Beacon Technology – how can these tiny devices do so much for libraries?

Examples of the technology that can change the way libraries deliver information to their customers

Examples of the technology that can change the way libraries deliver information to their customers

Imagine library patrons entering the library and being reminded, via a message to their mobile phone, they have two requested items ready to pick up, or a magazine due back today.

Envisage their delight when they are sent an invitation to a poetry reading event while browsing poetry books, or a cooking demonstration while browsing recipe books.

Picture a student’s happiness when they are sent a link to relevant ebooks, digitised newspapers or photographs while browsing the history section.

These are some possibilities open to add value to library services with the introduction of Beacon Technology or iBeacons (the apple version of beacon technology).

Ned Potter explains that Beacons are “small wireless devices which use Bluetooth LE (low energy) to broadcast targeted and specific messages to Bluetooth enabled smartphones”.  They ‘talk’ to your mobile phone via a downloadable app.

The small beacons (pictured above) can be strategically placed around the library to send specific messages to users in those areas.  Beacons last for up to three years on one coin sized battery and are currently available for $US99 for a 3 pack or smaller sticky estimote beacons (packets of 10 for $US99)

How do beacons work?

This simple Youtube clip shows more about how beacons work.

What can beacons be used for?

Beacon technology has been used in retail for “proximity marketing” to alert customers to specials

They are being trialed in New Zealand, by Westpac Bank for the “opportunity to add another dimension to customer service”.

Beacon technology has benefits for libraries.  This article from the ALA (American Library Association) on tech trends for 2015 has identified two companies working on applications for this technology specifically for libraries. According to this informative blog post Orlando Public Library are currently trialing Bluubeam beacon technology in their library to engage with their customers and provide them further information.

Capira Technologies have a library focused app which integrates with the Library Management System information giving personalised information such as prompting them to pick up requests or renew items.

  • Beacons might alert librarians when someone needs assistance when spending a long time searching for an item
  • In the future, with the development of smaller, cheaper beacons, they may help librarians to find missing items on shelves
  • Or lead the customer straight to the book they are looking for on the shelves

Ned Potter gives some great examples of how they can be used to enhance a public library users experience.

More things to consider

According to Carli Spina concerns about using beacon technology in libraries is primarily about privacy.  “The beacons themselves only transmit information and do not collect any information from devices that come into proximity with them, they can trigger applications that do collect information.”  She also outlines concerns about security “relating to the ease with which unauthorized people can detect and then spoof beacons in their own applications.

As with all new technology, the use of these beacons must be carefully managed and monitored.  However, these tiny technological devices are set to open up a world of possibilities of customer interaction in libraries.

My Verdict

Beacon Technology is an emerging technology that has great potential to add value to our library.  It will enhance communication with customers and provide another avenue for providing targeted information.  I recommend further investigation and a trial of this technology in our library.


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