Buh bye library card, hello smartphone? (or, how NFC might replace everything in your wallet)

Maybe it won't matter if patrons forget their library card at home...as long as they remember their smartphone!

Have you heard of NFC? And no, I don’t mean the National Football Conference.  I am talking about Near field communication.  The Google Wallet FAQ (more on Google Wallet in a second) defines NFC as “a wireless technology that enables data transmission between two objects when they are brought within a few inches of each other. Smartphones enabled with NFC technology can exchange data with other NFC enabled devices or read information from smart tags embedded in posters, stickers, and other products.”  NFC is a subset of RFID, but NFC only works between objects no more than 4 inches from each other and it is used when security is needed. Smartphones enabled with NFC are already being used in Japan and Korea by people to purchase subway tickets, check in for flights, and get snacks from vending machines. It is starting to look like NFC might actually take off in the United States now as well.  Why? Well, not only are more and more NFC smartphones being released all the time (even the next iPhone may have it…stay tuned), but also Google introduced Google Wallet late last week.

Google Wallet is “an Android app that makes your phone your wallet. It stores virtual versions of your existing plastic cards on your phone. Simply tap your phone to pay and redeem offers using near field communication, or NFC.” And this is more than just another way for people to buy stuff.  Google Wallet “will be able to do more than a regular wallet ever could, like storing thousands of payment cards and Google Offers but without the bulk. Eventually your loyalty cards, gift cards, receipts, boarding passes, tickets, even your keys will be seamlessly synced to your Google Wallet. And every offer and loyalty point will be redeemed automatically with a single tap via NFC.”  With partners like Citi, Sprint, and MasterCard, and merchants like Subway, Macy’s, and Walgreens signed on to participate, it does look like Google Wallet (and/or future competitor apps) is destined to replace our old physical wallet. “Whoa, not so fast Ryan! Are you crazy!? What about security? This NFC replacing your wallet is crazy talk!” Maybe not. A four digit PIN is required to use Google Wallet, and if a user’s phone is stolen, a PIN is needed to access a user’s financial data on a separate, secure chip…if that chip is physically tampered with, it self-destructs.  Compare that to a credit card…if my wallet is stolen, there is no PIN or self-destruct to protect my money! And, as Google points out, ten years ago, 70% of all individuals were afraid to buy stuff online, and now, over 70% of all individuals access their credit card information online.

No self-destruct built into this card if it gets stolen.

Libraries should definitely be paying attention to apps like Google Wallet that utilize NFC technology.  Before long, many of our patrons may begin to abandon their wallets for their NFC enabled smartphones and expect to be able to use them at libraries like they can at the Walgreens or Subway across the street.  Hopefully, their libraries will be “yes” libraries that allow their users to store their library card in their smartphone wallet.  Libraries already have some experience with apps like Key Ring that allow smartphone users to store a virtual library card on their smartphone.  The good news about apps like Google Wallet (that use NFC) is that patron’s information will be much more secure and there is less of a chance of someone fraudulently using a patron’s library card compared to an app like Key Ring.  And there are some potentially cool uses for NFC in libraries beyond replacing library cards.   For example, perhaps patrons could tap a kiosk in the library with their smartphone to receive book recommendations based on their interests? Or maybe patrons could use their smartphone to quickly and easily check out books? What do you think? What is your opinion of NFC? What do you think of Google Wallet? When will we be seeing the use of NFC technology within libraries? How do you think it will be used in libraries?

Photo credits: Tom Purves and liewcf

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Four smart ideas for serving smartphone users

As I discussed last Friday, the vast majority of our patrons will own smartphones very soon.  How can libraries serve our rapidly growing smartphone user population? Here are four “smart” ideas (get it?):

1) Say yes to cell phones!

I love “Yes Libraries”, and really this is how all libraries should be if they want to provide the best possible customer service and experience to their users.  So, in order to make sure you are saying yes to your patrons, make sure that you are allowing users to actually use their cell phones in the library.  Avoiding signs like this would be a good place to start:

Nothing says "Welcome to the library smartphone users!" like this sign, eh?

And if a patron has their library card barcode on their phone through an app like Key Ring, if your scanner will read it, for the love of Melvil Dewey, let them use it to check out items! If they are able to use these types of apps at grocery stores, pharmacies, and other businesses in your community without any problems, why should the library be any different? Remember, just say Yes!

2) Build a mobile website

You can build a mobile website for free, and it doesn’t have to be difficult (translation: you don’t have to be a programmer to do it). This iLibrarian blog entry provides a few options for you with a quick summary of each tools features.

3) Build an app (or buy an app)

According to Pew, “Some 35% of U.S. adults have software applications or “apps” on their phones, yet only 24% of adults use those apps.” Thus, I don’t think you necessarily have to go out and build an app for your library in order to feel like you are keeping up with your smartphone users needs.  And even if you do, wouldn’t you essentially have to build two, one for iPhone users and one for Android users? And perhaps three if you want to include Blackberry users? There are several libraries and institutions that have built apps, such as Oregon State University.  Obviously, building apps isn’t easy, and you need to have the technical expertise to do this, or, if you have an extra $6500 lying around (doesn’t every library these days?), you might be able to pay someone to develop an app for you.  Alternatively, you could buy an app from a library vendor, such as this.

4) Utilize QR codes

If you don’t know what a QR code is, read this definition.  As they say, the fun way to describe a QR code is a “barcode on steroids”. QR codes are sometimes described as a way to link the physical world with the digital world.  QR codes are ideal for adding value to objects and making them social. My brilliant colleague Bonnie Roalsen first talked about QR codes in libraries several years ago.  I am going to blog much more about QR Codes in the near future, but the Library Success Wiki has a lot of great examples of how libraries across the country are using QR Codes to do everything from text reference to helping users find specific resources in their collection.

How is your library currently serving smartphone users? Do you have a mobile website? A library app? Do you use QR Codes in your library?

Photo credit: Travelin’ Librarian

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