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More Thoughts On Mobile Presence: some ideas for libraries

July 28, 2010, 12:01 pm

In recent months I’ve
noticed numerous people finding my blog by searching for things like “library
iphone app.” They are finding my post:
iPhone
Apps and the Library (if you can’t build one, join one)
What I found admirable about that
project was that it was student driven. The students, rather than the campus,
saw a need and filled it.

 

Here at
UCSB we don’t have that option. Our library mobile presence has been on the
backburner for a while, but let me share our story so far—

 

Through a chance
conversation I heard a rumor that someone was exploring a campus-wide iPhone
app. I asked around and got a lot of “no idea what you’re talking about” but finally
pinned it down to a programmer in Student Affairs who was working on a
prototype.

 

I met with him in April and we
had a very inspiring talk. He shared that 30% of the web traffic they get to
the course registration website (drop, add, etc) is via mobile devices.  Likewise, many of their other pages,
designed for monitor screens, are also being viewed via phones. We can only
assume this will increase and so he was working on making something easier for
people on smaller screens.

 

Long story short, he is
building a campus mobile site, not a downloadable app. Many schools have hired
this out to Terribly Clever, recently
bought out by Blackboard. They do excellent work, but the price range is steep
($10,000 – $20,000) and knowing blackboard it will only increase. That’s a big
chunk of change for one platform (Apple) – plus, the apps all look the same.
Duke, Stanford, and UCSD use this option — download their appd and you’ll see
that they share the same aesthetics. There are pros and cons to this, but let’s
save that for another day.

 

I will say this… I love Duke’s
Digital Collections
. It’s a great way to bring materials out to a new
audience. If you can get the library included in a campus-wide app for no cost hen you have to go for it!

 

Big picture. The
possibilities seem to be that libraries can develop their own app (like NCSU) or
partner with their campus. I am in favor of partnering because of the economics
as well as the shared volume. I think it is much easier to get a student (or
faculty members) to use one destination that includes campus news, athletics,
registration, library, course management, etc. I want my library to be a part
of that rather than a standalone tool. (Note: NCSU wolfwalk is pretty cool
though.)

 

So back to the story… I’m
excited to be a part of this emerging effort. The concept that came together is
that we would all share a common template, but the info would be hosted on our
own servers. In this manner, Student Affairs would maintain the entry page with
the top tier menu. (They also have a huge marketing reach and could heavily
promote it to students.) From this main page I could click on library and
although it would look the same, the content would actually be pulled from a
library server. This allows us the ability to change things around whenever we
want. We could add, delete, edit, whatever, pretty much on the fly and have it
go live instantly. The rule being that we’d adhere to the shared campus
template in terms of look and feel and function. Menus and layout and display would be
identical.

 

The goal was to launch in
mid Sept, just before our Fall Quarter got underway… but what’s not going to
happen. Student Affairs IT had to divert their time and effort to another project
and the mobile presence is essentially on hiatus. So what do we do? I’m a big
believer in the campus-wide effort, but I don’t want to lose our momentum—so
we’re charging ahead. We’re going to launch a very basic mobile page with the
intention of folding it into the campus effort later in the year. This will
give us a chance to get our feet wet with mobile and give our patrons a taste
of what is to come.

 

We’re using iWebKit which is a free tool to help you design
basic mobile pages. Our web programmer got something up in an hour. He
estimates that it would take about eight hours from start to finish to get the
type of presence we want to build. This is incomplete and right out of the box,
but here it is: UCSB
Library Mobile
I can’t promise that this link will stay alive as we move
into production… and I have to emphasize that it’s still VERY raw. But my hope
is that it inspires you to explore mobile tech yourself. This type of tool
makes it very feasible… and it is way better than dropping several grand on a
developer. Plus… it works with blackberrys, droids, and other phones. That’s a
key point for me—I want to be platform agnostic and not limited to Apple users.

 

Content?

So what should you put on your
mobile presence? Our friends are
exploring this right now
, but from my casual conversations with other
librarians it seems that patrons are less interested in searching for materials
(books & articles) and instead want to find out hours, ask questions, basic info like borrowing and printing, and maps or floor plans.
So that’s what we’re focusing on. Just keeping it very simple for the Fall—then
looking at the stats and gathering some feedback before we build out from
there.

 

I’d like to consider WorldCat and the EbscoHost
mobile
tools… but I don’t believe those are necessary yet. I’d rather see a
demand before we add those. I’m also considering placing my email address
within the menu for feedback on how we can improve it. I want to talk with users during this development phase rather than just putting it out there and saying there
you go
.

 

So that’s what we’re working
on. And it very much is a work on progress… but it seems that many of you are
working on similar projects so I thought I’d capture what we’re doing and put
it out there. Actually, our top web project is migrating to Drupal, but the mobile
is a fun side project.

  

I’ll give two shout outs:
(view these via your mobile device, they will look strange on a monitor)

 

  • Oregon State. This is very much on
    the high end. They have Summon,
    texting message ref, and a computer availability map that looks like labstats.
    If you have all that stuff then this is the way to go. They are a great aspirational
    model, but please just ignore that annoying orange color!

 

  • UCSF. What’s great about this
    is that they designed a campus-wide mobile web presence. Instead of just focusing
    on the library they added things like bus schedules, fitness center info,
    campus news, and a directory. This is ambitious and yet simple. I think it also
    showcases the talent and vision of the library as a campus-wide service.

 

I’m tempted to adopt the
UCSF strategy for our campus—but too many irons in the fire, so to speak. Thinking
beyond academic libraries, a city or town could benefit from a public library
that attempted to pull this all together as well. Instead of just promoting the
library, embed the library around all the other services that people want and
need— that’s being ubiquitous.

 

Just a quick snapshot of
what’s on my mind these days… curious to learn what others are doing and any feedback from users.

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