Jisc Collections mobile issues workshop

On 16th July, I attended a workshop hosted by Jisc Collections to discuss issues around accessing library resources via mobile devices. The focus of the morning was sharing some of these issues through a series of presentations, and the afternoon focused on a workshop whereby we discussed, in groups, the current key issues and steps we could take to help solve some of these.

The event opened with an introduction by Mark Williams (Jisc Collections) and Ben Showers (Jisc Programme Manager) who shared the intended outcomes of the day. We then had a presentation from Keren Mills (Open University) who gave an overview of the Jisc-funded Mobilising Academic Content Online (MACON) project. Keren started her presentation by sharing the issues around users having to jump from mobile websites to apps for different content, and how this isn’t an efficient workflow for them. For this reason, the project focused on providing accessing to OU library resources via a mobile interface for their discovery service (EBSCO). One of the biggest issues they tackled as part of the project was authentication – sometimes this can cause problems on mobile devices as there are too many redirects for the browser to cope with, or it can be difficult for the user to work out what details they need to put in and where. By prompting users to login as soon as they start their search, this means they should only need to login once per search session to access content through the discovery service. They also adapted the design based on user feedback, and produced a best practice toolkit for delivering academic content to handheld devices (this includes recommendations about content formats, delivery, user requirements, and usability). Keren’s slides are below:

Following Keren’s presentation, I gave an overview of some of the work we did as part of the Jisc m-library community support project relating to this topic. In particular I focused on the Pathway to Best Practice on Providing access to resources via mobile devices. I shared some of the examples in this including Newcastle University’s LibGuide on Mobile apps and resources, University of Birmingham’s advice for users, and the Library Success wiki. I then shared some examples of the sorts of options available from publishers and providers at the moment to demonstrate the variety of different options. This included mobile websites, mobile apps, and a multitude of different approaches to logging in. My slides are below:

The next presentation, from Claire Gill and Claire Gravely at University of Sussex, gave some more detail on some of the options available and what this meant for libraries. At University of Sussex, they spent some time checking providers to see what mobile options were available. Of the 170 checked, 17 had mobile optimised websites and 28 had mobile apps (14 of which they classed as ‘usable’ i.e. access to full text, only having to login once, and easy to access). They then showed us some examples and shared the good and bad of each based on the things their users were likely to want to use the app for. The slides are below:

The final presentation was from Claire Grace (Open University) who spoke about the user’s expectations and the role of the library in checking access to resources. She explained that many of our users will have different devices for different purposes (e.g. they may use a phone/tablet for browsing websites and searching for resources, but prefer to use an ereader for reading books) and we need to understand this to know how best to support them. They are also likely to have different expectations for the different devices they use. The number of different devices (hardware and software) make it difficult for libraries to check access to resources. Claire encouraged us to push for standards and testing during development so we’re not finding that things don’t work as they should.

After lunch, we had a brief discussion about UK Federation and mobile access. A couple of resources were recommended for people to check out:

This led into the group discussions where the aim was to discuss the main concerns and offer suggestions for ways forward. There were some really interesting discussions about whether apps or mobile websites are preferable (most agreed mobile websites in this situation), issues and potential solutions for authentication (such as for example a mobile friendly version of Shibboleth or other authentication methods), and the issues around duplication of effort across the sector and how we can reduce that.

Jisc are writing up the notes from the discussions and will be sharing the outcomes in due course, but in the meantime I thought I’d share some of the main messages and suggestions for ways forward that I picked up on, which seemed to come under three themes:

  1. Communication
    This included organising and participating in wider discussions with libraries, publishers, and users to understand each other’s perspectives and work towards the common goal of simple access to resources regardless of the device used.
  2. Shared resources
    This included ideas such as contributing to a shared resource with details of mobile websites/apps – something that both libraries and publishers can contribute to (possible the Library Success wiki, or something similar)
  3. Shared best practice
    This included developing a set of standards or a specification for publishers to use when developing their mobile websites.

It was really useful to get a group together to discuss these common issues, and I certainly came out of the workshop much clearer about what needed to be done. If this is an area you are interested in, please subscribe to the blog (links at the top of the right column) as I’ll make sure to post updates.

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5 thoughts on “Jisc Collections mobile issues workshop

  1. FindMyLibrary

    Thank you for this post, I found it (and the associated slides) very interesting.

    In particular the line ‘There were some really interesting discussions about whether apps or mobile websites are preferable (most agreed mobile websites in this situation)’. As a mobile app and web developer I’m aware of the arguments for each technology (and indeed the argument for both as in many cases if you do one you may as well do the other), but it’d be great to know more of these within the library app/site context. Would it be possible for these particular discussions to be shared?

    1. Jo Alcock Post author

      Hi Dave, thanks for the comment and your interest in the discussion.

      The main reasoning behind people supporting development of mobile websites rather than separate mobile apps was due largely to two main reasons as far as I could tell – authentication and user education. Regarding authentication, separate apps have a variety of different ways of authenticating a user but having to do this for each separate app on a regular basis (for some it would need resetting every 3 months) was seen as a barrier to use. For some apps it can be very longwinded process too, which isn’t seen as a good thing to encourage. Regarding user education, it was more an issue of users not always identifying content by the publisher/provider (and not necessarily needing to know). Discovery services aim to enable access to content from a wide range of the library’s resources, but using individual apps from single publishers/providers may mean users are limiting themselves to only searching within a specific collection. It was acknowledged that there is some functionality that may be preferable in an app (e.g. offline access), but overall the general feeling was that investment in development on mobile web access is preferable to developing isolated mobile apps.

      I hope this helps clarify things a little.

  2. Dave

    Thank you! It’s certainly interesting within this context. Both points seem to be related to having a range of resources in mobile websites, and only individual sets in the mobile apps. It would definitely need to be the case that any service provided on the web should be matched by apps.

    Personally, I would say that a mobile app should only ever be used if it makes use of the device capabilities that are unavailable within a web environment e.g:

    1. persisting authentication – an app has far better capabilities of persisting authentication data, while web sites are limited purely to browser cache.
    2. making use of device capabilities – whether or not camera or geolocation would be useful in these situations is debatable. Device storage though is potentially very useful and can’t be utilised easily from websites, especially in cases of being able to sync for offline use.
    3. one-off download – with apps a large amount of data can be held on the device to reduce download times. Potentially, apps can even just be a ‘wrapper’ for any mobile website, with certain data and images accessed locally from the device instead of being downloaded each time.

    The point I also alluded to regarding doing both was that with properly managed projects, one set of investment should feed the other. For example rather than investing in either mobile web development or mobile apps, the investment in a platform that supported a mobile web site would also provide the support for the mobile apps. The same goes for writing apps for different tablet/phone platforms. The bulk of the work should only really be done once, and then exposed to all environments. In theory, for relatively little extra investment, a platform can be exposed to mobile web/android/ios/windows etc.

    That’s in theory.

    Hmmmm, anyway, enough rambling, back to work. Thanks for the quick reply!

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