computing is here. Our patrons are coming into our libraries with those
cellphones, personal digital assistants, Blackberries, and myriad other
computing devices that are approximately the size of a human hand. But
have you realized that some libraries have also begun using handhelds for
their common tasks? These tiny devices have crept into our field, and here's
a primer to get you up to speed.
|Here's a primer on PDAs
in General and on their emerging library usage in particular.
I must admit that I am one
of "those"people—I carry my Handspring Visor with me everywhere and I often
also carry a cellphone. I live in Chicago, where wireless access seems
to be everywhere. There are advertisements for hand-held devices and services
on the el train platforms and on bulletin boards as you drive into the
downtown area along the Eisenhower Expressway. The biggest ad (three stories)
touting Handspring products is on the side of a building where the Eisenhower
Expressway meets the Dan Ryan Expressway.
In Chicago, the ads are
not just hype. I see a lot of colleagues using handhelds at meetings. Patrons
carry them into our libraries, whether those libraries are special, academic,
public, or school. And I can assure you that it's not just a big-city phenomenon.
According to research done by companies like Forrester Research, mobile
computing is big business, especially in Europe. Magazines like Mobile
Computing Communications are dedicated to it.
As a dedicated handheld
user and a regional consultant on automation for the Chicago Library System—a
consortium of academic, school, special, and public libraries in the city
of Chicago—I will try to share my knowledge of the world of ubiquitous
computing with you. Hopefully this primer will help you navigate the emerging
environment of handheld computing.
Hardware to Have and
There are so many choices
when it comes to hardware. If you're choosing a device, you need to consider
its features and also its operating system (OS). The Palm OS is the most
prevalent one today. Both Palm and Handspring, which has licensed the Palm
OS, have educational divisions. Handspring has also extended its academic
pricing to libraries.
For professional use, there
are combination palms/bar code scanners. Forexample, the CSM 150 Bar Code
Scanner for Handspring Visor Handhelds is a module that slips into the
Springboard expansion slot at the back of any Visor. Other combination
devices are designed for use by librarians, like the Barcode Systems, Inc.'s
Book Tracker 1500 and the Book Tracker 1550. Also, CASPR offers the HLT63,
and Variant Microsystems has an SPT1700/1740 Palm Terminal. The great thing
about these devices is they don't act just as PDAs, but they also let you
check on items that mightbe lurking in your stacks, because you can scan
a bar code into the handheld and then update the circulation status in
your OPAC when the handheld is synced. All three of these vendors offer
their devices in partnership with Symbol, Inc., one of the leading developers
and providers of bar code technologies.
The most exciting of these
combination PDA/bar code scanner devices, I think, is 3M's Digital Library
Assistant or "Palm-on-a-Stick." When you've put Radio Frequency Identification
(RFID) tags into your books, this tool can locate items in the stacks,
so you can use it for shelf-reading and weeding, and for finding books
and correcting circulation data. For instance, think of the classic case
of a patron claiming that he's returned a book, but your system shows it's
still checked out and overdue. You've checked the stacks and not found
it, but perhaps it's only been mis-shelved. You can code the RFID number
into the hand-held device, then go to the stacks and wave it across the
shelves. When it reads the tag you're looking for, it will sound off to
let you know. Book found, patron absolved. This product and the other pieces
of the Digital Identification System have been beta tested at the University
of NevadaLas Vegas.
VTLS makes a similar product
to 3M's Digital Library Assistant, which also supports the RFID technology,
as part of its VTLS Radio Frequency Identification system.
Some handhelds have cradles,
some don't. Cradles are docking ports that connect to your computer to
allow syncronization or battery recharging. Cradles offer a great way to
"sync," which means to update your handheld with a known computer. However,
this is not a solution for a busy reference desk because cradles are not
secure devices. Encourage your patrons to beam or transmit their data,
using their devices' infrared (IR) ports for security reasons. Numerous
products exist to make data transfer via the IR ports efficient and friendly.
You may want to check out Clarinet Systems' EthIR LAN and EthIR STAR wireless
access system, which is being used by St. Vincent Hospitals and Health
Services of Indiana to allow staff and physicians to securely access their
data as they make their appointed rounds.
A Handful of Software
The types of software vary
as wildly as the hardware choices. Much of it is shareware. Both Palm and
Microsoft strongly encourage developers who wish to build upon their operating
The software that every
library is likely to find a use for is Avantgo. Avantgo is both a software
application and a service. It often comes bundled as part of bonus packs
or business packs that accompany new Palm devices. The Avantgo service
allows content producers to create channels, whichare branded information
streams from a specified source. Currently, many of theseare news channels,
like The Wall Street Journal and CNN.
In theory, any Web page
can become a channel. The handheld user who wants to become a content provider
needs only to have the Avantgo software running on her personal computer,
Internet access, and a handheld. Then, following the prompts on the Avantgo
service Web site, the user can create her own channel by adding a title
and a URL.
However, not all Web pages
are easily readable just by following these steps. Avantgo works to fill
in this gap by helping content developers optimize Web pagesfor delivery
via hand-held devices by posting tips and guidelines on the developer section
of its Web site. At present, Avantgo is not charging people to create channels,
and is encouraging Webmasters and other content producers to become content
developers via Avantgo's Content Provider Program (http://ami.avantgo.com/support/developer/channels).
I have created personalAvantgo channels of CLS Web sites that I need when
I am consulting with CLS member libraries. I also carry my favorite newspapers
and news sources as channels. Thus, I can read The Wall Street Journal
or the latest from Reuters whenever I end up waiting for a meeting or a
train. Other ways to use Avantgo beyond making your library's Web site
available could include creating specialty newsletters for different reading
groups or literary genres.
iSilo is a document reading
software that is very similar to that of Avantgo. It allows you to read
your documents on your handheld. It currently comes in a freeware version
and a more robust professional version. iSilo also supports the Windows
and Macintosh operating systems. While working on program planning for
the ASIST conference (American Society for Information Science and Technology)
held this past November, I learnedfrom a colleague that Mari Stoddard of
the University of Arizona's Health Sciences Library uses it for making
its electronic journals readable on hand-held devices. The University of
Arizona Health SciencesLibrary has a great Web site that you can visit
to see how it works.
Then, there is software
for keeping track of due dates. Lib Assistant, a shareware program for
library patrons, can be used on Palm OS handhelds to keep track of the
books that patrons have checked out. It can be downloaded from the Palm
Boulevard PDA Street.com at http://www.palmblvd.com/software/pc/Library-Assistant-Version-1-0-2001-10-31-palm-pc.html.
The only downsides to using this reminder program are that it doesn't link
directly to your handheld's calendar, (i.e., the ability to see due dates
is only available within the Lib Assistant program), and all the data has
to be input manually into the device. It sure would be nice if our OPAC
vendors could include wireless capabilities in the future releases of their
Some of the vendors have
already started trying. Innovative Interfaces, Inc. has two wireless products,
according to III product manager John McCullough. The AirPAC is a stand-alone
alternate OPAC product, designed for users of wireless devices. It is in
its last round of testing and is being used by Boulder Public Library to
provide services for patrons with cellphones that use the Wireless Application
Protocol (WAP). In addition, Innovative Interfaces is currently developing
an infrared beaming product to help patrons of libraries that use Innovative's
Millennium product line. This upcoming product will probably be available
sometime after the fall of 2002. We can probably expect to seemore of these
kinds of add-on software programs in the future.
ePocrates provides medical
reference informational products for hand-held devices. These reference
sources are designed primarily with physicians in mind. Some of the products
are free, while others are not. The libraries at OSF (Order of St. Francis)
Saint Francis Medical Center Library and Resource Center (http://library.osfsaintfrancis.org/pda.htm)
and University of Illinois at Chicago's Library of the Health Sciences
in Peoria (http://www.uic.edu/depts/lib/lhsp/temp/pdamedapps.shtml#ref)
both circulate handhelds preloaded with ePocrates products, and they provide
additional training and support for the physicians, residents, nurses,
and other patrons who use their libraries.
For law librarians, Westlaw
Wireless allows Westlaw subscribers who have wireless access to check a
KeyCite or find a case wherever they are. This service is billed by the
Then, there are e-books.
Many law resources as well as other e-books are available at Memoware.com.
And today, many publishers make e-books available in formats for devices
that operate on the Palm and WinCE platforms.
As with most technologies,
new products and services are constantly being introduced. So how can you
stay up to speed?
Let Me Give You a Hand
There are numerous resources
for librarians ranging from electronic mailing lists to Web rings and Weblogs.
I'll tell you about two popular electronic mailing lists for PDAs in libraries.
One listserv is LIBRARY-PDAS
(Library Support for Palmtops and PDAs). To subscribe, send a message to
with the content of the message saying "Subscribe LIBRARY-PDAS [your name]."
Another list is firstname.lastname@example.org.
To subscribe to this pdalibraries list, you must first be a member ofYahoo!
If you are not, the sign-in/registration for new members is on the entry
page on theleft side. If you are already a member, then at the Yahoo! Groups
Introduction page, put the group's name (pdalibraries) into the search
bar in the upper middle of the page.
In addition to these mailing
lists, there are many others sponsored by the vendors of hand-held devices.
For instance, Palm's mailing list/newsletter comes out about once a month
and is called "InSync Online."
My favorite general hand-held
news source is the online newsletter and forumsat PDABuzz.com. The PDA
Street Web ring and Handango have oceans of content (news, reviews, etc.)
and software available for downloading as well as other products that I
have yet to fully explore. The resources really are that vast!
What About Policies?
As with any new service
or system that your library plans on supporting, you need to have policies
to guide its use. In the case of PDAs, the first thing you need to consider
is whether you will check out the actual hand-held devices or just add-ons
for the devices. OSF Saint Francis Medical Center Library circulates both
Or will you just provide the ability for your patrons to beam and sync
within the library?
Wireless products may eventually
change the way we provide our services. Yale's Harvey Cushing John Hay
Whitney Medical Library lets patrons update their Avantgo and ePocrates
settings and services from the library, and also uses a Wireless EthIR
LAN Port (http://www.med.yale.edu/library/projects/infrared).
As time goes on you'll have to decide whether to provide a WML (Wireless
Markup Language) version of your Web site for handheld users. And how will
you evaluate patrons' use of wireless products and then relate that to
your own services?
Getting Your Hands on
If you want to buy a PDA
for yourself, that's a great way to become comfortable with using the devices.
But how do you begin shopping? Well, do you want to carry a Handspring
Treo, which is a combination cellphone and personal digital assistant using
the Palm OS? Or are you a dedicated Windows user and need a device that
has the look and feel of Windows? In that case, a Casio Cassiopedia or
a Hewlett-Packard Jornada 560 might be the right tool for you (both use
the WinCE operating system). It's also good to remember that these can
be customized with add-on accessories.
Many hand-held devices have
expansion slots just like PCs. Handspring allows its Palm OS to be expanded
via Springboard modules (http://www.handspring.com/products/sbmodules/index.jhtml?prod_cat_name=Modules).
These add-ons are interchangeable and also allow you to do lots of neat
things: You can add wireless connectivity, add a modem, add extra memory,
or even download e-books. With the right add-ons, your handheld can even
become a camera! Palm has a similar expansion slot for its devices. My
own favorite peripheral is a full-sized Targus keyboard for my Handspring
Visor. (Targus also makes them for other hand-held devices.)It folds up
like an accordion, to be smaller than my hand-held device, so it's easy
to slip into a purse, briefcase, or pocket.
Hopefully, now you feel
like you have a better idea about the current PDA scene. And when you're
ready to learn more, you can check out all the resources I've provided.