Planning for a Mobile Website

By Cindi Trainor |
Mobile, mobile, mobile.  It’s all we hear these days.  Mobile…it’s the new black.  Mobile…you just GOTTA.  At my library, mobile web browsers have only accounted for .3% of the total site traffic so far this semester.  Taking all the public PCs into account (the default webpage for which is of course the library web page) only takes this up to .5%.  So, should my staff and I still put effort into a mobile library site, just to serve this handful of people? In a word, yes. Yes, there is a lot of hype right now, but nonetheless, this traffic will continue to grow. With some initial planning like that so thoughtfully presented by Beth Ruane, Missy Roser, and Courtney Greene of DePaul University, at the ALA Midwinter meeting in Boston, a mobile-optimized website is within every library’s reach.
How does one create a mobile website for one’s library?  There are many resources available for those who want to dig in and get it done.  Creating a mobile version of our website is a goal for this year in my library, so I’ve been focussing professional development efforts on this lately.  At ALA Midwinter in Boston, I participated in a half-day pre-conference workshop sponsored by ACRL, titled “Anytime, Anywhere, Any Device: Developing a Mobile Website for Your Library,” taught by three librarians from DePaul University.
This workshop was great for two reasons: the content was excellent, and its delivery was stellar.  In a single afternoon, each participant learned what makes an effective mobile website and left the room with a plan for devising one for his or her home institution. The teachers (for they taught us; they did not merely present to us) meted out the concepts one pearl at a time, giving us time to digest, reflect, and write.  The icing on the cake: we were left with a blank copy of the workshop handouts and an online toolkit with which we can replicate this process in our own library.
I expected the workshop to be more technical than it was, but this turned out to be unnecessary.  I had been intimidated by the thought of creating a mobile website.  This may seem obvious to say, but pages in a mobile website are just that—web pages.  They are smaller and optimized for the tiny screens typical of a mobile device, but that’s where the differences end.  Anyone who can create a web page can create a mobile web site.  The trick is to do adequate planning with mobile users in mind, rather than simply making a more streamlined copy of all existing content.
One of the most important distinctions made in this workshop for me was the idea that it’s necessary to think about mobile devices in two classes: smart phones and lower-end devices.  These two types of devices typically have different-sized screens that must be taken into account when creating mobile content, and bring two different “interaction styles” to the table: touch and scroll.  A smart phone like the Apple iPhone or Motorola Droid has a much larger screen than a Blackberry 8800 or the LG EnV series, which also come equipped with web browsers, provided the users have the appropriate data plan.  Cell phones can lack features easily taken for granted, like the ability to execute Javascript—something else to keep in mind when designing.
Other important points:
A content management system like Drupal is capable of creating a mobile website through stylesheets and theming, as are programs like Dreamweaver.  Taking advantage of this capability will mean having only one set of content pages to change.
The ability to test what you create is critical, but it’s impossible to have access to every single device that might make use of your mobile content.  Essential to have: iPod Touch or iPhone; lots of friends with different types of cell phones.  Libraries that circulate e-readers might test the site out on them (Kindle, Nook, the coming iPad).
The steps we walked through in the workshop were:
Needs assessment: plan for a useful site by first talking with library staff and users by asking questions such as: who are the internal and external stakeholders for this project? How can data be gathered by using surveys, user observations or focus groups?  Are there sources of secondary data that would be helpful, like website analytics or iinstitutional demographic data?  The final step in a needs assessment is to analyze the data that’s been gathered and to report these findings to the stakeholders.
Integrating with existing library services: the thought of creating a mobile-optimized equivalent of the entire library website is intimidating.  Use the data gathered in the needs assessment to identify and prioritize services for which a mobile version would be ideal. Focus on services that assist users in locating information or asking questions and services that deliver useful information to people planning to visit or already in your library building.
Project planning: the instructors wisely advised: “Don’t underestimate the value of written documents in formalizing and building consensus, in sharpening your own vision of what is to be accomplished, and in beginning the very important process of project documentation.”  It is important to think through and document the purpose of the project, who will be involved and be accountable for the project’s success, and its timeline for completion.
Building the site: with screen size in mind, sketch out what your mobile site might look like.
Testing, marketing, launching: The plethora of library services is so broad and deep these days that we cannot simply build a mobile website, expecting people to come.  There is something for everyone in every library, and it’s the librarians’ job to target segments of the population with information about services that will best meet those populations’ needs.  When thinking of marketing any library service, mobile website or otherwise, it’s important to set a goal: what will be the result of the marketing campaign? How will you measure your success?  What techniques will you employ?  Who else in your organization must be involved?  If you are lucky enough to have personnel in your library dedicated to PR or marketing, use them!
Keeping up - The teachers gave participants a toolkit of resources on keeping on top of technologies and trends affecting mobile use and services.  We spent time adding to this list the names of organizations, people and information sources that are our go-to places for keeping up.
Additional resources