Starbucks’ Digital Network: A Challenge for Libraries?

Starbucks announced today on Twitter that as of July 1, 2010 wifi access would be free of charge at all locations via a one-click sign on. What else could be more appealing than relaxing in a comfy chair with your favorite beverage while easily (it’s one click, remember) logging onto the network to check email or your Facebook feed? But that’s not all. ReadWriteWeb is reporting that Starbucks has bigger plans for its digital network which includes providing access to paid content from the Wall Street Journal and other partners including the New York Times, Apple, USA Today, etc.

This clearly takes Starbucks into territory usually reserved for libraries: providing public access to subscription based electronic content either on-site or via proxy. This is a bold move by Starbucks which I’m sure they’re hoping will translate into increased sales as customers have longer visits or purposefully travel to their local cafe to access the “Starbucks network.”

Per this post’s title, I don’t see this as a challenge to libraries as much as a challenge for libraries. Clearly nothing can compete with the sheer amount of data/content/information we provide to our users. However while there are some libraries out there that can compete with the ambiance of a local Starbucks, I’ll venture to say most cannot. Also, what’s the percentage of public libraries that offer free wifi to their users? Again I’m going to guess that it’s in the minority but is slowly growing.

While most of our users have very specific reasons and needs for visiting their local public or campus library, others are simply seeking internet access. When does visiting Starbucks, or another business offering a similar service become “good enough,” especially if the amount of subscription content grows as it most likely will?

(Header image credit: pierofix)

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Google Maps Landmark Change Update: Success!

For over a year now I’ve been contacting Google using the “Report a Problem” link in the lower-right corner on the Google Maps page regarding the placement of our library’s landmark. This effort began when we were redesigning our site and decided to include a Google Maps link on our homepage highlighting our location. First I edited our library’s entry to remove a link a local attorney added to our listing. After verifying that our entry’s information was correct I alerted Google that the official landmark (book icon with our library’s name) was in the wrong location. It was apparently based on our mailing address which is tied to a different building on campus, and yes community users have arrived at that building expecting to find the library. Instead of moving the landmark, they happily moved the pin over to the landmark! This process repeated itself three additional times over the course of the year until I came upon the solution. I took a screen shot of the map as it existed and edited it in Photoshop to identify what needed to be moved. I then uploaded the image to my website and sent the link instead of relying on an overly complex “Report a Problem” message. I waited a few weeks to see if anything had changed and was pleasantly (understatement) surprised to discover they did exactly what I asked! You can see our updated entry here. So, if you’re having similar issues (a few of you mentioned on Twitter that you are) try my idea. It works! Oh, and when contacting them I also alerted them that two local businesses’ icons appeared in our lake which they corrected as well. Thanks Google Maps team!

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The New Boatwright Mobile Site

A few weeks ago we soft launched an update to the mobile version of our library website. The previous version featured bare-bones html and utilized Google’s Wireless Transcoder to make our OPAC mobile friendly. The old version was a great start and was created when PDA’s ruled the mobile space and  the BlackBerry was just starting to gain mainstream appreciation. Flash forward 4 – 5 years. Times have radially changed. The iPhone and iPod Touch now account for over half of all mobile browser traffic with Blackberry and Android rounding out the top three operating systems. Combined they account for approximately 80% of mobile browser traffic. With this in mind, it allowed us to rethink our mobile pages and implement a design that takes advantage of the advanced functions of these three platforms. Enter Chad Haefele’s mobile site generator. I used it for the initial structure and then customized the code further using the iPhoneWebDev toolkit on which the site generator is based.  Using these tools I was able to construct a dynamic site that is able to take advantage of the capabilities of today’s mobile hardware and software. In conjunction with this our Library Systems team implemented a mobile version of our OPAC using a shared skin. So far we’ve received very positive feedback from our users along with suggestions for future expansion:

It is great to have the library now as an APP…Great Job!!! Go Spiders!!!

Cool!

I’m glad a site like this has been developed. It provides easy access for research while on the go. My only suggestion would be to provide access to things like course reserves and subject & guide tools, and research guides as JSTOR and WorldCat. Overall, I am pleased so far.

We’ve promoted the mobile site on our library’s homepage and also have a dedicated page on the main site explaining the mobile site, devices supported, and what users should expect. We also provide step-by-step instructions showing users how to add an icon to their iPhone and iPod Touch home screens for easy access to the site.

I have a lot more planned for the site including integrating our computer availability pages, additional mobile databases, and our soon to launch SMS service! Stay tuned…

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