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Scan José – bringing history to the 21st Century

San José Public Library
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Innovation Summary

San José Public Library has developed a free new Smartphone-enabled self-guided walking tour that introduces residents and tourists to San José Public Library’s unique historical collection by juxtaposing historical digital images of the city with the current viewing of the site.

Problem Statement

San José Public Library’s California Room collection is a gold mine of information on local history that is not being used to its fullest potential. Many of our customers are unaware of the existence of the collection and due to recent budget cuts the California Room is only open 25 hours a week. This limitation to access means that many of its resources are not used by customers. There are over 1,300 digital files available to the public online and many more yet to be scanned, but access to this collection was solely through a tool which required use of a PC or other large screen device. In addition, those images were not included in the regular library catalog. There are many residents and tourists who are interested in the history of San José including every fourth grade student as California History is the state mandated curriculum for social studies. The question arises – how do you jump past these hurdles to get the information to the customer who wants it? Recent data from the Pew Research Center indicates that Smartphone and tablet use are on the rise and fewer Americans own desktop pc’s than in previous years. By harnessing the trend towards ubiquitous handheld devices, we had the potential to bring the library’s rich historical collection literally into the palms of our users’ hands and introduce them to an underused resource.


Library staff created a Smartphone-friendly website to bring the content literally into the palms of the customer’s hands. This web-based app takes customers on three different historic walking tours of downtown San José. The three walking tours: "A Walk Around the Plaza", "Tragedies and Calamities" and "Old Santa Clara Street" create a “story” the customer follows while learning about the history of the city. The tours feature digital photos from the California Room collection and concisely worded information about the historic sites written by the California Room Librarian. There are 31 total stops and 113 images included in the three tours. By geotagging each tour location, using the Google Maps API and the GPS information from the customer’s phone, the app creates walking directions from one spot to another on the tour. The tours were marketed through posters and other collateral that were and continue to be displayed and distributed in the downtown area.


Scan José makes a real-time connection between San José residents and visitors to the city’s history, increasing their knowledge and understanding of the city and its people. It brings information to people who may not otherwise interact with local history and increases awareness of the library’s California Room resources. On September 10, 2011 we hosted a successful Meet Up event to launch the service. Between going live in July 2011 and August 31, 2011, there were 2,400 visitors to Scan José. On average each visitor views up to 30 pieces of historical content from our collection browsing an average of 6 pages which contain between 3 and 5 historical photos and informational captions. The Scan José site regularly gets over 350 of hits per month. Customers have been pleased with the meaningful information and have recommended expanding it to include more areas of the city. Future plans include adding additional locations beyond the downtown area. Customer comments included: “An enjoyable pictorial presentation – good job!” and “A delightful improvement over hard to hear human tourist guides and old time tapes and earphones. And it comes with the option of selecting!”