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Near Field Communication – Coming to a Library Near You?

Near field communication (NFC) is a means of exchanging information wirelessly across short distances.  It could be the next step beyond RFID and QR codes.  Although it is currently in much wider use outside of the United States and in commercial settings, rather than in US libraries, there is a great deal of potential for libraries in the future.

Two librarians, Sheli McHugh and Kristen Yarmey, of the University of Scranton are strong proponents of the technology for libraries.  They offered a webinar on July 25th (the slides from which are available at http://www.slideshare.net/kristenyt/near-field-communication-introduction-and-implications-13740255?from=share_email ) and also have authored an article entitled “Near Field Communication: Introduction and Implications” published in the Journal of Web Librarianship, Vol. 6, 2012, pp 186-207.

Along with detailing how NFC is currently being used in the larger world, they also propose many possibilities for how it could benefit libraries.  Like RFID and QR codes, NFC can link physical materials to digital information.  Book reviews, editorial reviews, and author’s biographical information could be made available on the book; bibliographic information could be captured in various citation formats.  Even more, a projected rating for the value of the book could be made based on the user’s LibraryThing or GoodReads preferences.  Like RFID or QR codes, NFC requires tags; however, it doesn’t require a cell phone’s camera to be used to read the tags.  Proximity to the phone itself would be sufficient.  More information can be stored in an NFC tags than in RFID or QR codes; the NFC tag doesn’t make a visual impact on the poster/book cover/etc. like a QR code does; also, NFC allows for two way communication.

A common use for NFC is for payment for goods and services just by tapping the mobile phone on an NFC-enabled cash register without any need for a credit card.  In libraries, fines, photocopies, printing, scanning, and purchasing tickets to library events could all be done via NFC.  It could also serve as the library card for check out of material.  In fact, the user would just use his/her own phone to check the book out—no need to go to Circulation. Mobile phones with NFC could as electronic keys for after-hours access to the library space as well.

Because NFC can be interactive, it can be used for mobile marketing.  A poster could allow the viewer to buy tickets to the event, get a coupon downloaded to their phone or get directions.  Reference books could link to relevant databases or other e-resources; library doors could offer library hours, connect users to online resources, or offer an augmented reality tour of the building/collection.

Libraries could link to social media via NFC.  A book with NFC tapped by the user’s phone could be added his Good Reads or Library Thing account.  Group members needing to meet could use building-wide NFC tags to identify each person’s location and select an optimum meeting spot.  Scavenger hunt type games could also be easily adapted to NFC.

“NFC requires and rewards physical proximity.   For libraries, this technology is a new opportunity to connect physical collections (for books to media) with digital extras.”  The importance of physical proximity could be a boon to libraries, enhancing the value of the place itself.

The authors do caution that there could be privacy and security concern with NFC, similar to those with RFID and anything concerning credit card security.  Still, it is an exciting new technology with many possibilities for libraries.  NFC empowers objects to communicate with just the tap of a cell phone; libraries are all about housing objects with information users need; this technology can streamline and enhance that transfer of information.  Please consider reading the article by McHugh and Yarmey cited above for more.

Mary-Frances Panettiere
SLA-GA Past President
mary-frances.panettiere@library.gatech.edu

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