Using Camera Phones to Improve Reference in the Archives and Library
Today I received an email reference request and over the course of 20 minutes, located four helpful resources (2 printed, 2 microfilm) in the Archives and Library. I took snapshots with my iPhone, emailed the photos to myself, then composed a reply describing the content of the photos and forwarded everything to the researcher.
The image to the right is all the detail I’m looking to provide at this early stage of the researcher/resource conversation.
Beware, this is one of those revelations that is completely obvious once it has happened: Being able to email myself photos from speeds up reference and makes me more likely to send along more resources that I identify.
Ideally, I would be able to register that a digital surrogate exists for some library/archives resource, but that is exactly what tends to slow me down in the first place. It is the extreme quick and dirty approach that makes the whole process work. Doing “proper imaging” of resources bogs me down. The slowdown caused by the initial setup of the scanner or photo staging area lends itself to waiting until a threshold has been reached — say, once I have 20 things to scan (across different researchers), I will set aside time for a scanning session.
The thing that drove me to escape this session-based imaging and changed my mental approach was researchers themselves. At least a 70% of our in-house researchers simply take reference snapshots of materials rather than making photocopies or requesting scans. I decided that if it was OK for them, it was OK for me to give to them. That is when I started taking quickie snapshots of everything with my point-and-shoot digital camera. But the transferring of photos to the computer also tended to cause a slowdown for me: the former scanning session slowdown morphed into an image transfer session slowdown — a smaller bottle-neck than before, but still a bottle-neck.
My new camera-phone approach has become:
- Find a resource
- Take snapshots with my phone (including any photos need for citation info)
- Email photos to my work email address (low-res is usually fine)
- Tweak file names to make sources clear
- Email snapshots to researcher
This approach has not only saved me hours of time but also improves the response time and thoroughness of reference requests.
While I do have an iPhone, this would certainly be true of any camera/phone that would allow for emailing or wireless image transfer. I’m interested in hearing what quick and dirty approaches others use.
[Add-on, March 29, 2010:] Just got this forwarded to me — “Capture and Release: Digital Cameras in the Reading Room” by Lisa Miller, Steven K. Galbraith, and the RLG Partnership Working Group on Streamlining Photography and Scanning: http://www.oclc.org/research/publications/library/2010/2010-05.pdf