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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

Zabaleta says the company is presently in discussions with several museums, zoos and other venues, and adds that his vision is the kind of community-wide app that Moss hopes to see as well. In this way, a patron could download the BluuBeam app and use it at a variety of locations.

Capira Technologies' CapiraMobile app is focused on libraries alone, and is intended to be integrated with an organization's existing library-management software. Each library can customize the CapiraMobile app for its facilities, and then post it on the iTunes, Google Play or Amazon App Store websites, where that library's patrons can then download it. More than 100 libraries are using the CapiraMobile app without beacon technology. For deployments that do not involve beacons, patrons can still utilize the app to search the library catalog, request items or register for events. To date, only two libraries are in the process of adopting the beacon functionality: New Jersey's Somerset County Library System and New York's Half Hollow Hills Community Library. However, says Michael Berse, one of Capira's co-founders, some of the 100 or so other libraries using the app have inquired about adding beacon functionality to the CapiraMobile app at their branches.

Half Hollow Hills Community Library, which operates branches in Dix Hills and Melville, is initially installing the CapiraMobile App solution at its Dix Hill site, with three beacons (to go live in early 2015); one by the circulation desk, another in the children's reading area and a third by Adult Services. "We're starting very small," says Ellen Druda, the library's digital project coordinator for Internet services. "If all goes well, we'd like to add more and include Melville." She says the library hopes to provide "a friendly, non-intrusive experience for our library users that will enhance their visit."

Patrons will be able to download the app from iTunes, Druda says, adding that a version for Android devices will also be available via the Google Play website. The app will offer patrons the choice to dismiss or accept a request to allow the system to operate on their phone when they enter the library. If they agree to use the app's location-based functionality, they can receive an alert at the circulation desk about any item being held for them, or if their library card needs updating. At the Children's Services desk, they could receive an alert regarding the starting of story time, while at the Adult Services desk, they could learn about a special exhibit or a music program starting. In addition, visitors can learn of items ready for pickup, fines owed, expired library cards or overdue items. The Capira software will pull this information from the library's existing management software, provided by Innovation Interfaces Inc.

Personalizing the Capira software in this way offers several benefits, Berse says. Not only can it send visitors updates about their account status, but it also allows libraries to create targeted messages based on a particular patron's age or stated interests. For instance, as an individual enters the teen section, the system can determine if he or she is a teenager, and send content that would interest that person, such as the schedule for the Xbox Game Time. The app could also provide information about upcoming events, based on the ID number that a beacon transmits to the app user's phone.

The Capira software tracks the movements of patrons, as well as the length of time they spend at specific locations, anonymously, Berse says. In that way, management knows how many people pause at certain areas, but not their identities.

The Capira app that patrons install on their smartphones and tablets currently works on both iOS and Android devices. Beacon functionality, however, is available only for the iOS-based app, though Capira expects to add beacon support to the Android app in January. Capira uses beacons supplied by Estimote. Capira Technologies ships the beacons to libraries, and each beacon can be linked to information provided by library related to the location where that beacon is to be installed. Librarians then typically install the beacons themselves and manage any information updates. Libraries can use data collected from the apps, based on beacon transmission receipt from smartphones, to learn more about how patrons are using their facilities, by tracking visitor traffic patterns, such as which sections individuals are visiting, and for how long.

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