Improve Your Library's Mobile Website: Up from Start

By Bohyun Kim |

Editor's note: Bohyun Kim will present the ALA TechSource worskhop Improving Your Library’s Mobile Services Thursday, September 12, 2013. This post is adapted from her August/September Library Technology Report (vol. 49; no. 6) "The Library Mobile Experience: Practices and User Expectations"

1. Create a Mobile Website

If your library does not have a mobile website yet, the number one priority is to provide one, even if it includes only the most basic information. A couple options offer quick start.

The WordPress content management system, for example, has many plugins that instantly reformat any WordPress site into a mobilefriendly format when the site is viewed on a mobile device. WP Mobile Detector, WordPress Mobile Pack, and MobilePress are examples of such plugins.

LibGuides automatically presents a mobile-friendly version of your library website, reformatting as it recognizes access with mobile device.

If your library has the staff basic HTML and CSS skills, mobile frameworks such as iUI or JQuery Mobile can also be used to create a mobile website. Make sure to add a link to your library’s full desktop site in the footer of your mobile website so that library patrons can opt out and use the familiar desktop website instead.

2. Mobilize Your Library Catalog

If your library has a mobile website that offers only basic information such as library hours, address, and contact information, then adding more content and features to the mobile website would significantly improve the mobile experience.

Give priority to tasks that library users most often perform on the mobile device. Mobilizing the library catalog is without question one of the most useful features for the library’s mobile patrons. Depending on your library’s integrated library system vendor, mobilizing a library catalog can be relatively easy or quite complicated. Also, third party commercial products, such as Boopsie and Library Anywhere, can mobilize a library catalog.

3. Provide a Catalog Search Box on the Mobile Home Page

Library patrons are expecting to search and find a library item using a mobile device, showing the library catalog search box prominently on the mobile website home page will improve their library mobile experience. For a mobile site, it is preferable to use one simple search box that can search for both books and other library items, such as journal articles or documents in a digital repository. If your library uses a web-scale discovery service such as EBSCO’s Discovery Service, ProQuest/Serials Solutions’s Summon, OCLC’s WorldCat Local, or Ex Libris’s Primo Central Index, consider using that system as the default search box in your mobile website.

4. Add More Mobile-Friendly Library Resources and Content

We have seen that library patrons want to access library resources such as e-books, e-journals, databases, and electronic course reserves on a mobile device. Unfortunately, not all library resources are mobile-friendly, and libraries have little control over the user interface of vendor systems. Feature mobile-friendly resources prominently on your library’s mobile website.

If your library has content and resources that would be useful to mobile device users, make them mobile-friendly and link to them on the mobile library website For example, mobile-friendly e-reserves at an academic library are highly valued by students who want to utilize their downtime by reading their course readings. Library instruction handouts and program materials related to common mobile tasks can assist at the time of need, such as accessing a library e-book or downloading an audio file from a library’s music database.

A couple mobile apps from public libraries help patrons looking for reading recommendations . Scottsdale Public Library’s Gimme provides random book recommendations to library patrons, instead of a generic mobile library website based upon the direct input and suggestions from library patrons.

Orange County Library System uses the OCLC Shake It! app for iOS and Android to provide book recommendations for library patrons as well as information about how to borrow the books from more information about taking the item out from the library.

5. Offer a Library Account Management Feature on Mobile

Library patrons want to use their handheld devices to view and renew checked out items and to place a hold on a library item for a later pickup. SMS notification services can enhance the library mobile experience. A due date reminder for checked out items sent directly to a mobile phone in the form of a text message would greatly help library patrons in keeping track of library items they have checked out. Allowing a patron to renew items through a link directly on a mobile device adds convenience. The Oriental Institute of Technology Library in Taiwan implemented exactly such mobile services in September 2008. According to the system log analysis results, the usage of the due date reminder and renewal request service improved the average number of overdue occurrences, average amount of overdue fines, average amount of overdue fines per transaction, and average overdue rate.

SMS notification services are not a new idea. The SMS Notification Services section on the Library Success wiki page on M-Libraries lists the libraries that have implemented them. Smartphone functionality allows patrons to act quickly on the notification.

6. Customization and Experimenting with New Apps

A study at Kent State University showed that library patrons wanted the library’s mobile website to provide customizable options such as being able to pick their favorite databases or choosing their own top ten links to see on the mobile website. This makes sense considering the small screen size of a smartphone and the wide variety of library resources and services. For example, at a large public library or an academic library system, patrons tend to use one library branch heavily. Allowing them to set the library branch they frequent as the default place in the mobile library website can save them a great deal of time. Miami- Dade Public Library’s mobile website offers a range of customization options, from setting the default library location to displaying the library catalog search or library hours .

If your library has the resource for mobile web development, showcase apps even as beta versions. The University of Illinois Library showcases its experimental mobile library services on the “Mobile Labs” page of its mobile website. In developing a mobile application for library patrons, make sure that it addresses the needs of mobile device users when they are in those mobile mindsets: microtasking, bored, or being local.