Thursday, May 19, 2011

Library Cards on Smartphones, the Next Wave in Customer Service

by: Michael Kelley

Smartphone apps such as CardStar and KeyRing allow consumers to load onto their mobile devices all the plastic reward cards dangling from their key chains, and more of these consumers are now using the same apps to load their library cards onto their phones.

This is presenting a growing challenge for the circulation desk, as library workers have to decide whether library policy acknowledges the virtual card and also whether a scanner can read it.

"It floated to the top at our library because I was using mine to check out material, and the supervisors felt it was something they needed to put in our guidelines," Manya Shorr, the Central Library supervisor at Sacramento Public Library, CA, told LJ.

So far, at Sacramento's 28 branches, smartphone apps have been used only about 40 to 50 times to check out materials, and the library changed its circulation manual in October to make clear that "these are to be accepted as valid library cards." The readers in Sacramento can scan the cards, and they work with most of the self-check machines, too.

"The reality is I always have my phone on me, so to have my card on my phone is fantastic," Shorr said. "I think initially there was some concern about security, but we decided as an institution that...we wanted to make policy based on positive intent rather than expecting the worst."

To create the smartphone card, all users have to do is input or scan the physical card's barcode number.

In the case of CardStar, when a patron from a particular library is the first from that system to use the app, then administrators from CardStar add that library's name to a menu, and the next patron from that system can then select his/her particular system before entering the barcode information. The list of available libraries is growing.

"Collectively, library cards are the seventh most popular card stored in our system," Kristine Lee, a spokesperson for CardStar, told LJ. That is about 50,000 to 75,000 downloads, she said.

Great customer service
Christine Grewcock, a science and technology reference librarian and a self-described gadget person at Greenville County Library System, SC, likes KeyRing and considers it good customer service, but she does have reservations.

"It's easier to use somebody else's card on a phone because you can just type in a number and it creates a barcode for you on the phone," she said. Unlike the store loyalty cards, which only accumulate store credit, a misused library card could pile up fines for the unsuspecting cardholder, she said.

"I like having a PIN as an added layer of security," she said.

CardStar's Lee said the risk for abuse "is equal to, if not a lot less" than what patrons face with their physical cards, which can be just as easily stolen or used by someone other than the rightful owner, since libraries generally do not require any identification when a patron presents a valid card.

Myles Jaeschke, media collections librarian for Tulsa City-County Library, where patrons have been using the apps, also feels the risk is very low.

"You'd have to do some very clever guessing [of a barcode number]," he said. "I think it's a great customer service, and I don't think libraries should be afraid of it, they should probably embrace it."

The Atlanta-Fulton Public Library has not had a large number of patrons using the virtual cards yet, according to Hensley Roberts, the circulations services manager, but, like Sacramento, the library is anticipating the usage and has revised its policy to make clear that the cards are valid. But there is some resistance among staff members when they are presented with a smartphone card, he said.

"To them it's like someone wrote a card number down on a piece of a paper, in which case they would ask for an ID," Roberts said.

Kelly Robinson, the library's marketing and PR director, said that an email has been sent out to all 34 branches making clear that the smartphone cards are valid.

"We definitely accept it and welcome it," she said.

Roberts and others said the bigger issue may be that scanning equipment in the libraries cannot always read the smartphone cards.

"Scanning depends on what type of scanner people are using, but for most libraries it seems to be working," said Lee, of CardStar. "And even if the scan doesn't work, the barcode number will still show up, and it can be entered manually," she said.

Traditional barcode scanners are designed to read laser light reflected off of a solid surface, while smartphone screens are emitting light and have to be read by a charge-coupled device (CCD) scanner, according to Brian Herzog, the author of the Swiss Army Librarian blog, who wrote about this problem.

Herzog, who works as a reference librarian in Massachusetts, bought a CCD scanner for $30 and found it worked perfectly with library card barcodes displayed on a smartphone (as well as regular barcodes).

"Now that I have this scanner, I just have to wait for a patron to come in who needs it-what a strange feeling to be ahead of the curve," he wrote.

from: Library Journal

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