Beacons!

This week, I wanted to write about the personal reactions I had to a few of the articles in this module on Mobile Information Environments. It wasn’t until a little while after reading that I realized I was looking at, and having entirely different reactions to, the same issue from my perspective as library employee and from that of a user.

Matt Enis’s 2014 article on the use of beacon technology and library apps was my first introduction to this concept/invention and I was a bit wary until the point at which the ability to opt-in or opt-out of the messaging/alert service was discussed. “I don’t know about this,” I thought to myself. Would patrons really use it? Would it be annoying? Would it eventually feel a little similar to being harassed with pop-ups? Would it be as alarming as the Amber Alert notifications that get sent out via mobile?  Of course, those concerns were addressed as soon as Richard Loomis began discussing these very issues. I was relieved to discover that patrons at libraries using these apps (CapiraMobile and the BluuBeam) could exercise more control over what types of messages would be sent to them and that the user experience was under scrutiny. This is all well and good, but I also wondered, is this any better than email notifications? Enis writes, “In a library environment, a beacon could send a notification about upcoming events for kids as a parent walks into a branch’s children’s area, for example. Messages about upcoming computer courses could be sent via a separate beacon to patrons who enter a library’s computer area.” Maybe making the connection for a patron between physical location and calendar events really hammers home/serves as a more memorable reminder than, say, a newsletter emailed once a month? But, what happens to the notifications once they’ve been delivered? If not saved, will people forget what the beacon has sent them as soon as they leave the premises?

Sue Considine of the Fayetteville Free Library explains that they really like the beacon technology because they “get constant feedback from patrons saying, ‘I didn’t know about that.’ Or, ‘I didn’t hear about that,’” despite the library’s outreach efforts via newsletters, social media, its website, and other means.”

I don’t want to come across as resistant to change or closed off to trying out new ideas; offering new ways to deliver information to patrons can’t be a bad thing! We have to test things out to see what sticks! But, at the same time, factors must come into play for this technology to be useful for both libraries and their patrons. They need to be informed about the new service, they have to download the app, they have to opt in AND most importantly, visit the library. Visit the library regularly. I am really curious how many patrons use this service at FFL when the population of the village is approximately 4373 as of 2010. From the glass-half full perspective: a wonderful little addition to library outreach. From the glass half-empty perspective: is this really making a big difference?

What I thought was particularly interesting was Enis’s explanation that libraries could also use the beacons to *their* benefit. “An array of beacons in a library could do things like generate anonymized foot traffic maps that illustrate how patrons and their devices tend to move through a building, and where they tend to linger.” This is what I thought was the most useful application of the beacons–gathering data about library usage! But again, if they’re tracking the app users then the library will still need patrons to be informed about the new service, they have to download the app, they have to opt in AND most importantly, visit the library. Visit the library regularly.

Enis mentions that the beacon technology has already been used to good effect in MLB ballparks. Curious, I searched for information on them and found some answers from an article from American Marketing Association. If folks at baseball stadiums have the app downloaded, “When fans pass by an iBeacon, it senses their location and delivers coupons for stadium food or apparel, team information and video highlights to their iPhone.” Important to note here that this marketing article emphasizes “success stories” of the beacons’ usage due to incentives. “Fans checking in to [New York Mets’] Citi Field might reward their fans one way, and fans checking in to [San Francisco Giants’] AT&T Park might get other incentives.”

Would more people be encouraged to utilize the beacon’s app at participating libraries if there were more incentives beyond information? We love information, but we also love free stuff…even though libraries are full of free stuff, people still like extra free stuff. Not exactly an eloquent thought, but I do wonder if any long-tailers could be incentivized to use the app and visit the library in exchange for library swag, local coupons, etc.

I’d like to abruptly switch gears and conclude my thoughts on beacon-style apps by saying that after I read this article, I downloaded the Field Trip app. For free. Hyperlocalized information about cool stuff near you. Can we send you notifications? Heck yes you can. This is everything I’ve ever wanted and wished a map could also be. I’m so excited about the possibilities it will bring when I’m out and about!

I felt a bit hypocritical downloading and being so excited by this application that follows my every move…while first being so skeptical of the beacon technology and what it can bring to libraries and users. My experience with Field Trip today helped me see beacon technology through the eyes of a patron. If I think getting a notification on my phone about passing by a famous film location is neat, i’m sure I’d be equally as pleased with a notification about new titles added to the collection as I walk into the fiction section of my local library. While I have reservations about the practicality of the technology, I definitely think users would appreciate it!

14 thoughts on “Beacons!

  1. @Erin, Twenty years ago, the thought of people tracking your personal location with your phone probably sounded outrageous, but some people want to know where their kids are or where their employees have traveled to. We adjust mentally. Right now, the advertising end of beacons seems especially creepy, but the targeted information to customers sounds great to businesses, and I’m sure many people will trade the privacy for a discount on merchandise (think grocery store loyalty cards).

    • @loribromac I’m so curious to find out 10 or 20 years from now what sort of personal information tracking will be considered “outrageous” if today we’re already somewhat at peace (of sorts)/have already mentally adjusted to having our locations and who knows what else being constantly monitored. I did a DNA kit a few years ago without considering the possible implications of where that information may go once it had been analyzed.

      • @eglybrand, I’ve considered a DNA kit in the past, but now with the new administration, there’s talk of insurance companies using that information to make “informed decisions” on your health care. Frightening possibilities. I just hope they don’t start doing it without our permission.

  2. @eglybrand I totally understand your dilemma with Beacons. Trading personal information for a service is such a huge compromise, and how badly do you really need that service? I look at Beacons from a marketing point of view. I feel libraries could do a lot more to market their services and Beacons could help them.

  3. I appreciate how you unpack these feelings and find yourself using “Field Trip.” 🙂 I think the future generations of Beacon etch will be even more integrated into user’s devices and what we can offer our users will become more and more complex. Perhaps customized suggestions while walking around the library etc.

  4. I try to be a glass half full person too, but my main concern with beacon technology is the effort vs reward dilemma. Patrons must download an app AND have Bluetooth turned on. I’m probably in the majority here when I say I keep my Bluetooth turned off because of the battery drain. Also, I try to only install apps I know I’m going to regularly use. I have a hard time seeing how this new technology could really reach a lot of patrons until we can work out a few more kinks. For example, people might download an app that was used by many local companies offering benefits and coupons rather than just the library. Also, maybe when batteries last longer.

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