Friday, June 8, 2012

Roving - The Tech (part 3)

What wireless wizzardry is required to make roving work at Warwick? (no more tongue twisters, I promise)...

Mobile phones: 
Advisers can be anywhere in the building at any time, so they communicate with each other and with other teams (for referrals, complex enquiries etc.) using mobile phones. Our other roving team - the Stewards (who deal with primarily student behaviour and the library study environment), also carry mobile phones so referrals between the two teams are much simplified. They either text or call each other depending on what it is they need to do.
We also have one mobile phone dedicated to our "Adviser on call" service which allows other front of house teams to call for assistance from an Adviser should they be required for queue busting, referrals assistance, or to take a customer to a particular floor to find a book for example.  "Adviser on call" runs on a rota basis (9am - 6pm Mon - Fri plus weekends if we are covering them) and usually the person rota'd on is someone working back of house who can be interrupted. Sometimes we have to rota on someone who is already roving (which has mixed success as they obviously have to put the phone on silent to go to any quiet floors. It can also mean that it takes them a while to get from wherever they are in the building, to wherever they are needed - so we try to avoid this if we can). This is a service we only offer to other library staff - students cannot phone for Advisers. (They can text for Stewards - but that is another story altogether and not part of my area of responsibility).

Low Tech Starting Points:

In 2009 Advisers started off carrying clipboards to hold useful info, record stats and carry copies of useful handouts etc. Our first attempt at replacing the clipboards was a (rather unsuccessful) smartphone trial. We soon got out hands on some ipads though and these have now become the basic roving enquiry support tool of the team. For an overview of how the trials worked please see "Mobile technology for mobile staff".

So - we got some Ipads: 

To be honest the techie side of this is not my particular area of expertise. We have got our systems up and running with a great deal of support and imagination from the Library's internal technical team (who are seriously cool). They even built us a custom app for our stats recording (an early version of which is pictured right). The established Advisers now work with the technical team to make sure that all systems are Go - I just tell them what it is we need to record and make sure training and updates are in place as things develop. Currently we download stats into a database to run off reports to help me to plan staffing, monitor certain types of enquiries etc.

There are practical things to consider...
Security is an issue, both whilst ipads are in use and whilst they are charging. These issues have now resolved by use of purpose built bags for Advisers to carry and a secure charging unit purchased for the office. But also it's about security of staff IT accounts - making sure people don't leave themselves logged in etc.

We have purchased ipads which work on wireless access only - they do not have data allowance included. So their successful use obviously depends on us having wireless access in the Library, which is usually fine in most of the building, but we do occasionally come across connection problems.

Using ipads also means that we can't play Flash, and this has other implications, particularly when we look at putting equipment user guides online for example. There is no point creating online user guides for students if the staff supporting those students can't access them. So for example, at the time we started looking at online user guides we couldn't just upload our current PDF files into Issuu to make them look good - Issuu wouldn't run on ipads (there seems to be an app for it now). So it can limit what software we can use for these things. Identifying options for this is a current Adviser project. One of the established team is currently looking at creating guides in Prezi and downloading the Prezi app to the ipads to enable Advisers to run them for students on the spot. (The drafted Prezi guides are looking pretty cool actually and may well work out to be better than booklet-style options anyway).

Syncing the ipads is handy to make sure they all have the same stuff on them - but you have to be careful about things you don't want to synch. For example you don't want the stats data from one ipad overwriting all the data on the others! So we have found other solutions to some of these issues; such as using a account to store useful links, rather than using syncing to keep the same bookmarks across all the ipads.

...which ipad is which?...
Make sure your ipads are marked in some way so you can tell them apart easily. We got the free engraving from Apple when we ordered them. We had them numbered so we know which one is which, and also got the library address engraved on them so we know they are ours. (Also the Library Advisers have named them all after Cluedo characters and given them the appropriate wall papers to match - but that's another story).


For people who are not familiar with mobile tech and maybe not so confident in messing about with gadgetry in general it is important that there is proper training in place. Despite the claims in the ipad ad above that "You already know how to use it" not everything is immediately obvious and you really do need to allow staff some time to familiarise with the ipad as you would with any new bit of kit.

For example:
  • Make sure everyone is happy with logging on and off the network - ipads left logged in at handover are an IT security issue
  • Make sure staff are confident carrying them about - early on a lot of people were so scared of dropping them they would bring them back in the office every time they needed to unjam a photocopier. Give people time, and reassurance. Tell them honestly what will happen if an ipad gets damaged or stolen. Is it something they need to be THAT worried about?
  • Don't make too many changes too quickly - updates are best left to the vacation periods so all staff have a chance to catch up on any changes at the same time rather than trying to do lots of small training updates on the hoof
  • Encourage staff to use the ipads for stuff other than roving - let them take them to meetings to take notes, use them for web browsing or checking email at their desks etc. It all builds confidence. 
It's not just the staff who might find it a culture prepared for your students to be a bit confused initially. Library Advisers still (after well over a year of ipads being a core tool of the job) get asked "Is that your own ipad from home?" See earlier post about the culture change associated with this stuff.

Three Key Things to leave you with:

1. Tech Support - how much support you need does, of course, depend on what skills you already have and how much functionality you want to tap into. But for us one of the main things that has made it a success has been that we have had superb technical support - as implementing this in a practical and meaningful way has not been as easy as might have been expected.

2. Staff training and confidence - whether it's fear of dropping the ipad down the stairs or concerns about not being able to connect to the wireless quickly enough - at least a few of your team are likely to be worried about something. Find out what it is - support them until they are happy.

3. Security is important - both for the physical object and the IT accounts. It's easy for people to forget to log out, and on a mobile device this is potentially more problematic than if it was their desk PC - so make sure people are aware of the implications.

Related Posts: 
The rOverview of this topic can be found in the first post.
The People (who are these wild rovers?)

Still to come: The Review (How did it go, and how do we know?) and The Future (whatever next?)

(Images from apart from the stats app - that's real!)


Anonymous said...
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Emma said...

Hi Katherine

I'm currently involved in an ipad project which involves researching apps for education and library purposes. As part of the work on this project one of my Colleagues has recommended the following to overcome the flash issue when using ipads ...

"As most of you are aware, Apple does not currently support Flash. So, if you are looking to play Flash-based animations, you’re unfortunately out of luck.
iSwifter (a web browser), is an app that allows iPad users to use flash. I have trialled it and it seems to work well with all the Flash animations I have used. It is a lot slower than safari but works :) Cost £2.99 ****. I would use it just for Flash browsing.

Katharine Widdows said...

Hi Emma, Thanks very much for this - interesting.
The thing is, we kind of assumed that students using iphones / ipads would not have easy access to flash either so we wanted to make as much content as possible easy for everyone to view. The Prezi app is free so we can suggest it to those who want to view things if we post them in Prezi without them having to incur any cost.
Is any of the detail of your project currently viewable? Sounds really interesting.