Thursday, January 14, 2010

Are your patrons using CardStar iphone app as their library card?

While doing research for another blog post, I stumbled upon this amazing Iphone application (they promise support for other mobile platform soon) called CardStar via Oak Park Library. I tweeted about it, and it seems to have gotten a bit of a reaction from the librarain community.

But what does CardStar do?

"Use CardStar to store your membership card information for numerous national and regional merchants (including CVS, Blockbuster, PetSmart and more). And when needed, effortlessly access your cards on-the-fly with a single touch from the CardStar home screen."

CardStar keeps an extensive list of merchants, including "hundreds of companies in nineteen categories - just enter your membership number and you're ready to go!"

Basically it generates a barcode, and you can use that in place of your card. Why carry lots of cards, when you can use your Iphone to store the barcodes? That's the idea anyway.



The detailed steps are as follows. First pick a category. In our case "library"




Then  pick the "company"






Enter the membership number






and it will generate a barcode on your iphone, which can be scanned like a regular barcode on a card.






While users can officially request CardStar to add "merchants" that are not listed,advanced users can also try to create the barcode themselves by choosing other libraries and selecting the correct code (by trial and error or some research).



What is surprising is that  as I blog this, CardStar lists over 60 libraries, from Algonoquin Library to Worcester Library, almost all I think are North Amercian public libraries including Library of Congress and one UK library Surrey Libraries. (I have my suspicions why this is so)


It's unclear how many libraries in the list of  CardStar "merchants" , actually know that they are on the list. One would think CardStar would have informed the libraries that they were being added, but sampling a few libraries I was not able to find any mention on their webpages, though this might simply mean they know about it but didn't bother to publicise it .



In fact besides Oak Park Library and Plainville Library both of whom officially support CardStar by listing instructions on their webpages on how to add their codes to CardStar (though I can't help but notice the irony that they are not listed as supported merchants!) , I was not able to find any mention of this on any other library page so far.


In fact the application seems to have being around since early 2009, and the only discussion or mention I could find from librarians is here and here  (though it seems subsequent to my Tweet, Laskaris and the thecorkboard seems to be testing it and getting it working for their respective libraries)


I did a quick look around and noticed that while there was quite a few comments by users trying to use CardStar with their library card on pretty much every blog entry on CardStar,  this seems to have mostly gone under the radar in the library circles?

It's unclear if this will work for all libraries, depending on the type of system, self-check machines may or may not work, but I think it's critical that librarians figure out whether it works on their systems, and if it does what is their policy with regards to using this.


If not you will get unprepared reactions such as this






or this





Personally I don't see any reason not to allow this, though understandably, if you are at the counter and you are suddenly approached by a user, trying to use a barcode displayed on his phone, your first unprepared reaction would be "no way, this is legal".

That's why it's important to be ready.

Remember, even if your library isn't currently listed as a supported merchant, it is possible a user can still use the advanced options to try to get it to work, so it is important to be prepared.

Is your library already listed in CardStar ? Were you aware of it? If a user approached you trying to use CardStar would you allow it? Why or Why not?
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