beyond the catalogue search – library smart phone apps

The fun and social iPhone app for the Vancouver Queer Film Festival got me thinking if a non-profit film festival can get create a useful and fun iPhone app, why can’t libraries?

Catalogue search

Librarians want patrons to be able to search their library’s catalogue. MJ Suhonos’ open source MyTPL does this really well. Users can search the catalogue, then using their location, can see the closest branch that has the item and use Google Maps to get there. TPL has 100 branches, so this is useful and uses smart phone technology in an elegant and appropriate way. Read Building a Location-aware Mobile Search Application with Z39.50 and HTML5 in the Code4Lib journal.

Social libraries

While searching the catalogue might be the top priority for many librarians, library users might want something that’s fun and social. I love how the Queer Film Festival combined basic information and fun social things like a compatibility test, a treasure hunt, and a pickup line generator.

While a pickup line generator would be inappropriate for libraries the other two ideas could be adapted. Social discovery layers allow users to rate, review, tag, and create their own lists of items in the catalogue. Allowing users to bump to discover new things they might enjoy, based on their respective lists would be a real life social version of Amazon’s “People who liked this also liked…”

A treasure hunt or geocashing type game could be used to encourage patrons to discover and explore   new branches of their library. Something like this could compliment a city-wide book club, like One Book One Vancouver. Participants could visit various locations where parts of the book take place to unlock badges/pins, or collect other digital swag. This could be adapted to a large academic library system for students by department, or to outreach to the larger community. For me this would be more fun than going a in-person tour.

Using iPhone functionality

I like the touch screen interface of the iPhone. I get a bit of enjoyment from the elegant experience of flicking through photos, swiping my finger to delete, pinching to zoom in our out, and shaking the phone to search. Libraries need to get this so we are not creating apps that require users to select things by ticking off tiny boxes, or alternatively where you need to shake your phone each and every time you want to search the catalogue.

At the Access 2009 hackfest, a group used iWebKit to create a cover flow display of new books. In an afternoon they created something that presented the University of Victoria’s new books in a really slick and gorgeous way.

Like Urban Spoon’s app, I can imagine an interface where you could lock various search facets (subject, format, audience, language, or any other information that’s in the MARC record) then shake your phone. I think this would be a good way to get somewhat customised recommendations and reviews.

I’m curious to see the types of library smart phone apps that are being developed. If you know of library apps that are fun, social, or elegant, please let me know.

2 thoughts on “beyond the catalogue search – library smart phone apps”

  1. Such an awesome idea, Tara! If only I had the skills to do something like this. I hope someone with the skills and knowledge gets on it!

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