Beacons Lead Patrons to Library Services

Imagine that you’re strolling through your local library, returns in tote, wondering if you’ve remembered everything.  You neatly slide the items into the return slot, enjoying the softly muted and strangely satisfying thunk as each material joins dozens of others in the bin, waiting to be checked in, sorted, and shelved for another happy patron.  You wander into your favorite section of the library to choose something new, idly wondering if there are any upcoming library events.  Before the thought is complete, a soft buzz from your phone alerts you to a list of upcoming events that may be of interest.

Noting those that sound interesting, you continue making your selections.  As you approach the checkout machines, another vibration causes you to look at your screen.  A list of titles appears–your previous checkouts–and a quick glance confirms that yes, you indeed did forget at least one item.  You quickly set a reminder to return or renew the item tomorrow.

On your way out the front doors, you pass the genealogy section.  While not a section that you browse frequently, you decide that it might be interesting to sit in on an introductory workshop or two.  You pause at the genealogy section, opting in to receive event notifications.  Within a few seconds, a list of upcoming events is sent to your phone.  Everything that you need has been sent instantly and silently to your device, based upon the locations that you visited because you chose to opt-in to the service.

We live in the weird future–the weird, wonderfully weird future, where technology is capable of doing practically everything–and the technology I described may soon be available in a library near you.  Several libraries in the United States have begun experimenting with Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons and coordinating apps to reach out to patrons with highly targeted, location specific information.

What are Beacons?

According to the ACRL, beacons are hardware “that can notify Bluetooth devices of their presence and transmit information” (2016, para. 1).  Beacons are low-energy devices which transmit small packages of data constantly.  They do not require an internet connection to function.  Beacons can be strategically placed to create a network; mobile users can receive information from the network when they are within proximity of the beacon.  When paired with an app, beacons can trigger events on a mobile device, such as  a pop-up notification of events.  Two popular beacon/app companies in the library industry are Bluubeam and Capira Technologies.

How are Libraries Using Beacons?

Libraries are using beacons in a variety of innovative ways to connect patrons with valuable information.  Beacons can be used for:

  • Circulation notices
  • Event notices
  • Informational notices
  • Shelving notices
  • Patron assistance
  • Tracking
  • …and more!

Why Beacons?

Let’s face it:  people today are plugged in nearly all the time.  It’s hard to go somewhere and not see people staring at their phones.  Libraries are facing this reality, too.  According to RFID Journal, “Capturing the attention of a distractible public is a growing challenge for libraries that have historically been known as a quiet institute rich with books and media, but not much beyond that” (2014, para. 2).  Beacons engage patrons on their terms and help patrons see libraries as vibrant cultural institutions that are in touch with the services that the public wants and needs.

Concerns about Beacons

The biggest potential drawback of beacons is patron privacy.  Although beacons only transmit information and do not collect data, they can trigger data-collecting applications.  The presence of beacons in a physical space can also enable tracking because an application may record a beacon track and report it to a network service.

Because beacons may present security risks, it is important for libraries to make sure that patrons understand what information is being collected when patrons use beacons.  it’s also important to allow patrons to opt-out.  Indeed, most beacons are designed to be opt-in services, so patrons will not receive notifications unless they specifically opt-in to the service.

The Lowdown

What new knowledge, skills or understanding have you gained?  (Description)

This week, I learned about Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons.  Beacons may be paired with apps to allow patrons that allow patrons to opt-in to receive notices from the circulation, event notifications, etc. tied to specific locations within the library.  Beacons capitalize upon technology that patrons are tied to (smart phones and tablets) to share information and create community with library users.

How can you use what you have learned?  (Application)

Beacons, which are low-energy and low cost, present a great opportunity for patrons to interact with the library on familiar terms.  I think that they are a great potential asset for both academic and public libraries, and implementation should definitely be explored.  If I were currently working in a library setting, I would definitely encourage my fellow staff members to consider using beacons in the library.

How does it relate to library work?  (Reflection)

Beacon technology relates directly to library work as it is a potentially vital means of forming connections with patrons and creating a community of library users built upon common ground.

What resources (activities) have helped you to understand and/or have been interesting to use?  (Activities/Resources)

BluuBeam.  [2016].  BluuBeam for libraries.  Retrieved from

Capiratech.  (2016).  iBeacon library app integration.  Retrieved from

Enis, M.  (2014).  “Beacon” technology deployed by two library app makers.  Library Journal.  Retrieved from

McNulty, E.  (2015).  Libraries get cutting edge tech with ibeacons.  Dataconomy.  Retrieved from

Spina, C.  (2016).  Keeping up with… beacons.  Retrieved from

Swedberg, C.  (2014).  Libraries check out bluetooth beacons.  RFID Journal.  Retrieved from




One thought on “Beacons Lead Patrons to Library Services

  1. rbhumphrey7996 says:

    Very interesting! I think the privacy issue is something all libraries must consider before moving forward with something like this.


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