KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- In the meantime, public libraries are beginning to test wireless technology as a tool for librarians to make their jobs a bit easier. This spring, the Kansas City Public Library (KCPL) pilot-tested a number of different handheld and portable devices as a prelude to providing patrons and staff with extensive wireless access in a new downtown library, scheduled to open in 2004.

According to an article in netConnect magazine, the library purchased 25 HP iPaq handheld computers and rated them in terms of basic functionality, customer service, Internet access, email, library catalog searches and other functions, such as book inventory.

Some of the possible benefits tested during the project included roving reference assistance, as well as placing requests for customers and accessing customer records. Librarians also experimented with roving catalog assistance, though there were complaints about the time spent trying to type in book titles and author names on the small screens, according to David King, KCPL's IT/Web project manager.

Overall, KCPL's librarians gave mixed reviews to handheld technology in the library. The devices worked well for basic functions, but Internet access was limited due to the small screens on the iPaqs and inventory problems cropped up when a barcode scanning attachment didn't perform as expected. Most of the librarians who participated thought the technology should be reevaluated using larger tablet PCs.