In the past few years, smartphones have become more ubiquitous as a staple technology of our everyday lives, seeing a popularity that no one had expected. (Ankeny 2010) As a result, businesses have been attempting to use this unique technology to get their businesses closer to the consumer, creating new applications and ways of interacting with their prospects. (Barnes 2003) This resulted in the m-business market, a spinoff of e-business whose purpose is to provide electronic applications to customers with smartphones, in order to let them shop or use their services right from their phone. (Lee 2006)
At the same time, other environments are attempting to use mobile apps to enhance their own services and efficiency. One of those is the library system, an environment where thousands of items are available, and there is a constantly changing inventory process taking place. The problem is that it is necessary to find the most efficient way to make m-business practices apply to a library environment. In this paper, we will attempt to address this issue and find a system that permits for real-time access to the inventory of a library, as well as mobile checkout and check-in for books.
MOBILE APPLICATIONS AND SERVICES
The solution that is proposed in this paper is the use of a persistent mobile application and database system, which allows anyone who has the application on their smartphone to access the real time inventory of the library. (“13 Apps” 2009) From there, they can search for a book by implementing a text search as they would on an online database, find the book, and check its availability. (Dempsey 2010) Checkout would be simple; use of the application would require login to an account that the customer can register, which will allow the library to know who is checking the book out. There would be a button to press on the app that would confirm that the book is now checked out by that customer.
Check-in would be accomplished by the placement of a Quick Response (QR) code on the book itself. Most smartphones have cameras, and QR reader software would be integrated into the library mobile app. (Talbert 2011) In order to check a book in, the customer scans the QR code, which automatically detects what book it is, which then allows the customer to drop it off in a drop box. The scanning of the QR code would notify library personnel that the book has been returned, and they can go retrieve it.
The primary intended audience for this sort of application would be students and researchers, with regular library patrons being a secondary audience. These applications would be developed to allow for keywords to be searched thoroughly, and availability of the books in question to be determined instantly. This allows for quick determination of what books are available; people can even reserve books for checkout remotely, so they can rest assured the book will be held for them until they can get to the library to retrieve it.
The advantages to this type of system are numerous – first off, library staff will be spared from extensive loss of books, and not being able to keep track or categorize them. Customers will handle the checkout and checkin process themselves, which frees up more time for them to organize and add more books to the collection. (Kalakota and Robinson 2002) Librarygoers can instantly determine whether the book they want is available, and reserve it for later pickup.
There are a few snags in this practice, however. It will be extremely easy for people to steal books; people could theoretically scan the QR code and simply not return the book. However, there could be a notification system in the library database when a book is overdue, and the contact information for the customer will be in their account, so they can be contacted to retrieve the book. It also does not account, though, for the phenomenon where people pick up a book from one place and set it down in another without checking it out. It can throw off the organizational system put in place in the system, and lead customers astray. What’s more, it will take a lot of time to implement, converting the online database of an entire library onto a mobile app. The use of a mobile library app in this type of environment could dramatically change the way the library is run. The library personnel can be more hands-off with the customer, spending their time on the inner workings of the system and organizing the books.
There are many practical examples of mobile apps that work, particularly in a library setting. Restaurants such as Chipotle already use complex ordering apps for mobile phones to allow people to remotely finish an order for physical checkout; a similar system could be used for a library setting. (Butcher 2010) What’s more, the Library of Congress has already established a persistent mobile app, which even includes direct links to their print and audio/visual media, such as online videos. (Howard 2010)
When considering mobile business concepts for a library environment, there are a number of factors to consider, such as its precise implementation and the intended audience. (Sugai, Ciferri and Koeder 2010) It is the finding of this paper that there is, indeed, a way to bring a mobile app into the world of the library and have it enhance the experiences of both customer and library worker.
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