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Bluetooth beacons are starting to shine in libraries: when a beacon recognizes an equipped smartphone, it pings out its message.

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Placing Bluetooth proximity sensors and tiny button-cell batteries into hockey-puck-sized plastic cases might not sound revolutionary. But these beacons are starting to shine brightly in libraries, publicizing services and events, informing patrons about their account and an item's status, and illuminating important areas of buildings.

To understand these small wonders, you need to know the basics: Beacons have transmitters that run on Bluetooth low energy (BLE) technology. Owners can program them with messages via apps. A beacon's proximity sensors detect when a Bluetooth-enabled device enters its (predetermined distance] range. When a beacon recognizes an equipped smartphone, it pings out its message. This way, a person who has Bluetooth turned on and has downloaded the library's app automatically receives a message on his or her phone upon entering a specific area.

Simple Usage, Powerful Publicity

The most basic way to use beacons is to send location-based promotional messages. (This is how Apple's retail stores began using its iBeacons in 2013; tinyurl.com/ z9rf6ph.) Since you can program beacons to "see" receivers that are anywhere from V to more than 200' away, you can set up different beacons in various library spaces. One in the children's room might detect devices in that area and send out a message such as, "There is a movie for 7- to 10-year-olds on Thursday night. Click here for details."

This is the way Orange County Library System (OCLS; ocls.info) in Florida has been using beacons since November 201 A. A few months prior, OCLS bought 25 iBeacons from BluuBeam (bluubeam.com], a vendor that concentrates on creating iBeacons for cultural institutions. According to Paolo Melillo, location manager for one of the OCLS branches that first implemented the technology, BluuBeam sold packs of five iBeacons for $750. The library also bought access to the Admin Console webpage in order to remotely write and edit messages for each iBeacon.

Melillo worked with staffers from his branch to determine which library services to promote and where to place their new iBeacons. One of their strategies was to highlight new movie releases on DVD. Since film fans often line up outside on Tuesday mornings to get the latest movies, Melillo put one iBeacon near the entrance and set up an appropriate message. The team also decided to spotlight a Spanish-language-learners club, placing an iBeacon for that near the Spanish-learning books.

As OCLS neared its launch time, staff members needed to promote their iBeacons. That involved not only explaining the technology to patrons, but also urging them to download the accompanying app. BluuBeam was ready with templates for fliers and banners that its clients could customize. The librarians made other signs and bookmarks and touted the new tool in the systemwide newsletter and on the website (ocls.info/announcements/bluubeam.asp). OCLS added an incentive: Any patron who downloaded the app and showed it to a staff member would get a free reusable shopping bag.

"Patron feedback has been positive," Melillo states. Although, he continues, "A few people with older smartphones were not able to download or use the app. One such patron contacted the BluuBeam email service desk and commented that he was planning to get an updated phone so he could keep up with the new DVD releases beam at my branch."

Since then, OCLS staffers have learned more:

* BluuBeam's Admin Console can run custom reports about usage.

* A service upgrade, Scheduler, lets them preload messages and dictate when to change them.

* Just because patrons got messages didn't mean they could act on them. So the admins started adding links to allow recipients to get more details about, and to register for, the events it was promoting.

* People who were accustomed to retail beacons expected to be offered special savings, so OCLS created coupons for seasonal book sales.

* Beamed messages without graphics or links were viewed less often than beams with them.

So, a year into the initiative, OCLS (a main library and 14 branches] is using a total of 37 iBeacons, spread across seven of the branches and the main library. From November 2014 through November 2015, Melillo reports a total of 12,913 viewed messages. This is an average of about 1,076 hits per month.

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Mary Anne Hodel, the director of OCLS, is pleased: "BluuBeam provides the library with another important avenue through which to reach our customers. Through this 'virtual shoulder tap' we can send messages in an unobtrusive but effective manner."

Integrating With the ILS

Such basic in-building promotion is only one of the ways the Mount Pleasant Public Library (MPPL; mountpleasant library.org) is using iBeacon technology. MPPL is a small system with a main building and one branch that serves about 33,000 people around Mount Pleasant and Pleasantville, N.Y. Its main building has one iBeacon in the area where it displays new books, which sends a message asking browsers if they know they can also get those titles as ebooks. Likewise, an iBeacon in the magazine lounge advises readers they can download many magazines for free from the library's Zinio service.

But MPPL's third and last iBeacon, which lives near the circulation desk, does something different. When Bluetooth-using patrons walk by there, they can get personalized messages saying that their hold is available or that their DVD is due back tomorrow.

This is possible because MPPL's iBeacons come from a vendor named Capira Technologies (capiratech.com/products/ capiramobile/ibeacon). These iBeacons are integrated with the ILS via the CapiraConnect mobile app. The app (available for Apple and Android) is designed to be used as the mobile version of a library's website. Capira Technologies customizes each app for the purchasing library, so it comes preconfigured to that client's systems. Patrons can use the app to access their accounts, get event notifications, search the catalog, see open hours, and contact a librarian, etc. It even shows a digital version of the person's library card.

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According to MPPL's director, John Fearon, he was upgrading to a responsive website and wanted to make sure all that library info was optimized for mobile devices. As the new "digital package" came together, it made sense to use CapiraConnect to give users easy access to it. The app talks with MPPL's SirsiDynix ILS via SIP2 protocol, enabling those who download it to do the same browsing and account interactions as they would on the full website on a computer.

After that was set up, Fearon explains, he added three iBeacons from Capira Technologies as part of a beta test. He's most excited about the one at the circ desk because it can ping visitors' phones with their own personalized account alerts. "It's very dynamic," he enthuses. It made sense to add a few Bluetooth beacons, he reasons: "My guess is people who've downloaded the app are already tech savvy." Why not give them a more tech-enabled experience?

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MPPL started using the iBeacons in early 2015 and was the first library in its county to do so. Still, Fearon feels, "We're kind of novices." He hasn't done much in the way of tracking results--yet--but is eager to dig in to that. He realizes the beacons have great potential, especially since they access the ILS, and is pondering their future roles in his library (mount pleasantlibrary.org/en/library-app).

Illuminating a Unique Building

Across the Atlantic Ocean, a Dutch library is using beacon technology in an entirely different way. The Delft University of Technology (TU Delft; tudelft.nl) Library (library.tudelft.nl/ en) has employed 15 iBeacons to create a self-paced tour of its very unique, cone-shaped building.

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Ivan Tzvetkov, R&D engineer at TU Delft Library, hatched the idea and eventually became project manager for the Library Tour app. "When Apple officially introduced the technology in 2013, a few things triggered my curiosity." He shared his thoughts with Karin Clavel, coordinator of R&D at TU Delft Library, and then a few others. They came up with about a dozen possible uses for the new tech. Eventually, the group chose to try a Library Tour app to help incoming international students feel welcome in the building.

TU Delft bought its beacons from Kontakt (kontakt.io), where the price was just $80 for three of them. It took a few months to design the tour. Tzvetkov explains, "We formed a team of enthusiastic colleagues from different departments. ... There were a lot of people involved [from] outside our team too. ... For example, we hired a professional photographer to shoot the photos but we (the team) knew exactly what kind of photos we wanted. The same goes for the videos in the app, which were made by our New Media Centre, following a script we made and using students as actors."

Clavel shares, "We walked around ourselves with a map and marked all the points of interest with a dot, then thought about the content for each dot on the map. We added more points of interest after a user test we did with an interactive paper prototype. From the user test, we knew that students wanted practical, to-the-point info: Walk into a room or space, get the info, move on." Tzvetkov says they worked hard to strike a balance between giving useful info and "keeping it interesting for the students by using videos, quizzes, etc."

Then the team was ready to have the app made. "We started to look at partners for providing the app," Clavel says. "We found a Dutch startup that had a platform which was targeted at museums, but the functionality almost perfectly matched our design. From the platform, we were able to implement the app in just 2.5 months for both iOS and Android, and completely customized to the look and feel we wanted."

On Aug. 17, 2015, TU Delft's library became the first one in Europe to start using this technology (tinyurl.com/hgd gyrr). As far as the development team knows, it's still the only one (as of January 2016)--although it has been in contact with librarians in Germany, Turkey, and Denmark who are setting up projects of their own.

Since people from many countries come to study at this research university that concentrates on science, design, and engineering, the team had to consider what languages the tour would be available in. Tzvetkov explains, "The English language is the 'standard'/official language in our university, so the choice was easy. And also during our user tests with international students, everybody agreed that the English is enough."

To make the students aware of the app and tour, the team worked with the university s Internationals Office. Together, they promoted the app during the introduction week when the students arrived. Of course, they also used social media, distributed fliers in welcome packages, hung banners, and got coverage in the online community for international students. The app has a webpage, in English, at library.tudelft.nl/en/visitor-info/thebuilding/guided-tour/library-tour-app.

After one full semester of usage, the team is pleased with its results (800 unique users downloaded the app, and there were 1,300 international students) and is determined to keep the content fresh via its flexible CMS. Overall, TU Delft's experience has been positive, as has the students' feedback: "Quite interesting!"; "Happily surprised!"; and "Very useful!" In closing, Tzvetkov says, "Developing this app was a lot of work, sometimes stressful, but also a lot of fun and we as a team are very proud of the final product."

What Does the Future Hold?

It's too early to say for sure what the future of beacon technology will be in libraries, but at the moment, it looks bright. Perhaps it will go the way of the QR code. Perhaps it will become de facto tech. Keep following these early adopters and others to help determine whether it's worth experimenting with in your own buildings.

Kathy Dempsey is a marketing consultant and trainer through her business, Libraries Are Essential. Her work is dedicated to helping librarians and information professionals promote their value and expertise in order to gain respect and funding. Dempsey has been the editor of the Marketing Library Services newsletter for 22 years and is a former editor-in-chief of Computers in Libraries. She is a member of the New Jersey Library Association. Her email address is kathy@librariesareessential.com.

LEARN MORE ABOUT BEACONS

YouTube video on how BluuBeam's beacons work in a library environment. 2:04 min. tinyurl.com/ncomwyv

"Connection, Not Collection: Using iBeacons to Engage Library Users," by Sidney Eng. Computers in Libraries, Dec. 2015. infotoday.com/cilmag/dec15/ Eng--Using-iBeacons-to-Engage-Library-Users.shtml

"Libraries Check Out Bluetooth Beacons," by Claire Swedberg. RFID Journal, Dec. 15, 2014. rfidjournal.com/articles/view712521

"'Beacon' Technology Deployed by Two Library App Makers," by Matt Enis. Library Journal, Nov. 18, 2014. lj.libraryjournal.com/2014/11/marketing/ beacon-technology-deployed-by-two-library-app-makers/#_
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Author:Dempsey, Kathy
Publication:Computers in Libraries
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2016
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