library apps

What are the possibilties for libraries and apps? I'd say there's huge potential to develop bespoke library apps, lots of uses for Information Professionals of existing apps, and plenty we can learn from what other sectors are doing. While smart-phones are by no means universal yet, I think the majority of phones in say three year's time will support apps, so it would be good to be ahead of the game. This picture is so post-modern it doesn't NEED a caption

Existing Apps for Information Professionals

Joeyanne Libraryanne has already written a series of posts at the start of last year, about useful apps for the likes of us. Picking up on those:

  • I would second what she said about downloading Stanza to read e-books - it's free, and so are thousands of the books. When you start reading using this, you start to see why so many are predicting 2010 as the year of the e-book - one in five apps sold is an e-book, and all that stuff. It's so simple and so free. People talk a lot about the tactile nature of books, their smell, the desire to read them in the bath etc - that's all fine, e-books don't have to replace physical books, the two can work together (as Librarian Idol has recently said, this dichotomy between techies and book lovers isn't so great as people make out). It's like MP3s and vinyl - people LOVE vinyl, feel passionate about it, but they also make do with MP3s for the convenience of them. Imagine you're going to a Conference in London (assuming you don't live in London) with an overnight stay - do you want to take a small overnight bag with a couple of hefty books in, or do you want to just read a book on your iphone on the train? More to the point, you can choose the book while you're on the train, and just download it there and then.
  • She also mentions the wordpress plugin that optimises your blog for iPhone users - there's no excuse not to have this, just download it and switch it on and you're away
  • There are a gazillion apps for Twitter now - I normally use Tweetdeck to synchronise my phone with my desktop. On the subject of social networking, there is also a LinkedIn app worth looking at.
  • For catching up on blogs you can just add Google Reader to your iPhone homepage (via Safari) and it behaves like an app - you access it via a button, you always stay logged in, and it fits the screen because it knows you are using an iPhone

On top of all that, the Guardian app is great, spotify is heaven for anyone who's ever liked music, WiFi Zone or similar apps are good for finding the nearest wifi spots, and until you've exchanged personal details withsomeone via the Bump application, you really haven't lived.

Apps we can learn from

Cultural apps are becoming more prominent - there have been a couple of articles in the Guardian about them the this year already. That article and this one mention the success of the Nick Cave book, "The Death of Bunny Munro, the success of which perhaps owes to its integration of text with soundtrack, audiobook and films of Cave reading, thus exploiting the unique capabilities of the iPhone/iPod Touch". Now personally I'd say those are the unique capabilities of e-books per se, not the iPhone in particular - I've mentioned this here because I think the world of e-books has been crying out for a success story which shows readers (and library users, and ultimately e-book developers) that e-books aren't just a compromise for when the real thing isn't available (as sort of Pepsi to the printed book's Coke...). e-Books have fabulous capabilities, being as they are a multimedia platform, which can be exploited to make them an exciting choice in their own right and not just an alternative to something else. Music, video, and words, for a more immersive reading experience. Excellent.

Also of note there is the National Gallery app, and a similar idea to that is the Louvre app. Have a look at this break-down of what the Louvre app contains - doesn't that sound like the kind of thing we could be doing with our Special Collections? Lovely pictures of the artworks / rare books, visitor information, video tour - all stuff we could be well set up to cater for.

The LibraryThing app is a good example of someone library-related making a step into the app market and coming up with something people want - early signs seem to be that this will be successful. It applies the local-listings approach normally taken with gigs or bars, to sources of books. The Unquiet Library are early adopters.

Lots has been written about 2010 and Augmented Reality (the overlaying of exciting stuff on your camera's view-finder, giving you what you can actually see plus something else, be it information, pictures, house-prices or whatever). The iPhone 3Gs has a compass, so using Google Maps it knows where you are and which way you are facing. Clearly, this allows for guided tours of museums etc, based on where you are in the building. The same could apply to a Special Collections exhibition, perhaps. But with augmented reality browsers, you could go further and provide key information about a particular exhibit you were facing, through the view-finder (like a Heads-Up Display) - not just historical info, dates etc, but perhaps filling in colouring where colour has faded, and that sort of thing. For a free example of Augmented Reality, check out the Acrossair app, and imagine what we could do with it in libraries.

The possibilties are endless...

Guided tours, ways of accessing library stuff from anywhere, awareness raising packages which could potentially become revenue-streams (we're all trying to save money; let's try and actually make money!) - there's loads of possibilities, surely? Imagine an Augmented Reality browser that showed you the shelves you were looking at, and provided inf0 about where to find related materials. (And not just 'they're on level 2, on the left' - but actual arrows to follow on screen.) Imagine, and this is something I was wondering about over in Joeyanne's blog's comments, harnessing the power of RFID for use in an app! Book not on the shelf? Point the iphone at the library and it'll find it for you, and guide you to it... w00t!

Is that even potentially possible? I'd love someone with technical knowledge to tell me if it is... Either way, it's exciting to think about what we could do, and any new ways to engage with wider communities is a terrific thing.

- thewikiman