ACRL 2011: Library's Swiss Army Knife

The Library’s Swiss Army Knife: Using Smart Phones for Information Discovery, Content Delivery, and Inventory Management.
Presenters: Bo Brinkman, Miami University Computer Science & Software Engineering; Stacy Brinkman, Jason Paul Michel, Kwabena Sekyere, Miami University Libraries.

Mobile devices like swiss army knife – multipurpose, portable, do specific tasks in random places. 2011 Horizon Report indicates use of mobile devices on campus is going up. Also mentions augmented reality.

Mobile sites & applications for libraries
Native app – Difficult to code, difficult to update. Must be approved. Device-exclusive. But cooler than a mobile site?
Mobile site – Easier to code, easier to update. More devices can use it. Slower? Less cool?
Hybrid (Design an app using HTML, CSS, Javascript – then use a tool to turn it into an app)- Easier to code, easier to update. Accessible by most devices.
When designing, looked at functionality, efficiency, accessibility – went with mobile site.
Catalog search, some databases, hours, contact, help, computer availability. Focus on the really core things, don’t try to cram in everything that’s on your regular site.
Catalog search includes detailed record view that links to similar books and reviews of that title (through EBSCO).
Text, IM, Email, phone, links to subject specialists.
Hours driven by Google Calendar, dynamically updated in mobile site. Students can subscribe to calendars.

Regular site uses Drupal, mobile site is a subset of that. Pages module, custom modules, custom CSS wrapping content.

Ask Us page coded to make SMS and phone numbers connect (href link “sms:+number” or “tel:+number).

Challenges – only linking to four vendor databases – beholden to them. Some only have apps, some don’t have anything. Marketing the mobile URL. (Core feature of University’s iPhone app, helped.) Functionality is not quite multi-platform – Google maps, text message feature.

Future – mobile account page for circ record (struggling with III to build it), proxy page (currently thrown out to regular website), request & reserve (catalog I guess?), room reservations.

QR Codes
Using them for events (on special collections exhibit – links to website for more info), endcaps, catalog records (generated on the fly – title & call number), Ask Us, software list (what’s loaded on computers in each lab), inside books (pilot – codes in top 400 most circulated books – mobile page with more from this author, this subject, related articles, reviews).

Augmented Reality
Overview: “real objects and virtual objects that appear to share the same space.” Like yellow line in football. University that’s using it for a historical tour. Military using it to help mechanics repair specialized vehicles (rare vehicles — like only 5, can’t expect everyone to know everything to fix ’em). This isn’t new – 1993 an entire issue of Communications of the ACM on AR.

We need to be skeptical, don’t just use it on everything. Here are some cool ones he doesn’t see the point of. Yelp monocle – hold your phone up and walk around while it shows you where the restaurants & whatnot are. Screen gets crowded, kind of fun, but not a particularly good way to do it. Just search! Baked into Nintendo 3DS, next PlayStation handheld.

Good AR apps: harness computer’s ability to handle lots of data (search, sort & remember) & present to humans in a way that enables us to take advantage of our visual and spatial processing capabilities.

In the hype bubble right now (like Second Life). Bad AR apps come from tech lust (tech blogs, etc. – nothing about how it fits into workflow) and “definitional confusion” (AR confused with location-aware, autonomous computing, heads-up displays, QR codes — has things in common tho).

No view of real objects (you’re a dot on a google map)? Not AR. Virtual object doesn’t care where real objects are (heads up speedometer)? Not AR. Heads up app for driving visibility that highlights lines of the road as you drive in bad weather? Killer AR app!

Thinking about application in libraries. Goal: avoid the pitfalls and only use AR where it adds value. Lots of dumb uses, wanted to avoid.

Showed his video. Identifies shortest set of moves to rearrange anything out of order. Codes on the spine that look like QR codes – works w/o network access, database on phone, buying anything from him. Just need app and stickers (they encode LC Call Numbers).

This year they want to miniaturize the stickers (1/2″ right now, want to do 1/4″). This inventories as it shelf-reads (requires networking, so this will be a separate version of the app).

Why do this? Faster, fewer errors, especially if taking inventory. Enough to make up for stickering the spines of every book in your library? Why not use bar codes? They were designed to not contain much info – LC call number is a ton of information (72 bits of data when compressed). QR codes – designed to scan one at a time. QR codes get too blurry when you step back to take in 3 linear feet of data. They want to be slightly cheaper per-book than RFID.

Other ideas – I want this, where is it? Wave your phone around and it’ll point you to it, even if misfiled. View metadata (reviews, etc) while browsing. Highly rated books glow, etc.

Asked which devices they like best — Android, particularly the Google-branded devices. Easier to develop, don’t have to teach developers new language. For mobile site they’re trying ot develop for as many devices as possible.

Shelf reader is built in java, c++. Couldn’t get it to go fast enough in java. Translator module between call number (whatever system, author name, NLM, etc) and binary. Started with LC because that’s what they have & can test that way. Next is Dewey.

Mobile site – what kind of input did you seek from students beforehand? What was most effective method to find out what they really want? Didn’t do any surveys ahead of time (should have!) – lots of research into what other libraries are doing/wanted. Thought about common questions at info desk.

QR codes: Use? They have a tracking system, didn’t really explain it but said “they’re being used.” How did they educate students in them? Sent announcements to Blackboard. Poster in the main library with huge code “What’s this?” Links to a site that explains. After that placed smaller ones in study rooms & elsewhere.

Libraries are reactive for technology, with QR codes we’re a little ahead of the curve. Cool advantage but difficulty of explaining what they are.

Publisher rep asks about “long term prognosis” for reading/using full text on mobile devices. Tablets it’s viable, probably not on phones. Primarily want to allow them to discover the content and then they can consume it wherever.

Opens up the world of shelving! Shelve most used things together, all kinds of other ways to order things aside from call numbers. [Ed. Note: Is this a way to improve/enhance serendipity or browseability?] Speaker: right now we’re right against the edge of what’s technically possible, maybe in a few years we can do more cool stuff with that.

Mobile site – doesn’t have to be perfect to be released. Iterative process. Get what you can do out there! They’re expecting a 6-month update cycle.