iPhone Apps and the Library (if you can’t build one, join one)

February 3, 2009, 1:26 pm

I think it would be cool to design and develop an iPhone app.  However I know I am biased because I love my iPhone. Leaving my personal thoughts aside, it is not a priority for my library right now.  I think DCPL and WorldCat are doing interesting work and I am content to live vicariously through them.

However, that doesn’t exclude me for reaching users via their iPhones. At Georgia Tech a group of students built an app designed for the GT community. The core feature is that the app makes it easy to login to the campus wireless system. The normal way is a pain, but the GT app makes it very convenient. It also provides functional links to things like the real-time bus schedule, campus email, a campus map and the course management system. In short it is gives students the tools they need/want all in one spot.

I emailed the developers and asked them to considering adding the library’s computer availability map. Within two weeks it was there. This adds real value because now a student leaving class can check the status of computers in the library.

It is easy for us (as librarians) to complain that we don’t have money or staff to develop cool things—but sometimes that’s ok, because maybe we can partner with those who are (doing cool things) and get our materials and resources included in their work. Instead of investing our time in “a library app” we can attach ourselves to an already popular and successful  app and gain a wider audience. It would be nice to work with them to develop an easy way to scan journal articles or to search for books. I am sure that NCSU is working on the definitive iPhone app right now anyway and that we will all copy them, but in the meantime, see if others in your community are working on something that you can be a part of. That’s the ubiquitous approach.

GT_iPhone_app  GT_iPhone_app2  GT_iPhone_app3

Updated: 2.11.09
What about the Stanford iPhone App?

I think their app is beautiful. It’s filled with lots of great tools. It’s top notch.


It was created by a design firm. It has a very “institutionalized” vibe. Pay your fees, registrar for classes, follow the sports teams, look someone up. I think every tech-centric campus should definitely consider an iPhone app, but what I really admire about the GT app is that it is for-students by-students. It has a much more gritty, genuine, start-up feel about it. It is more organic and approachable.

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