Innovation, iPhones, & Paging!

An Agile Approach to Library IT Innovations
by May Chang: Head of Library IT Services University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Article will be published in an upcoming issue of Library Hi Tech. (If this is disjointed it is because May Chang talks faster than Megan Fox!) The situation: lagging behind in development and innovations, limited resources, lots of students. Only thing she had control over was software project management.

Use predictive approach (i.e. Waterfall) good if low uncertainty
Adaptive (i.e. Agile) good for high uncertainty, “beta mode” thinking, working software is more important than documentation (Ach! From an archivist’s perspective.)

She picked Agile project management approach: read more via the Manifesto for Agile Software Development. Used Crystal methodology: “Crystal is a family of methodologies because every project is slightly different and has needs of its own.” You can read more about Crystal methodologies via Alistair Cockburn’s book, Crystal Clear: A Human-Powered Methodology for Small Teams. (aka “Google approach,” just get the product shipped in beta and then fix it) Also used mind maps for brainstorming and designing.

Products Learning spaces promotion, digital dashboard and digital dashboard mobile for IT operations, QR Codes, campus tour via augmented reality

Roving Reference & Patron Notification
by John Blyberg, Assistant Director for Innovation and UX, Darien Library

Re-envisioning patron service. Opened a new building in January 2009. In old building, say that reference stats were going down, circulation of materials were increasing. (Reference=knowledge and information services at Darien) The staff was concerned about people not using information services at the library. Nature of the way space was being used was changing as well as a changing demographic. During the day had traditional adult users, but after school a lot of teens came to the library.

Wanted to use a roving reference model: get out from behind the desk and go look for people to help in the stacks, in the learning commons, etc. Instead of “defending the desk,” getting out and being proactive about helping patrons. Wanted to change the experience of the user at the library (break down the barriers between librarians and patrons). Wifi makes this possible (huge investment in the wireless infrastructure of the new building); all parts of the building have wireless access (this if fantastic). Experimented with netbooks, wireless phones (VoIP) for roving reference. But it didn’t work really well because “librarians like to wear skirts and they don’t have pockets.” Now have remote desktop access via OPACs (virtual desktop) which is easier to use than a netbook (and you don’t have to carry a lot of stuff which is annoying if you don’t have lots of pockets).

But how do you find the librarians when they are “roving”? Patrons needed to know how to find the librarians. Wanted an “easy” button. Looked into different technologies: pagers (but need a network plan), Vocera (good for staff to staff communication, but not what they wanted), restaurant pagers (but it was a reverse of what they wanted to do), LifeAlert (tested it, but wasn’t a good workflow).

Opted for an easy button: needed it to be easy, use existing tools, fit into workflow, effective, reliable, and fast. They bought touchscreens for the desks and have a screen that says “Touch Here for Assistance” that patrons can use when there isn’t a librarian at the desk. Just touching the screen pages a librarian. Decided to use for notification “router”: it is free to use and you can download it to host it on own servers. Can send notifications via IM, email, and Prowl/Growl. Gave librarians iPads and iPod Touch running Prowl so that librarians could be notified when not on the desk. It shows information about where the patron is located and a link to click to notify the patron via the touchscreen that a librarian is coming to help the patron.

Had a service model in mind (stats showed the model was working) and then dedicated development time to make the model work better. Service models should meet user needs.

Major props: Code will be available open source for other libraries to use in the near future.

May Chang’s presentation: Very interesting models and methods for increasing speed of software development and efficiency of project management, but way too fast to summarize yet alone internalize or interpret information. I highly recommend reading the Library Hi Tech article when it is published.

John Blyberg: It’s about being agile and adaptable to changing needs–think outside the box about reference. This is such a fantastic way to deploy a roving reference model and a great way to respond to patron needs.