Beacons in the Library – Emerging Technologies Planning Assignment

Goals/Objectives for Technology or Service:
In one of this week’s reading on Emerging Technologies, Adopt or Adapt?, Prof. Stephens mentions Beacon Technology, which I had briefly read about a few years ago as something that museums were experimenting with. With this reminder, I immediately thought it might be of use in the libraries where I work.

Beacon Technology uses bluetooth technology to send specific information to an individual’s cell phone when they are in the proximity of a particular location. Small sensors placed throughout a location send out signals when a phone that has the corresponding app enabled, and information is automatically relayed to the user. The technology has been used in retail spaces to notify customers of sale items, in museums to inform patrons about artworks, and in libraries to let users know about services. The Metropolitan Museum explored the idea of using beacons in the galleries to push information about artworks and about the museum to visitors. But the museum’s financial crisis of 2016 decimated the Digital Media department and many programs were tabled because of lack of staff and/or funds. Now that the museum is on somewhat better financial footing, it is worth revisiting the issue.

Watson entrance

Entrance to the Watson Library in the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Using Beacon Technology in the Met museum’s libraries would provide on-the-spot information of library services to library patrons and information about the library to the general museum public. For example: library hours, criteria for using the library, changes to hours because of holidays, special events, details about the books on display in the vitrines, what the library can and can’t do, library policies, and tips for using the library more effectively.

Description of Community you wish to engage:

The Watson Library caters to art history researchers at the college level and above,who must register in order to access most of the library materials and who need to be aware of the libraries’ guidelines. Users are primarily from the New York City area, but there is a large contingent of national and international scholars who come specifically to use the Watson Library. The Nolen library is an open-stacks library accessible by patrons of all ages, from children to seniors. There is also a Teacher’s Resource Room in Nolen, with art history instruction packets and videos that teachers from the greater New York City area may borrow (after registering). The majority of Nolen’s users are based in New York City, and are specifically from the Upper East Side and Upper West Side neighborhoods around Central Park where the museum is located.

Nolen Library entrance

Nolen Library entrance

Because of their locations inside of the museum, both libraries also frequently encounter museum visitors who are looking for information about an artwork they’ve just seen (information beyond what is on the wall label), those who simply want to know what the library does even if they don’t plan on using it, and those who see the library as a part of the larger tourist attraction of the museum. The Watson Library employs staff and interns at a registration/information desk just inside the library entrance, who often field simple questions about hours or location of the bathroom, or must have awkward interactions explaining to museum visitors why they’re not allowed to just enter the library. Nolen Library staff come from the Watson Library and standard reference interactions there are about finding information on museum objects, hours and ages for Storytime, using the (limited) public laptops, or charging phones since until a few months ago, the library was the only place in the museum that had chargers available for the public to use. There are also computers with preset games and books for children – as seen in the above picture.

Action Brief Statement:

Convince library and museum senior management that by incorporating beacon technology the libraries will be able to provide better service which will enhance users’ experiences because it will provide basic library information in a non-intimidating way, and free up staff to focus on more in-depth user interactions.

Convince patrons and museum goers that by using beacon technology they will easily and quickly gain important information about the libraries which will help them find what they are looking for on their own because they are often looking for basic information and feel awkward or embarrassed asking staff.

Evidence and Resources to support Technology or Service: 

Mission, Guidelines, and Policy related to Technology or Service: 

beacon troubleshooting

Brooklyn Museum staff working with beacon software

Policies would most likely be created by a team of library staff including the Reader Services Librarian, Systems Librarian, and the Librarian for Systems and Digital Initiatives. All policies would then be reviewed by the Chief and Assistant Chief Librarians. Because this involves communications to the museum community, the policies will also likely need to be reviewed by the museum’s Communications Department. Also, input from the Information Systems and Technology (IS&T) about installation of beacon hardware and software might be needed.

I would strongly suggest consulting the Brooklyn Museum staff that are involved in their iBeacon program since there are similar architectural issues to contend with at the Met, as well as similar institutional & organizational structures. Other museums and libraries that have implemented beacons should also be consulted. In addition to the Brooklyn Museum, the Borough of Manhattan Community College’s A. Philip Randolph Library, the Neue Galerie, the Museum of Modern Art have all experimented with beacon technologies.

Funding Considerations for this Technology or Service: 

size comparison of beacons

Size comparison of beacons

Past experiences in the Met’s Libraries have shown that there is a willingness to experiment with new technologies and library innovations (iPads for staff and patrons, a graphic novel collection in Nolen Library), using an expenditure of approximately $1,000. Perhaps half that – $500 – should be allocated for the initial experimenting with beacon technology. That is enough for a few beacons plus software expenditures. The beacons themselves are not very expensive – roughly $40-$80 each – and because of the space involved, an outlay would just involve perhaps 8-12 beacons in Watson and 2-4 in Nolen Library. Expenses involved would depend on the type of beacon service used. Some, like the technology provided to businesses with a Facebook account, may be free. But the information provided is limited in scope. Some beacon technologies, like those used by retailers, have options for financial transactions, and may cost more. If successful, a long-term budget outlay would need to be incorporated into the library’s annual budget request, but I don’t forsee it being more than $2-5,000 annually, including any installation of beacons in special locations.

Action Steps & Timeline: 


  • Meetings to discuss using Beacon technologies & analyze different beacon companies – 3 weeks
  • Write up proposal to present to library heads – 1 week
  • Present to library heads – 1 week
  • Present to other museum administrators if necessary (written or in person) – 1 week

If approved…

  • Purchase beacons
  • Install beacons – 1 day
  • Test – 3 months, with assessment daily in the first two weeks, then monthly
  • Assess project success and expand or revise
stickers and signs indicating beacon locations in a library

stickers and signs indicating beacon locations in a library


We could start with one beacon placed near the entrance of each library that would provide some basic information that is normally fielded by the staff at Watson’s Registration Desk, or by the librarian in Nolen. Such as a paragraph explaining what each library is and its audience, library hours, and Storytime hours for Nolen.

Although the ceilings in the Watson Library are very high, the shelves in the library are not. Beacons could easily be placed above the shelves in the public areas, and in the stacks.

If there is a “no” to the beacons, I would suggest utilizing more of the 11×17” displays that are already in use in both libraries to display information, possibly near the entrance to each library.

Staffing Considerations for this Technology or Service: 

Creation of the information that will become a part of the beacons will involve some staff time, though most of it can be pulled from existing documentation. Ensuring the information is up-to-date can be incorporated into the responsibilities of the Systems and Reader Services Librarians, who are already doing this for the current public  documents.

Training for this Technology or Service:

The project should be at least mentioned to the library staff – either by email or at a monthly staff meeting – when it has been approved for a trial. Once the project is at the testing phase, the entire library staff, student workers, volunteers should receive an orientation to the technology. Staff orientations would be done in the half-hour before 10:00 when the library opens to the public, with a few additional ad-hoc demos for volunteers and student workers who may not be able to come in to the library that early. This can be given by both the Systems and the Reader Services Librarians, who would explain both the technological and reference aspects of the beacon technology. Once testing begins, there will be questions from the public, so everyone on staff should be aware of it so they can explain. And perhaps a one-page sheet could be posted explaining the process.

Promotion & Marketing for this Technology or Service: 

The service can be promoted with signs posted in a couple of places at each library: near the entrance, at the Reference Desk, near the scanners. An announcement can also be submitted to the museum’s biweekly newsletter. A blog post on either the library’s  “In Circulation” blog, or the museum’s “Now at the Met” blog (or both) can help to promote the technology to the public. In addition, the first beacon can be one that announces the technology’s use to anyone who comes in proximity to either library.


Success of the beacon technology would be determined by how many people engage with the beacons, which beacons receive the most traffic and when. How easy it is to use the technology is also important, since a significant number of library users get frustrated with our current technologies (such as the iPad used for sign-ins and the updated menus on the digital scanners)

Future plans for the Beacon service includes:

  • Beacons in the stacks could provide a map for those with stacks privileges (curators & some other museum staff)
  • Eventually, the beacons located near the entrance of each library would transmit information in the 10 other languages frequently used by the Met (French, Spanish, German, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Arabic, Portuguese, Korean) based on the recipient’s language preference.
  • Beacon over the Special Collections table in the Watson Library with a link to the library’s Book Handling video
  • Linking the beacon service to Sierra, the library’s ILS, so patrons can be notified upon entrance to the library when the book they’ve requested is available (rather than waiting for, or missing, an email), or if there is a problem with their request, or if they have a book due.
  • Give people the chance to opt-in to automatic library registration based on the information the beacon picks up from their phone when they are near the library’s entrance rather than using the online form from a desktop.
  • Expansion to special exhibitions and/or popular works of art with suggestions from the library on how to find out more about the exhibit/artwork. For example: If you are standing in front of David’s Death of Socrates, a beacon could beam information from the museum’s collection webpage to your phone or tablet instead of you searching for it.
  • This could be a test run for museum-wide implementation of a beacon service.

2 Responses to “Beacons in the Library – Emerging Technologies Planning Assignment”

  1. Dana V Says:

    This is such a fantastic plan! It fits so well with the type of the library you’re describing and the needs of the people who use it. It sounds like the type of service that really has the potential to exceed people’s expectations and “delight” them.

  2. Elizabeth El-Akkad Says:

    The first time I heard about this technology was in our class, but this technology seems like it could be useful in a lot of different industries. Anything from self-guided tours, to look what’s new in the genre in this area of the library you happen to walk through. I wish I knew what businesses/libraries use this technology, I’d like to check it out! Thanks for sharing!

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