LITA Mobile Computing Interest Group meeting at ALA Annual Conference 2012

I attended the ALA Annual Conference 2012 and was up bright and early to get to the 8am Sunday morning session from the Library and Information Technology Association (LITA) Mobile Computing Interest Group (MCIG) session. It included four presentations on a variety of different topics plus Q&A and some time for more general discussion. Below is my summary of the presentations and discussion. (The presentation slides are available at ALA Connect).

NCSU Libraries Mobile Scavenger Hunt
– Anne Burke, North Caroline State University (Slides)

Anne spoke about the way NCSU have revitalised their traditional induction sessions by offering a mobile scavenger hunt to help introduce students to navigating the library and asking librarians for help. They hoped to improve student engagement, foster confidence and introduce students to emerging technologies by using iPod Touches to deliver a scavenger hunt which they worked through in groups. Although they looked into existing solutions such as SCVNGR and Scavenger Hunt with Friends, these were either too costly or relied on geolocation which can be a problem for small areas like libraries.

Their chosen solution uses Evernote (one account for each iPod Touch, and a master one for staff) and a Google spreadsheet alongside a set of questions on paper. Students record their responses via the iPod Touch (either as text, photo or audio) as they move around the library, and staff can keep an eye on progress. When students return, they are shown a slideshow of photos from the groups, given their scores, and prizes are given out (chocolates). Any questions which appeared to cause problems are discussed as part of the feedback also. NCSU use these for an one-hour instruction sessions and are currently looking into offering a self-guided version. Further details are available on the NCSU library website.

Gimme! The mobile app development project at Scottsdale Public Library
– Aimee Fifarek and Ann Porter, Scottsdale Public Library (Slides)

Aimee and Ann shared their experiences of developing a mobile app using a grant fund. Unusually, Scottsdale Public Library received funding before deciding what sort of mobile app they wanted to produce. They established a project team bringing together technology staff and tech-savvy staff from across the library in order to get investment from a variety of different areas first, and then brainstormed ideas with the team. They also wanted to ensure whatever they built was valuable to their customer base so they employed consultants to research user needs. The consultants also then developed the app and supported implementation.

The mobile app they chose to produce, Gimme!, is a book recommendation system which combines catalogue details with book recommendations from library staff. A number of different systems are used to achieve this – they use the Goodreads API with Feedburner (which they get from their library catalogue) to combine reviews with the descriptions and book covers (using the ISBN to link it together). Gimme! works across all devices, you can try it out at: http://gimme.scottsdalelibrary.org/

Before the first Connection: A marketing campaign for a Law Library’s Mobile Application
– Terry Ballard, New York Law School, Mendik Library (Slides)

Terry spoke about how the New York Law School had wanted to get ahead of the curve by implementing a mobile app. Having investigated a number of options, they chose to use a third-party solution, Boopsie. However at the time it didn’t offer support for course reserves. They spoke to Boopsie about this and arranged for Boopsie to develop this additional functionality (at no extra cost as they were aware that other libraries would be interested in this feature as well). They also wanted to integrate a Google Custom Search on mobile, so they spoke to Google and were able to add this option. Although the usage of the mobile app has so far been relatively low, the number of search sessions via mobile has stayed relatively high since the launch.

It’s time to look at our mobile website again
– Bohyun Kim, Florida International University Medical Library (Slides)

Bohyun presented a really interesting overview of the current state of mobile websites for libraries. To set the context, she gave some figures about mobile web usage in US – more mobile devices are now shipping than desktops, and over the last 5 years AT&T mobile web use has grown by 20,000%! As devices and mobile web capabilities have improved, the way we expect to use mobile websites is changing. We are spending more time accessing the web via our mobiles instead of desktop and are doing more detailed tasks such as research and shopping. Bohyun looked at the mobile websites which Aaron Tay reviewed in 2010 and revisited them to see how they had changed. It was really interesting to see the changes, many of which were common to most websites:

  • Research tools being added (or made more prominent), often with a search bar at the top of the mobile website
  • Additional functionality for library transactions (view the library account, course reserve, renew books and other items on loan)

Design had generally simplified and moved towards websites that look similar to native mobile apps, though there were different approaches. For example, some library mobile websites had moved from a list to icons, whilst others have moved from icons to a list! Bohyun concluded that it is no longer relevant to have a companion site for mobile with minimum content – the mobile site should aim to deliver the same functionality as the main website. She emphasised the importance of an environmental scan to see what others are doing, and to research your target audience to understand their needs and expectations and commented on how to market your mobile service more effectively.

Discussion

The four presentations were all excellent and we had lots of Q&As so discussion was dispersed throughout, but we also briefly discussed the general topic of responsive web design. This followed nicely from Bohyun’s presentation as it is evident that there is no longer a clear cut difference between what we expect from a mobile website and what we expect from a desktop website. Add to the mix the tablet market and its varying sizes, and it is clear that responsive web design is a useful approach to take. Fortunately, there was a presentation at the conference later that day on responsive web design and you can view further information and a copy of the presentation online.

As last time, I found the mobile computing interest group session really interesting and encourage anyone interested in mobile technologies in libraries to follow the future discussions and webinars from LITA MCIG.

About our guest author: Jo Alcock is a Researcher at Evidence Base, Birmingham City University (UK), who attended ALA Midwinter and Annual Conferences this year as one of the 2012 ALA Emerging Leaders. She is currently working on a JISC-funded project, the M-library support project, as part of the JISC Mobile Infrastructure for Libraries programme. Jo tweets as @joeyanne and blogs as Joeyanne Libraryanne.


2 Comments on “LITA Mobile Computing Interest Group meeting at ALA Annual Conference 2012”

  1. [...] My first stop was the Mobile Computing Interest Group, which featured several speakers talking about projects they were involved in at their institutions. There were many cool things discussed, my favorite being the mobile scavenger hunt at NCSU using iPod Touches loaded up with Evernote. You can read a great overview of the presentations at ACRL TechConnect. [...]

  2. [...] This blog post was originally posted as a guest blog post on the ACRL TechConnect blog. [...]