September 22, 2023

Essential Apps and Services for the Great Library Roadshow

Layar screenshot, as seen from the window of a cab in Brooklyn (see annotation below)

I think we’ve got the overall logistics set for #libshow (though let me tell you, there are a lot of moving pieces in this endeavor!). All the stops are planned and set up, and three great meetups are in the works in Greensboro, Richmond, and Wilmington.

But, as with any great road trip, we’re leaving room for serendipity. That doesn’t mean we’re leaving it all up to chance, however — being the tech-savvy, connected, information professionals we’ve been trained to be as librarians, we’d be remiss not to use the tools available to us to at least highlight the best options on our route.

So I’ve been doing some app and technology recon in the weeks leading up to the official start tomorrow, and below you’ll see just a few annotations of the tools I’ve found most useful, and others that are old standbys that I make frequent use of during my travels.

But this list obviously isn’t complete — please add any suggestions in the comments, or better yet, send them along to the #libshow hashtag on Twitter so we can see them on the road and share with other folks that way.

T-minus 24 hours — I’ll see you in Charlotte!

Gas Buddy — uses crowd-sourced reports on gas pricing to give you a map and list of nearby places to fill up. Main thing that this is app is useful for on this road trip: a reminder that gas is, to put it bluntly, ridiculously expensive. No getting around that I’m afraid, but maybe we can use this app to claim a few dollars worth of app-savvy victory.

On the Way — this web app uses geo-located data sources for restaurants and other attractions and highlights major attractions along your route. I won’t lie, the bulk of what this app showed me was all of the Starbucks and Cracker Barrels along the way, but it was useful to have a sense of where a few of the other sights were and what other possible stops we’d be driving near.

Yelp — this is the Swiss Army knife of location-based services apps. Honestly, I use Yelp the moment I arrive in a new city, just to get a few restaurant names and coffee places onto my mental map. You never know exactly when you’ll suddenly need to find a place to sit down and chat with a fellow librarian, but you do know that it’s going to come up at some point, so you might as well have a few places already in mind.

Layar — Layar is one of the original (and I’d argue still among the most robust) augmented reality (AR) apps that set the bar for the category a few years back. You can select different data sources and add them as overlays on top of the real-time feed from your phone’s camera. Working with the gyroscope and GPS within the phone as well, you get a display of the position and distance of nearby sites and resources.
Like the other apps above, Layar is only as good as the data sources it can access. These include data from Yelp, Flickr, Instagram, Twitter, and many more web services that include results with embedded geographic metadata (there’s also a ton of pretty boring data sources showing, for instance, the location of every Subway restaurant in the country. Hooray for that). But there are also a lot of great cultural institution data sources if you search for them, and a downright fabulous data layer called Local Book Search curated by the folks at LibraryThing. This uses public data sources to show you an an excellent overview of local libraries (public and academic) as well as indie bookstores (the ones that are left, anyway).
Use it. Love it. This is really an elegant way to familiarize yourself with the local book culture in any new location.

Hipmunk and Kayak — Just a brief mention, but these are my absolute favorite apps and sites for making travel arrangements. Hipmunk in particular has a great interface for choosing among flights and trains, with a default sort according to least “agony” (a combined rating mixing price and trip duration factors). Agony is exactly what I’m trying to avoid when traveling, so thanks for that Hipmunk.

Other apps I can’t go without:

Tweetdeck — For following any number of conversations, hashtags, and lists on Twitter. I don’t love everything about this app, but I’d be lost without its multi-column view for easily tracking multiple streams at once.

Twitter — Yes, I often use more than Twitter app simultaneously. Yes, the crushing inefficiency of this is not lost on me. But the official Twitter app is now so tightly integrated into the iPhone OS that for dealing with direct conversations and mentions, I still find it easiest to use this app for my own personal convenience, and then switch back to Tweetdeck to keep up on what tweeps in larger libraryland, publishing, and technology circles are doing.

Dropbox — My personal and professional life would come to a grinding halt without Dropbox. This personal cloud-based storage service just works, syncing all files and folders across any device on which it’s installed, and works beautifully at that. I can’t remember the last time I saved a doc to a computer locally, and as a result, I’ll have access to anything I could potentially need while on the Great Library Roadshow.

Google Docs — Okay, I lied. Any docs that aren’t in Dropbox are in Google Docs. This is how we coordinated all of the logistics for the trip, and for those times when you need to share routes, flight times, and contact information with a group of people, Google Docs still wins (real quick: anybody out there remember Google Wave? No? Me neither.)

Instagram — I resisted the allure of this iPhone-only photo sharing app for many months, but I recently gave in and it’s been wonderful. It hits the same sweet spot of single-purpose simplicity that Twitter capitalized on a few years ago — you take a photo, apply a quick filter to make it look neat, and share with your friends. You can add a geo-tag and a comment, and share it with other services (Flickr, Tumblr, FourSquare, etc.). Simple, but very effective for that fun kind of aesthetic in-joke and “look what I just saw!” kind of communication among friends and peers.

Flipboard — This has been my favorite news and link consumption app for a while now. In fact, this probably counts as the third Twitter app I use, since I browse through the links people post to Twitter almost exclusively via Flipboard. It’s really slick, and if you haven’t, definitely check it out. The iPad version is even more slick, but I still prefer the iPhone version since I can browse the latest news and links whenever I have a spare minute or two.

Swackett screenshot, showing a chilly day in BrooklynSwackett — Nothing too fancy here, just a fun alternative way to see what’s up with the weather wherever you are. The illustrations are cute, and the useful info + suggested activities for the weather (e.g. “no rain is expected for the next 36 hours; build a sundial”) are more fun (admittedly, as fun as weather-related suggestions can be) than the straight clinical data offered by daily and hourly temp and precipitation forecasts from other weather apps.

Facebook — I dislike Facebook for a variety of reasons, but like everyone else in the online-connected universe, I end up having to use it a lot. Credit where credit is due: their latest app for the iPhone makes required visits and checks I have to make more bearable. I’ll never be giving them any more of my personal info than I have to, but I don’t foresee a world without Facebook happening between now and the end of the Roadshow, so I’ll be in this app with some frequency over the coming days.

Camera App (built-in) — I can’t remember the last time I used my dedicated digital camera. Simple as that — the cameras on modern smartphones are that good and that connected to the other data sources and platforms I need that they have almost entirely obviated the need for a separate piece of technology. I still carry my other camera (maybe it’s out of nostalgia for all the great times we’ve had together), but I suspect that era will end sooner rather than later.

What am I missing? What are the essential travel and road trip apps and services you rely on?
Let me know in the comments, or via #LibShow on Twitter!

About Josh Hadro

Josh Hadro (; @hadro on Twitter) is Executive Editor of Library Journal.


  1. Very helpful! Have you found Layar to be slow at times? I haven’t been able to download yet to my Android phone, but I got that feedback from art teachers..
    Also, I see Flipboard won’t be making an Android version. Have you heard anything about Google Currents as a substitute?

    • Hey Melissa — Yeah, Layar can still be a bit buggy, quitting randomly, but I’m usually able to get what trying to do done.
      I’ll be honest, I know nothing about Google Currents, but will check it out — thanks!

  2. Tatiana says:

    Hello Josh, I agree with Melissa about Layar, so in the end I never use it.
    My top 5 essential travel and road trip apps are:
    1) – it will provide you with a list made up of nothing but the cheapest flights. Works better with European airports.
    2) – the name itself explains everything, but it’s more than that. It’s a kind of free airbnb, but better because you get to know the locals life.
    3) – It’s a ride sharing website, but there is also that works pretty well.
    4) – It’s about sailing lovers who can get a ride on sailing boats and in exchange help the skippers during the navigation. If you are a skilled one you can get even paid for the trip.
    5) – Last but not least planefinder checks the position of every airplane in the world in realtime. I use it to check if there is a delay on my flights… very useful indeed.