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Libraries Check Out Bluetooth Beacons

Two beacon companies have developed unique solutions to help libraries send data about their programs or other details to patrons who download an app and then pass a library's beacons.
By Claire Swedberg
Dec 15, 2014

Several libraries in the United States have begun deploying Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons to be used with an app to reach out to patrons. Many libraries are already using passive radio frequency identification technology to automate the checking out and returning of books, but BLE technology offers libraries a new wireless tool.

Capturing the attention of a distractible public is a growing challenge for libraries that have historically been known as a quiet institute rich with books and media, but not much beyond that. Nowadays, people young and old, whether or not they are library users, have become increasingly focused on their smartphones, which makes them much harder to engage.

Chris Zabaleta (right) demonstrates the BluuBeam app to Orlando Public Library employee Anthony Torres, holding a BluuBeam beacon.
This is a problem that two companies are attempting to resolve with two different solutions. Long Island BLE firm Capira Technologies, founded by former library employees, offers a solution that can be integrated with a library's own existing management software. Patrons who install their local library's app on their Apple smartphone (and provide their personal data) can receive updates about their account status, or the availability of a book for which they are waiting, as they pass beacons installed at that library. The app also provides information about events taking place at the library, notices regarding which items (such as new releases) are shelved in a specific section, and alerts to staff members if a patron has remained in a specific area for a long time without moving, possibly indicating a need for assistance. Florida technology company BluuBeam is marketing a beacon solution that could be used at both libraries and other venues, such as zoos, museums or theaters, and provides details about upcoming programs, services and promotions, while the app users remain anonymous.

Orange County Library, in Orlando, Fla., went live with the BluuBeam system on Nov. 1, and is building its list of patron app users as they become aware the system is available, says Debbie Moss, Orange County Library's assistant director. The challenges of trying to attract the attention of both library users and non-users, Moss explains, had drawn the library to this solution—which she says the facility bought outright at a low price. The library hopes to attract the same kinds of individuals who visit local theaters and museums, she adds, and if the BluuBeam app is used at those venues as well, it could potentially draw people who do not usually visit the library.

For instance, anyone who downloaded the BluuBeam app from the Google Play or iTunes website and installed it on their Android or iOS device can receive data related to a beacon transmission from the library, even if they have not been to the library before. In that way, as they walk past the building, they could learn about upcoming events scheduled to occur there. "A lot of people who use other venues, such as museums and theaters, don't think of libraries as having similar programs," Moss says. In fact, she notes, the Orange County Library offers music performances ranging from solo artists to a "battle of the bands," as well as a variety of programs, such as cooking workshops in which local chefs provide their expertise.

The Orlando Orange County library has installed 12 beacons throughout its main branch, enabling it to do such things as provide information related to those cooking workshop to individuals in the cookbook section, or information about online streaming and downloadable music to those in the music CD section. It also installed three beacons at each of its two smaller branches.

According to Moss, library employees tested the app and beacons for about a month before launching the system for the public in early November. At first, she says, the various department managers were uncertain about the technology's value. But since that time, she adds, "They've come up with some really creative ideas" related to content that could be provided in their own departments. The challenge for the library now is to get the word out to patrons.

Chris Zabaleta, BluuBeam's founder, reports that approximately 30 libraries are currently using his company's system, which became commercially available six months ago. BluuBeam's Admin Console cloud-based software—which the library can use to gain analytics about patron movements, as well as to input or change data that visitors see on the BluuBeam app installed on their mobile device—is designed to be easy to install by the library, and not be integrated with library-management software. "We don't tie into [library] user accounts," he says, so the solution is entirely anonymous to use. The company sells a license for use of the BluuBeam app; within the next 30 to 60 days, the license will also include Admin Console. BluuBeam's battery-powered beacons, which the firm also calls Beams, are manufactured byAccent Advanced Systems, based in Spain.

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