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.
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.