Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Pushing the barriers

One of the sessions at ALA that got me a little bit excited was "Beacon me up Scotty" presented by Paolo MelilloBranch Manager, Southeast, Orange County Library System, Florida, USA. In his presentation he talked about iBeacon technology and how his library had adopted it and used it. (His presentation slides can be accessed here).

Essentially iBeacon technology is a push technology using a smart phone app, bluetooth and a small disk that is mounted on a wall. It is proximity based. If you have installed an iBeacon app (Bluubeam, Kick etc) onto your phone, whenever you pass by one of the iBeacons disks, a message will be pushed to your phone. Have a look at this short video for a concise explanation.

 It has been implemented in the retail sector for a little while now, and cultural places such as museums, galleries and libraries even airports have picked up the technology and moving along with it.

Paolo talked specifically about how his library is using the beacon technology with library patrons. Having an iBeacon transmitter near the library entrance welcomes patrons to the library along with a message about new resources, library events, and even community events. As patrons move around in the library they are given messages about specific information in that location - for example as they pass the cookbook section they may get a message about the cooking classes the library arranges. He has the iBeacons transmit within a 15ft radius of the iBeacon, although they can transmit up to 200ft. It will depend on the size of the area and the purpose.

The iBeacon and messages are remotely programmable, this being a major advantage as they are usually attached to a wall with very sticky stuff, very high up. 

The ALA conference had iBeacons strategically placed around the centre. Upon entering some of the conference rooms, I would get notified of what was going on in the room, a link to the presentation slides, and sometimes even a link to a survey or further information. In the exhibitors hall, I was getting notified about special events starting up soon, or deals that exhibitors had going.

This presentation came after I had been in danah boyds 'Big Data' keynote about how so much data is being collected about us all the time. Having this conversation in mind, of course opened up questions about iBeacon technology and data collection. If users of the smartphones just receive the messages, then apparently the only data that is collected is in-store or at-event behavioral data of individuals. Further data can be collected if the ibeacon message encourages interaction - like downloading a coupon, accessing a website etc.

You can read more about data collection and the iBeacon technology here.

So what are the implications for schools and school libraries?

Have a look at the videos below for how two schools have implemented the iBeacon technology.

After watching these videos my brain is starting to swirl with ideas on how this technology can be used to enhance customer service and learning in the school environment.

iBeacon's could be used for :
  • a mobile information source with one being placed on a person as a roaming information source - "Ask me about... "
  • scavenger hunts
  • notification of new resources
  • lessons being pushed to students
The list is only limited by your imagination.

What do you think? Concerns? Ideas? Wow factor?

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