Saturday, April 24, 2010

What are mobile friendly library sites offering? A survey.

Everyone knows mobile is hot now, and many libraries are scrambling to add mobile friendly pages. Currently the most complete listing of libraries with mobile sites can be found at the Library Success Wiki site , which lists over 40 such sites.

I thought it would be helpful to look at these 40+ sites to see what are the common services that have being offered to mobile users. To that end, I have created a google doc of the 40 sites comparing their common features. I grouped each feature below according to whether it exists in a mobile site and then choose representative examples with images to be displayed below and direct link to the specific mobile friendly page shown in the image.

Hopefully this will be helpful to those librarians building a new mobile site and would like to compare or get some ideas on how others have done it.

Do note, I'm testing with just iPhone with Safari mobile (would be interesting to try with the newly released Opera Mini), some of the sites don't render nicely though, displaying only in a small part of the screen. My guess is these were designed for a older generation of phones (windows mobile?)

Note : the links below each picture goes directly to the mobile version of the site (mobile homepage or specific internal mobile page). You might also want to view this post using the mobile version.


It seems that the mobile library sites reviewed almost always fall into 3 main styles

The newest style seems to be those that mimic iPhone app layouts. Examples include


This style of mobile pages seems designed for higher end smart phones with touchscreens. They are a lot nicer visually, but incur more band-width charges.  Not the most popular style currently, but rising in popularity since the webinar given by NCSU on building mobile libraries 

Typically mobile libraries using this style tend to have the most sophisticated services as well.  

At the opposite extreme there are bare-bones text based layouts. Usually options are numbered. Some examples below



Most library mobile sites typically lie behind these 2 extremes. There is some use of graphics for icons, horizontal lines to create rows etc.  Some examples below

There are other variants, that are rarer. Basically some include a search box at the mobile home page which makes sense, since searching is a very common option.

Iowa Libraries has a interesting variant, with expanding and collapsible options. See also Miami University Libraries (Ohio)

The essentials  - Opening hours, contact us/directories, Directions & Floormaps

Almost every mobile library site lists opening hours as well as a way to contact the library and/or staff directories. I didn't notice anything particularly interesting about how libraries are displaying opening hours on mobile, though there seems to be diverse ways one can set up the contact page due to the numerous channels libraries are using these days.

One can setup a general "Ask us" contact page to email, phone , SMS reference and IM,  or choose to have a staff directory or department directory with individual contacts. On an iPhone touching any of these options will usually open email, make a call, send SMS etc.

Both Oregon State University MobileLib and North Carolina State University Library provide almost every possible feedback channel (except Skype?). A nice touch is that the very last option "Reference hours" and "Visit us in-person" respectively provides information for users who want to see the librarian in person. For the later, not only are the reference hours listed but also directions to the reference desk are given.

Supporting IM chat is tricky. While some libraries like College of DuPage Library give out IM handles (see below), probably what most libraries want to do is to embed web chat boxes.

Given that most phones don't support Flash, the chat box embedded needs to be using purely html not Flash. So this means something like say Meebo Me doesn't work. I haven't looked at which chat boxes are not using flash, but I notice some libraries are using Libraryh3lp, or QuestionPoint.

A slightly different tack is taken by the National Library Board, while questions can be submitted via the web form, answers will be sent via SMS.

Besides contacts, and opening hours, the third most common item listed on mobile sites are directions to the library.

Many libraries such as Auburn University Libraries simply provide a link to Google maps for directions to their library. Clicking on the link in iPhone will open it in the Maps apps (see below).

It might be perhaps better to offer other options as well. A combined approach would be to include directions in text plus link to Google Map.

Oregon State University MobileLib  allows one to text the directions and/or library contacts.


Rice University, Fondren Library, Houston, TX offers more options including pdf/gif maps

How about a floor plan of the library? I'm somewhat disappointed that libraries that have this, display merely static maps. See for example Brigham Young University, Harold B. Lee Library 

or Adelphi University Libraries

One wonders though, if there could be something more sophisticated. In any case, some libraries provide mobile tours of libraries typically podcasts/MP3s

Mobile Catalogue and Loan related

As one of the major taks that users do on the library portal is searching the library catalogue, it makes little sense to launch a mobile library site without a mobile friendly catalogue.

Unfortunately, converting your library catalogue to a mobile friendly site isn't trivial unless there is already built-in support to display results in mobile friendly mode (it's fairly easy to just make the search box mobile friendly). As a result, many libraries offering mobile library catalogues either don't have a mobile version are actually using Innovative Interfaces products becuase they offer AirPac a mobile version of their library catalogue.  Another option that might become common in the future seems to be LibraryThing Mobile.

I would make a wild guess and say it would be helpful to have loan services (check loan record, reserve books etc) available in mobile as well, but I'm not sure how easy to do it, if the ILS you are using does not allow this.

There might be other library catalogues with mobile friendly versions, I haven't done the research yet.

Edit : Found Mobile Library Catalogs by Eric Rumsey, compares 18 mobile catalogues (with images)

Libraries without mobile versions but are on WorldCat could link to the WorldCat mobile . I've noticed a couple of mobile sites even have article finders (University of Pennsylvani and University of Minnesota Library)

Mobile enabled third party sites -  Social Networking sites

These days many major web pages offer mobile versions of their pages. This is particularly true for many web 2 services. As most libraries today are heavily into web2/social networking services, it makes a lot of sense to link to such pages that are already mobile ready!

Some of such services linked to in library mobile sites includes Twitter, Blogs, YouTube, Flickr, Facebook, MySpace etc. Some examples below

Mobile enabled third party sites - Mobile databases, academic sources

Many libraries also provide links to mobile enabled databases (and some link to all databases either directly or via library catalogue). Currently there isn't that many, though libraries that depend heavily on EBSCOhost have the edge here since the databases they form on this platform are mobile friendly. Medical libraries also have an edge since PubMed is mobile friendly. Others include IEEExplore, Naxos etc. See list here .

Quite a few libraries also provide links to the mobile version of Refworks. (What about other web-based reference managers like Mendeley? Do they have mobile versions or iPhone apps?)

A slightly different tack would be to offer links to iPhone apps either university specific or database specific. See my list of iPhone apps related to libraries here.

Other search related mobile links that are offered include Google books, Google Scholar, web search engines which all provide mobile versions.

I wonder if any of the digital repositories have mobile friendly versions?

Though I have not seen libraries that done so, but LibGuides currently has a print/mobile version (which will be further improved) , so that could be linked. I also wonder about ebook collections and linking to other library mobile collections.

Extras - Web Cam, Computer availability, booking discussion room

While most of the services above are relatively easy to offer, some libraries have began to offer extra services. In particularly checking of availability of computers in libraries is available in the mobile versions of some libraries. Oregon State University has a "computers" option but at the time of writing, I got an error when accessing the page (library wasn't open at the time?)

In a somewhat similar vein, it is possible to link to webcams in the library to help users see how busy certain parts of the library are so they can decide whether to walk over to use the facilities.

News, FAQ , Podcasts

It probably also makes sense for a mobile site to list news , and this can be done with blogs, Twitter etc (see above), but news can also be offered as RSS (yes, Twitter and blogs generate RSS feeds too).

The image below shows how a RSS feed looks like in Iphone Safari.


Besides news & events , libraries can and should also offer podcasts, videos for download.

Adelphi University Libraries offers to stream music via Naxos

Similarly videos can be offered for download  (as opposed to hosted on YouTube)

One thing I don't quite understand is why not many libraries have made their Library loan rules, FAQ etc mobile friendly.  If FAQ systems like LibAnswers, offer mobile friendly pages, things would be a lot easier.
There are other features that don't quite fall nicely into the categories above but these seem to be the main features. To reiterate the main features in most library mobile sites include
  1. Mobile library catalogue + loan related services
  2. Information about opening hours
  3. Directions to the library
  4. How to contact library via multiple channels of communication (Chat/SMS/Phone/Email)
  5. Links to mobile enabled databases
  6. Links to mobile enabled web2.0 accounts such as Twitter/Flickr/YouTube/Facebook
  7. Floor maps
  8. Checking computer availability, book discussion rooms
  9. Web cam to check congestion in libraries
  10. Library news events and offering content for download Podcasts, videos 

I would add that it is almost always a good idea to add a button or link that allows the user to switch from mobile mode to normal mode.

Any other interesting idea I missed? If you are aware of any mobile library site but isn't listed here , please comment below. Thanks
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