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.

My Year with a Kindle

About a year ago I purchased my first Kindle and was immediately impressed. I thought I’d found a new technology partner to take with me everywhere. The task of reading and holding the Kindle is quite enjoyable – easy on the eyes, easy to page forward through a book and lightweight.

But, I quickly discoverd I have some very definite preferences in reading material selection and how I use my books. Ok – now the confessions.

First, the reading material – I read lots of reference books, science and philosophy. Also, I’ve been doing research on social network analysis and the impact of social media in organizational development. Secondly, I have to admit that I am a note taker (in pencil, in the margins) - thinker – go back and review page turner - compare that with a previous passage flipper - turn down a corner kind of reader. I have a much more tactile engagement with books than I ever realized or analyzed before my Kindle adventure.

Although I’ve taken lots of self evaluations on learning style and know that I am a kinesthetic, visual learner, I never really thought about how that translates into “kindling.” I did take copious notes on the Kindle when reading reference books. It took so long that it really disrupted my thinking process. On several occassions I had to do an Internet search to find a table or graphic that just wasn’t up to snuff on the Kindle.

I do think I gave this a good workout in the past year. I read 6 books and subscribed to two newspapers via the Kindle. I purchased three eBooks for roughly $1/each. Although I wanted to try out the blog feeds, I had a real aversion to paying $1.99/monthly for those. Note to Amazon – if you really want this technology to become pervasive, you need to make as much content free as possible, especially content you can access free via other technologies. No one has to pay for free blog feeds on an iPad.

The purchased eBooks were a joke as I mentioned in a facebook post at the time:

Quote from article downloaded to my Kindle, which I paid $1 for
(the article that is): “In social networks, you don’t converse face-to-face,
as there is no contact directly on the face.” Really Amazon? Does anyone
read these articles before you make them available? So far 3 of 3 artcles/white
papers I’ve purchased for… the Kindle have been worse than high school
term papers.

More stellar commentary from this article: “Sometimes people get so addictive
with the sites that they may not like to go out and socialize. There are other[s]
who like flirting online and say lies to people. These are unfair practices and
make it a bit dirty.” I take it back, this article is worth $1 in entertainment alone.

As for the newspapers, they get a mixed review. First, monthly charges can really creep up on you. If I could not make it a daily habit, it had to be cut. My husband was thrilled when the Chicago Sun-Times became available on the Kindle. The plan was he would take the Kindle to work reading the paper on the train and I would get it at night. He suddenly realized that his two favorite parts of the paper were the comics and the sports box scores – neither of which were provided. If you can’t get the whole paper and have to buy the print version for those missing pieces, it doesn’t make much economic sense to get the Kindle edition.

So, based on my experience, I totally understand why “E-Book Readers Bomb on College Campuses.” I agree that one day students may be reading all their schoolbooks on some type of handheld device. But, those students will need to be introduced early so that they can build new habits of highlighting, folding and leafing through their books.

And, it fits right in with my other green technologies (at least their cases). Definitely a plus in my “book.”

I’m not giving up yet – I think the Kindle is perfect for fiction. And as one of my friends once told me “it really is ok to read for fun!”

©2010 BellCow Inc.