LibraryAnywhere: Smart App needs more brains

LibraryAnywhere is one of my favorite iphone apps. It allows me to search a library catalog – preferably my own, but not yet. However, it does allow me to search a library within my library’s consortium. So, hey, I can easily search the catalog and place holds on books.

The closest library found when I browse for libraries nearby is less than 5 miles away from my home library. Extra bonus, I’m sitting in a coffee shop 3 blocks from that library and I have reciprocol borrowing privileges.

Seems like I should be able to locate the book I want, place a hold and pick it up on the way back. Let me search for that book and see if I can pick it up.

I search for the title, locate the book, and request that book.

Upon making the request, I enter my library card info and voila!, like rubbing the genie’s lamp, my wish has been granted.

Oops – not at all what I wanted. Looking at the message, it tells me that I will be notified when to pick up the book at Riverside. I wanted to just drop by LaGrange and pick it up. So, now, I realize I’ve inconvenienced people at two libraries who will have to process this request triggered by my love of technology and the convenience of accessing a library anywhere requesting materials.

When I requested that item and LibraryAnywhere (or more accurately, my SWAN catalog) had my patron information, at minimun, it should have asked, “Which action do you prefer?”

  • Pick this book up at LaGrange (by the way, the GPS locator shows that you are only 3 blocks away)
  • Request LaGrange staff find the book, send it through the delivery system for pick-up at your home library in Riverside

Since I work with libraries, I realize the implications of my actions and quickly try to put the genie back in the bottle. I go to “My Account” using the awkward web based access on my iphone to connect to the catalog. I remove that hold to avoid all this unnecessary work.

In all fairness, this really should not be considered a fault of LibraryAnywhere, rather a shortfall of my library’s consortium catalog. But the example illustrates how an eager patron can easily take advantage of all the services offered through smart apps, without a clue to the triggers and work involved behind the scenes. Consortiums need to coordinate registration/licensing of LibraryAnywhere throughout their membership. Otherwise the inadvertent increase of ILL requests marches on – and haven’t we all learned there is no such thing as a “free lunch” or “free delivery of a book.” Kudos to Lincoln Trail Libraries System’s LINC LibraryAnywhere which is coordinated through their consortium.

Not sure how we bridge this knowledge and technology gap. I do know as a library patron, I don’t want to waste valuable time and money having library staff and system delivery resources used to pull a book from the shelves, send it 10 miles in one direction, sort it into a bag to ship back 12 miles in the reverse direction, have a staff mark the book as received setting an automated email saying I can pick the book up. Hope that email didn’t get stuck in my spam.

The problem is really larger than this simple example. LibraryAnywhere is a web application too, so I can make the same exact mistake using my laptop or work computer, even without being in a hurry. I really like the fast, clean interface of LibraryAnywhere – think of the resource wastes if that becomes my default method of locating and receiving materials (in a nice stack at the circulation desk all bundled and waiting for me).

There is a difference between “customer service” and “customer being overserved.” Patron initiated holds are not the problem, uneducated patrons initiating holds is – how do we effectively share good practices?

Irony of all this work is that the title was sitting on a shelf at my home library and I could have gone there to check it out on my way home, rather than waste all these resources. Technology is great – but, too often it helps us make bad decisions faster.


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