Testing Time for Max at Alice Springs Library.

It was with some trepidation that we flew out from Alice Springs in August having left our newest addition to the Hitnet family ‘Mobile Max’, our tough, outdoor mobile hub, in Central Australia. Now was the time for the ‘real’ test in the environment he was designed for – and we would have to watch nervously from over 2000 km away.

  • Would people use him?

  • Would the library staff remember to wheel him out each day, or more importantly remember to wheel him back in at night?

  • Would the battery provide enough power?

  • Would he be tough enough to survive this environment; heat, dust, and rain?

  • And what would curious Central Australian young people, parents and elders make of him? 

We designed Max so that we could remotely monitor his performance from anywhere, at anytime and this helped ease some of these concerns as well as provide data insights into how he was performing.

We are able to see that he’s switched on each day after being recharged overnight. We can see what content is being viewed on his touchscreen and whether his WiFi hotspot is being used. We’ve also had regular updates from the supportive staff at Alice Springs Public Library.

So, how has ‘Mobile Max’ faired in his new home? We can see from his daily usage statistics that he’s been dutifully wheeled in and out every business day by the library staff. He’s being well used too, with around 650 purposeful uses over the quarter, compared to 250 uses in an average indoor site. People are viewing more often than the indoor hubs, away from staff and cultural barriers.   

(We use the metric of ‘purposeful use’ as this is where a user actively engages with the content, by selecting a channel and viewing video content. It doesn’t include where someone touches the screen and does not view anything).

We can see that the most viewed channels are ‘Yirara TV’, ‘Desert Pea Media’ and ‘Indigenous Music Week’. Yirara TV is the local Aboriginal College who produce a weekly news bulletin with the students presenting. Desert Pea Media is a channel of 12 music videos co-created with young people in Indigenous communities, the most watched videos within this channel are those produced in remote communities, The Lurra Collective, Desert Sevenz and The B Town Warriors. Finally, ICTV in Alice Springs recently aired videos for an Indigenous Music week with the most viewed videos are by popular Yolngu rapper Baker Boy.

The WiFi hotspot usage statistics also tell an interesting story with over 400 sessions in the past 3 months, with a 22 minute average session time and 39MB average download. The most popular devices to connect to the free WiFi are Android phones (164), followed by iPhones (50) then Laptops (23) and finally iPads (17). The Library also provides a free WiFi service so in this instance, ours is complimenting that investment by providing extra capacity for library users.

Both Hitnet and the Alice Springs library are excited with the extension of the trial for another 3 months to further test ‘Mobile Max’ as he heads into his first Central Australian Summer. We are planning a return trip to Alice to interview local staff and users of Max to obtain richer qualitative feedback, and will be presenting at the ALIA conference in Sydney in February 2019.

We clearly see a role for Max in regional and remote libraries where there are local staff, content, and accessibility challenges, and in particular in the Northern Territory where there are few if any physical libraries across the many remote Aboriginal communities. Working with the library sector Max can provide that vital connection to the digital world and to culture through easy access to locally produced content, the digital library and unique cultural archives. All part of Hitnet’s vision to build vibrant, healthy and digitally capable communities, engaged in the digital economy all over the world.

Julie Gibson