Beacons Guide Visitors Through Bavaria's State Library

Three floors and a labyrinth of rooms stand between visitors and the books or reading rooms they seek. This new app is designed to make navigating Munich's massive library easier.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Tags: Devices
Mar 23, 2016

Each day, more than 3,000 people visit the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek—the Bavarian State Library—based in Munich, Germany. The building, which has historical significance, is home to 9.81 million books, as well as a number of special-interest reading rooms containing tens of thousands of reference volumes, maps and images related to such topics as Eastern Europe, the Orient and Bavarian culture. It is a grand environment, but one that can be rather tricky to navigate.

"Even I, who knows the building quite well, struggle from time to time to try to find, say, the Eastern Europe reading room. It is on the third floor, but can't be reached by the main staircase," says Markus Bokowsky, co-owner of Bokowsky + Laymann. Last month, the Munich-based marketing firm completed an installation of 245 Bluetooth beacons that work in conjunction with a smartphone-based wayfinding and information app called BSB Navigator. "The idea is to help [visitors] find their way more quickly and more comfortably, and without relying on library staff to guide them."

The BSB Navigator app
Bokowsky says the library attracts a wide array of users from many walks of life, ranging from academia to those who come to use specialized scanning machines and others who restore historic books. "We have mapped 90 different points of interest all over the library. For instance: the cafeteria or reading room—the toilets even—scanning machines, etc.," he says. Visitors of the millennial generation are especially focused on their phones, and this group is perhaps the most likely to embrace the app, Bokowsky says.

Since the app was only recently launched, Bokowsky adds, his firm has not yet collected sufficient feedback data to gain valuable insights into what demographic is using the app the most, or for what purpose. He declines to provide the current number of downloads. The free app is available in German or English for Apple's iOS, through iTunes website. An Android version is expected by summer.

Bokowsky + Laymann served as the project manager and designer of the navigation system and its user interface designer. The mapping and navigation software that powers the app is licensed from, an Austrian startup, and provided the beacons.

Because the library is a historical landmark, Bokowsky says, the beacon had to be small and discrete, but also have a replaceable battery.'s beacons covered both of these requirements, he adds. In addition, the beacons can be put into sleep mode during closing hours each day, in order to extend battery life, which is important since the size of the network will make swapping out batteries an onerous task. He also likes that prints the unique identification number on the beacon housing. That is one thing a user might not consider in the beginning of rolling out a network, he says, but after installing around 150 beacons, performing a visual check of each new beacon's number, rather than having to scan it with a Bluetooth device, saves time and aggravation—especially when installing a beacon near another one that a reader might pick up simultaneously.

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