September 2, 2014

D.C. Library Staff Tests iPad Services App

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By Michelle Lee

At the Washington D.C. public libraries, a newly-created iPad app is being tested by librarians and library technicians at its 25 neighborhood branches to help with common daily tasks, such as circulating books, making computer reservations and checking up on programs.

The iPad program was developed by the library’s own information technology department in an attempt to modernize and moblize services, said George Williams, the library’s media relations manager.

“What this app allows librarians to do is to come from behind the information desk, work the floor, do many of the things library workers have to do, but it puts it at one place,” Williams said.

A library worker with an iPad could help patrons check up on their library card information anywhere within the building, for example, or demonstrate how reference databases work without having to use a computer, Williams said.

The app would enable library workers to shorten long lines by going around as a mobile checkout “desk,” Williams said. The iPad and a connecting electronic scanner could also be used at community events outside of the libraries to register new patrons and provide more information about their services.

The idea of creating a special iPad app for library workers came up in late 2010 as the technology staff noticed how useful their iPhone app was to library patrons, and they thought it would be a great in-house tool for customer service, said Chis Tonjes, the Washington D.C. public library director of information technology.

Tonjes said it took the staff about six to eight weeks to develop the iPd app. The Washington, D.C. library purchased 50 iPads for about $29,950 and 33 Socket Mobile Bluetooth scanners for about $13,200, Tonjes said. The library also spent $4,000 for the cloud-based Numara mobile device manager to secure the iPads and update the software.

If the iPad is stolen, the tablet has the ability to transmit its location and take pictures of the thief, Tonjes said, and the staff could even remotely wipe the software and settings from the device.

Pilot testing at all of the branches started last month, after staff were trained in how to use the iPads and the app, Williams said. The library hopes to have the iPad app program finalized by April.

Things have been running smoothly at the Tenley-Friendship Neighborhood Library, according to branch manager Nicholas Kerelchuk.

The library started beta testing with six iPads—most of which have been used by staff in the back office—and a “soft launch” on the public side started last week, Kerelchuk said.

Kerelchuk said the iPads have really help the staff “streamline” the cataloging process. Instead of moving books and other items onto shelving carts for processing, Kerelchuk said the iPad allows workers to scan an item and put it back on the shelf.

“Also, it allows us to concentrate and go back to what librarians need to be doing; it takes away the desk aspect,” he said.

Kerelchuk also said he liked how the device allows every staff employee to “be a single point of service to the customer.” “They will be able to look up an item, have something done to the account, put something on hold, check a database…. It can all be done in the palm of your hand.”

The only drawback Kerelchuk said he noticed is that it might take some library customers a while to adjust to having the iPads around instead of an information desk.

“This is really taking it another step further when it’s full blown,” Kerelchuk said. “When I was younger, in library school, the catch phrase of the day is ‘the roaming library.’ Now we have the technology to make it true.”

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