning barcodes. I've heard many stores will throw people out if they appear to be doing "research" (recording a store's prices or looking for country of origin). Also, about this app, one bookstore owner was quoted as saying:

If I see any lecherous internet bottomfeeders using my store as a display case for a discount website, I will politely ask them to leave.

As the world of mobile devices becomes more compatible with the world of ebooks, the next step will be to create customs searches of places like Overdrive and Project Gutenberg, so that patrons can not just locate but also download the desired book immediately. I tend to think instant gratification is not a good thing, but in this day and age, it is certainly easy to support.

For a few more library-related apps, check out Aaron's post on Walking Paper.

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Notes from ALA Midwinter 2010

   January 19th, 2010 Brian Herzog

ALA Midwinter 2010 exhibit hallHere are a few random notes from the weekend - the best part of the conference is talking with other librarians, and of course the free stuff.

Apps: Past or Future?
Despite not having a cell phone, I still ended up talking a lot about apps at the show. Gale has a great approach for AccessMyLibrary. Check out the Librarian in Black's writeup, but what I liked about it is the geolocation authentication: it shows you all libraries within 10 miles, and lets you into their (Gale) database - no typing in library card numbers.

At the LibraryThing party, there was lots of talk about LT's new Local Books app. Some people loved it, and some people didn't (especially the Android user I talked to, who couldn't find one for his phone). This also led to an interesting discussion on whether or not apps are even needed - one theory was that if the mobile version of your website is good enough, then you shouldn't need a separate app. Therefore, a good app does some kind of mashup not possible on the website.

Then again, I also heard that apps are on their way out in 2010.

eBooks: Present and Future
This is an area I've been paying attention to, and I still learned a lot. The eBooks that Overdrive offers are in epub and pdf formats, and circulate just like their audio books. But the best part is that they work on the Sony Reader and Nook - I did not know that. Apparently they have lots of both fiction and non-fiction titles, so I'm going to explore this avenue for my library.

Gale also offers eBooks, but I forgot to ask about the format. What I did like was that they aren't limited to one user at a time - they were more like a database, where anyone can log in, search and use them.

I also saw a demo of B&T's new eBook software, Blio (pronounced blee-O). I kept hearing they were coming out with something great, but I thought it was a physical eBook device - it's not, it's just the software. But the software really was pretty great:

  • will work on computers and mobile devices
  • it does full-color
  • videos embedded in books (so a book on the circulation system shows videos of how the body works)
  • quizzes in books for review
  • text-to-speech in multiple voices, so different characters have different voices
  • can highlight words as it reads, or will pronounce words you click on (to help kids or ESL students learn to read)
  • has full-spread view of kids picture books (so it looks the same on screen as in print, with all the pictures and text - the pages even flip as if you were holding the book)

They're concentrating on the consumer version first - the software is free, but it sounded like books will be on the expensive end, due to the enhanced content. Whenever I asked a library-specific question, the answer I got was, "oh, we're still working on the details of the library model."

So, yay for a successful conference. And in this case, successful = two shirts, three books, earbuds, notebook, pencils, pins, and lots of candy.

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