05 Jan Using mobile devices to answer enquiries
With a number of people having (or looking for) new mobile phones for Christmas or in the January sales, and people reflecting on the technological advances of the last decade (ignoring the debate about whether or not we’re actually in a new decade!), I’ve read a few blog posts recently about the great features of mobile devices and how useful they are. All this talk about mobile devices reminded me of a blog post I’ve been intending to write for a while so here it is.
Regular readers of the blog will know that I splashed out on an iPod Touch just over 2 years ago, and commented then on how mobile technologies were likely to affect both libraries and services in general in the future. I also wrote a series of posts about how to utilise some of the apps – some of which probably need updating but are still of use. I loved my iPod Touch but missed being able to use it when not in a wireless zone (particularly during my commute to work), and finally caved in earlier this year and bought myself an iPhone. I can now be usually found tapping away lost in the world of my iPhone (sad but true, I even started writing this blog post on my iPhone using the WordPress app as I was struggling to sleep). I use lots of different apps every day for my personal and work life, and find it invaluable when visiting new places (using maps, guides and useful transport apps to get about). I also use the web browser a lot, and many weekends now I don’t actually turn my laptop on at all and just stay connected via my iPhone.
I use it at work a lot – it has my Remember The Milk to do list application, and I can use it to check my email when I’m away from my desk. I also occasionally use it to access our OPAC (sadly not currently optimised for mobile browsers), and find this particularly useful when I’m in the shelves and not near an OPAC (e.g. when weeding).
Until recently I hadn’t used it for enquiries – most enquiries come to the enquiry desk anyway (we’re not actively roving yet) and if students catch you elsewhere in the building it’s usually not too far to the nearest OPAC. I’ve been following other libraries who have trialled mobile devices (such as Vicki Owen’s work at LJMU) and thought there was great potential, but never used it myself.
However, recently there have been two occasions when I have used my iPhone to deal with enquiries and it’s been really useful. The first time I was in the shelves helping with a backlog of shelving when a student asked for help locating an item. She was sure it should be available and had written down the classmark but couldn’t find it. I had a look with her but I couldn’t find it either. We were right by where the book should be and not very near to the OPACs, so I decided to double check the OPAC on my iPhone. It turned out the item wasn’t actually available (I think it may have been available at a different campus), and saved us time searching around as we now knew it wouldn’t be there. She thanked me for my help and said she’d reserve it instead. I guess we could even have reserved on my iPhone too, but she was happy to do that on her way out of the building. Happy student, and I was pleased to have been able to help her at her point (and location) of need.
The second occasion was when we were having problems with internet access, and I was weeding down in the basement – I often spend time in the shelves if the network is having problems. A student asked me for help locating books on a certain topic area and was stuck due to the internet problems. I had a vague idea where to look (secretly I quite like it when the OPAC is down as it tests your Dewey knowledge!), but wasn’t completely sure so decided to check using my mobile internet access on my iPhone. We found a specific classmark on the OPAC using my phone and the student was able to locate relevant materials. Another happy customer thanks to my iPhone.
Now OK, the second example was unusual circumstances and doesn’t happen that often thankfully, but the first example is something that happens all the time. We usually traipse over to the OPACs or the student has to come to the helpdesk (which must be frustrating for them as they’ve probably already checked, but we then double check as our OPAC isn’t very intuitive). Then, if it should (in theory) be available, we traipse back to the shelves (where the student has already been), and try to locate it. Sometimes at this point we find it, but sometimes the search continues to the recently returned items on trolleys, or sometimes even to the items still in the returns box by the self issue machines. If there’s only one available and the student can’t find it, I usually check our LMS to see when it was last returned which should give a clue to where it may be. Either way, it’s an unnecessarily long-winded procedure which could really be helped by mobile devices.
Some of our campuses are currently roving, but as far as I know they don’t have portable devices of any kind with them. Now that I’ve experienced it first hand, I can definitely see how it can help, even if it’s just iPod Touch or similar wireless enabled mobile devices used to access the OPAC and the web to assist with simple enquiries (although a tablet PC, or the rumoured Apple iSlate, with the admin side of the LMS as well as internet access would be even more useful).
I think maybe it’s finally time to put one of the suggestions sitting in my “possible future ideas” folder to management and see if it’s something we could potentially implement in the not too distant future.
I know there are a number of libraries who were interested in using mobile devices to assist with enquiries, is anyone using them currently? If so I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments, or if you know of anywhere that is currently using them.
I’ll definitely be watching with interest to see where this sort of thing progresses (the banks and airports are already actively using these sort of devices to aid customer service), and in the meantime you’ll be able to find me with my iPhone in my pocket in case students ask me for help when I’m out and about in the building. 😉