December 19, 2014

Long Island Libraries Roll Out New Custom App

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Long Island’s Jericho Public Library (JPL), Hampton Library, and Mattituck-Laurel Library (MLL) each recently launched customized versions of CapiraMobile, a new suite of native apps for Apple iOS, Android, Kindle Fire, and Nook devices developed by Medford, NY-based Capira Technologies. Unique features of the service include a library card sign-up module that enables users to provide proof of residency remotely by taking a photo of a utility bill, and a digital library card presentation module that allows patrons to display and scan their library card barcode using their mobile device.

The digital library card feature was “a big selling point” for MLL, according to Assistant Director Jeffrey Walden. Walden was familiar with barcode-displaying apps developed for retail loyalty card programs, and had been searching for a similar solution for his library for about a year and a half.

“We have a lot of people, especially teens, that come in and don’t always bring their cards with them, but they always have their phones,” he said.

The app also features direct ILS integration, self-checkout and remote renewal capabilities, a searchable event calendar; and notification systems that enable libraries to send individual patrons reminders about items on hold, for example, or to push a mass alert to all users regarding special events or local emergencies. In addition, an integrated database module allows patrons to search a library’s digital resources within the app.

JPL Director Barbara Kessler said that when they launched their app, one goal was to offer enhanced services to the many daily train commuters in the library’s community.

“We have a lot of people that travel on the [Long Island] Railroad into New York. This way the library is available to them in any location,” she said.

JPL selected CapiraMobile because of its customizable design and features, as well as its ability to provide offline access to many resources, according to Kessler and Carlos Munoz, JPL’s head of technology services. At JPL’s request, Capira recently developed a new “family card” feature for the library’s app, which will allow families to link their library cards. Parents can then use the app’s digital library card to check out and return books and movies for their children, even when they don’t have their kid’s card handy.

“That was something that people asked us for,” Munoz said. “Patrons were going to our self-check units, trying to check out four movies, and they were only able to check out three. So they’d have to get their son’s card [separately] to check out the other item.”

Patrons will have to sign a disclaimer form to enable the card linking service, Kessler noted, but she expects the feature to be popular. “This was patron-driven,” she said.

Although responsive web design techniques enable developers to create websites that automatically optimize a site’s content for smartphones and tablets, Walden said that many smartphone and tablet users have become accustomed to the substandard browsing experience of non-optimized sites, which are still far more common.

“The app just has a more modern connotation than ‘go to our website,’” he said. “It’s appealing to the type of people who live with their phones. When you say ‘website,’ they’re thinking the old way, where you’re going to have to blow everything up to look at it, and not everything is going to work properly. With the app, we’ve advertised it as the digital branch of the library—the place to go where you can do things easily with your mobile device.”

MLL launched its customized app more recently than JPL, and Walden said that the library has been getting the word out with a combination of newsletter inserts, announcements on the library’s Facebook page, ads in the local paper, signs at the circ desk, and simple word of mouth.

“We’re not a big library, so it’s a challenge to get the word out about these things, but word of mouth is a big help,” he said. “People come to the [circulation] desk, and I see that they have their phone or an iPad on them, I’ll definitely ask if they’ve downloaded the new app yet…. And I can think of 15 patrons off the top of my head that have come in with a flyer asking about it.”

The base price for the suite of native apps is $8,500, although Capira negotiates discounts for small libraries and consortia. All packages include consultations regarding design, customization of the app to each library’s specifications, and integration with the library’s ILS and third-party content vendors.

“We meet with a library’s staff and talk about two pieces: one is the flow of the application. What menus do you want, what order do you want them in, what kind of features do you want, what text do you want on certain screens,”  said Michael Berse, managing member and lead software engineer for Capira Technologies. “The second piece is always from a graphical standpoint…. What are you thinking in terms of colors, design, layout…. We also handle all of the heavy lifting in terms of programming and integration.”

Like all of Capira’s founders, Berse comes from a library background. Prior experience includes a stint as network and systems specialist at Hauppauge Public Library. Full disclosure: Berse is also the former manager of IT services and information businesses at Media Source, Inc., LJ’s parent company.

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Matt Enis About Matt Enis

Matt Enis (menis@mediasourceinc.com; @matthewenis on Twitter) is Associate Editor, Technology for Library Journal.

Comments

  1. Barcode apps seem like a great way to appeal to the smartphone-wielding sector of library members. Things as seemingly insignificant as this could make a huge difference in encouraging younger, more techy people to become more active in their local libraries.

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