MLA 2009: Mobile Reference

Mobile Reference: Service at the Point of Need
Frederick County Public Libraries – slides up now, notes forthcoming

Donny Frank-Rice, Systems Administrator
Team leader for mobile ref project
Started out as a grant-funded project, now part of everyday service model

promo video:

  • first PL in the state to offer
  • meet patrons where they are (physically)
  • grant to purchase handheld, light (< 2lbs) computers w/ wireless (Q1)
  • directional ?s – walk them to the spot – procedural ?s – ref ?s
  • rovers also have a lanyard with a communication device to talk to ref from wherever they have found a patron
  • piloted at central library, so started with a 7-member team, called for vols, got librarians of all different backgrounds – children’s, ref libs, branch staff, etc.
  • will start to train other staff to provide service

James Kelly, Branch Administrator

  • Frederick rural, but with growing population – 8 branches (3 are regional)
  • wanted to work smarter, provide faster, better service
  • reference is a service/action, not just a desk
  • based on model used by Orange County FL Library
  • grant state library and FCPL contribution
  • 21 hours of mobile service per week (3 per team member)
  • installed wireless network dedicated solely to mobile reference
  • use Vocera Communications Badges – can locate staff by name, location or title (had trouble with walkie-talkie type communicators picking up local construction sites, truckers, etc) – this was developed for hospitals initially (privacy, security) – press a button and use voice commands to place a call
  • can call by specific person, get someone within a group (“librarian in charge” “radiologist”), can also do by location (“call person closest to reference desk”

Donny Frank-Rice , Systems Administrator

  • Samsung Q1 Ultramobile PC; 7” display, <2lbs, uses same wireless network as Vocera system (ETA 5/15: 802.11b/g network)
  • Comes with WinXP – can be configured just like staff computers (familiar environment/less training)
  • interfaces with system that keeps DVDs safe, can print to nearest service desk
  • comes with a stylus and voice recognition system (found it was unreliable for their purposes – too much background noice & echo from high ceilings)
  • looked at Orange County Libraries in FL and King Country PL in Washington – took some aspects of each
  • offered for 1/3 of total open hours
  • needed to capture stats for grant reporting – created web-based form for roamers to use

Lesa Zuke, Librarian

  • get librarians used to being out from behind the desk and to approaching patrons
  • equipment training – vocera provided training materials for use; Q1 was mostly adjusting to new piece of equipment, not lots of new stuff to learn from the ground up
  • departmental cross-training – how things are done, where things are located
  • customer service training: want to be proactive but not pushy/annoying; anticipate needs w/o invading privacy; roam through building w/o lurking; carry as many tools as possible w/o being weighed down
  • Swope & Katzer 1972 study – people who had questions were asked if they would go up to a desk – most would not. barriers: didn’t want to bother busy librarian; didn’t want to appear stupid
  • carry: vocera, Q1, carrying case, staff badge, pen & paper, lock-a-shelf release (DVDs)
  • people who need help aren’t always obvious: walk slowly, observe/scan the room, pause. look at body language.
  • give people a chance to see you, and see that they can approach you for help; eye contact, smile/nod;
  • people give overt signs (wave), wander around confusedly, scanning the room, headed to circ w/o books; standing in front of some equipment looking lost; library card out but not sure what to do
  • lib is observing people and being observable – visual cues that you can help; open stance, look like you are looking for someone to help; draw attention to self as staff person – adjust badge, light chores (but don’t look like involved in project)
  • offer assistance: are you finding what you need? is that working for you okay? i’m here if you need anything, good morning
  • use very welcoming behavior – put user at ease
  • people assess service based on how they feel they were treated
  • don’t hover, touch, broadcast – respect privacy
  • stay mobile! don’t get stuck with one person – show them how to do something and then let them do it; offer to check back in a few (and follow up if you do)

Donny Frank-Rice , Systems Administrator

  • launched in April 08
  • held regular progress meeting (usually monthly) w/ entire team & volunteers
  • few problems to address!
  • began to publicize in the summer – local papers, quarterly newsletter, monthly gov’t access  TV segment
  • 6 month pilot: 7,500 users helped – averaged 1200/month
  • use in databases way up; in-house referrals to other service points way down

James Kelly, Branch Administrator

  • began collecting anecdotal feedback from volunteers & other staff in addition to stats
  • saw fewer security incidents – staff out on the floor
  • more collaboration between departments, higher morale
  • after pilot determined it was important to keep the service – many more folks interested in being on the team after seeing how things worked in practice
  • now have 16 staff providing 21 hours per week (1-2 hours each / week) – during peak times
  • important that participants self-selected (enthusiasm)
  • 30 staff are using the vocera system (includes rovers & some others)
  • now assessing service to see what patrons think
  • no grant? can do this w/o the tech – just need to do training and adjust schedules so you have roamers
  • will mobile reference enhance existing service or will you switch to mobile & ditch the desk? or somewhere in between?


  • how pick hours? started with schedule around availability of volunteers. then looked at stats to figure out peak use hours for regular service.
  • cost? purchased last spring – Q1 & warranty– $1k each. vocera not cheap – w/licenses $25k or $30k
  • departments? right now just public service points. if we can get more $ we’d have everyone on it
  • try not to have more than one person roaming at a time
  • battery life? vocera: continual talk time of 2 hours, on standby 12-16 hours. 90 mins to charge fully depleted. Q1: comparable to modern laptop – 2.5 – 3 hours.

Also present, but did not speak:
Derek Buker, Webmaster

2 thoughts on “MLA 2009: Mobile Reference

  1. You might want to edit to mention Vocera just uses an 802.11b/g network. Until I googled the product I was under the impression it was its own special thing.

    Also did anyone ask if say an iPod touch would have been a better and more mobile interface than the netbooks they seem to be getting.

  2. Thanks, I will do that. They didn’t mention that it was just a regular wireless network, sounded like it was something different.

    They did talk briefly about how you could use other things like PDAs, but one of their goals was to make sure that the librarians providing roving reference were using something with an interface that was the same as their computers. They mostly talked about this from a standpoint of cutting down the training time for the librarians, and ease of use for things like the proprietary databases. But I think it’s also helpful for patrons to see you do something in the same environment in which they’d be doing it, so they can more easily replicate it later.

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