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Gadgets & Home Improvement

Apps to search and reserve library books

Developers use library board's datasets and Web services to come up with apps, reports COLIN TAN
The Straits Times - June 18, 2014
By: COLIN TAN
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Apps to search and reserve library books

Throw away that scrap of paper with that illegible title scrawled on it. And delete that note from your phone.

There are now apps that let you find out if a book title is listed with the National Library Board (NLB), check if it is available for borrowing and reserve the book.

The NLB's Open Data Programme now makes its datasets and Web services free to use. It wants Singapore developers to create apps that benefit library users.

Software engineer Benjamin Tan, 27, is one developer who answered the call. Looking for a better way to remember the books he wanted to borrow, he created an app to check by barcode or text search if a book was available.

The app BookeeSG (above) lets users search titles listed with the NLB and check if they are available. Users can also save a list of favourite books.

Mr Tan asked the NLB for approval and the board provided him with documentation to work with its catalogue service. It took him two months, working in his free time, to come up with the app. It was released in April this year.

Another app developer, Mr Ken Toh, created Libraries@SG for iOS and Android. It is like BookeeSG, but adds branch library locations, integrating Google Maps for directions. It lets users reserve books, discover coming library events and post book reviews.

He decided to enhance the user experience by leveraging on the native capabilities of mobile devices. He did this by fusing information on availability, library locations, GPS and book barcodes, when searching for books.

He said: "A community review system could inject a stronger social element and aid in greater book discovery. These considerations were compelling enough for me to build Libraries@SG, in the belief that it would promote greater book discovery and benefit book lovers like me."

Technical assistance given

In addition to encouraging individuals to help book lovers in this way, NLB hopes that organisations will integrate its services into their own applications, to meet users' information needs. It offered this example: Healthy.sg, a personal health management portal by MOH Holdings, embeds the library catalogue search into its website search, so users can find health-related books on the website.

NLB does not provide funding, but gives technical assistance to developers. Mr Toh said NLB responded promptly to any technical issues or queries he had. Mr Tan described his experience with NLB as "pleasant" and "very positive".

He suggested that the board draw more attention to its services. "I hope that services such as the e-catalogue are made more well known and accessible. If I had not e-mailed NLB in the first place, I would have just assumed that the catalogue data was inaccessible to the public."

Mr Tan and Mr Toh said there has been "modest" interest in their apps so far.

Mr Toh said Libraries@SG has been downloaded almost 500 times so far for iOS. It is "encouraging", he said, that more than 10 per cent of users have signed up for a free Libraries@SG account, which lets them bookmark and review books. The Android version, released a week ago, has been installed by some 50 users.

NLB says the response to its programme has been "encouraging".

"Many of the individual developers are active library users who are passionate about improving their own library experience, as well as that of fellow library users," says its spokesman.

If you are interested in developing apps using the board's Web and data services such as catalogue search, new arrivals, library events or popular books, visit www.nlb.gov.sg/labs/mash-create-collaborate/.

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