Cool App Roundup: Library Edition

This Cool App Roundup from App It Up highlights how apps can help libraries connect with patrons and provide services in new ways.

Many libraries accomplish this by creating standalone apps or a mobile-friendly website and library catalog. But these aren’t the only ways apps can help organizations share resources or get their message out. We hope the ideas below will inspire libraries (and nonprofits!) to think about innovative ways to use apps and mobile technology.

Engaging with Library (and Other) Collections

Smart mobile devices usually include a camera, location-aware GPS, a barcode scanner, and Internet access. And these technologies can help patrons engage with library (and other) collections in new ways. For example:

  • North Carolina State University's Red, White & Black African-American history mobile tour uses GPS technology to pinpoint historically relevant campus sites nearby. Mobile tour users can then access related text, images, audio, and other content from the university library archives.
  • Arts organizations are using mobile technology to help people find and engage with art in similar ways, as we mentioned in last month's Cool App Roundup: Arts Organization Edition.

This got us thinking about other ways libraries and nonprofits could use these mobile technologies. Perhaps a library mobile tour (or scavenger hunt) that teaches people how to search for and access resources in the library’s collection? Or a mobile tour created by a nonprofit that highlights and shares important locations and resources related to the organization's specific mission?

Collecting and Sharing Mobile Resources

More and more, people expect to get access to resources and information on their mobile devices. This creates an opportunity for libraries and other organizations: collecting and sharing the “best of” relevant mobile resources for their patrons, clients, and supporters.

Below are just a few examples of how libraries are collecting and sharing mobile resources:

Increasing Library Visibility

OCLC has helped create a variety of apps that aren't linked to a specific library but do help make library resources more visible to app users.

What all these apps have in common is that they use Worldcat, the enormous global catalog of library collections, to provide detailed information about books, CDs, and movies. They also gently remind app users of what their local library has available.

  • Disk Tracker, MyLibrary, and My Box Office are OCLC mobile apps that help users create and manage personal databases (of music, books, and movies, respectively) they own or would like to own. The app helps users find items they want by locating nearby libraries that have those items in their collections.
  • Redlaser and Pic2Shop are shopping apps with a library twist. Both apps transform a mobile device into a barcode scanner. Once you scan a barcode on an item, the app lets you compare prices from various retailers. They also note which nearby libraries offer the item.

What's especially cool about these apps is that they reach people who aren’t necessarily interested in the library (or just not yet!). They're library outreach and advocacy tools cleverly disguised as a personal media collection manager, barcode scanner, or shopping app.

What Else?

We'd love to hear what you think about these apps, as well as other ideas you have for interesting, innovative, or fun ways apps could be used by libraries and nonprofits. Do you know of other libraries or nonprofits that are doing a good job of identifying and sharing mobile resources? Do you have a cool idea for engaging patrons, constituents, or supporters using an app?

Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Photo: Gesa Hemelmans

Ariel Gilbert-Knight is a Technology Analyst for TechSoup