Author Archives: Jo Alcock

End of project survey – current m-library initiatives

This is part of a series of blog posts on the end of project fact finding survey.

In the first fact finding survey, we discovered a number of different areas libraries were working on. Using the broad categories from the results of the first survey, we used the end of project survey as an opportunity to see which were most popular. The results are shown below:

Current m-library services offered

Current m-library services offered

Those who selected ‘other’ included additional explanation on the categories selected as well as the following areas:

  • Social media (Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare)
  • Location of free PCs in library
  • Status of printers in library
  • Mobile discovery tool
  • SMS reference service
  • Access to mobile content (e.g. ebooks, audiobooks, music)
  • Mobile e-learning website or VLE (Virtual Learning Environment)
  • Mobile chat (enquiry service)
  • Newswire from news agencies
  • Teaching/instruction on mobile devices
  • SMS to send bibliographic data from website to phone
  • Mobile LibGuides

When asked if they were currently involved in any m-library iniative projects, 61% of survey respondents said yes. In order of popularity, areas which were currently being worked on were as follows:

  1. Mobile access to resources
  2. Mobile apps (for library or wider organisation)
  3. Mobile website
  4. Mobile catalogue
  5. Using mobile devices to support roving reference
  6. QR codes
  7. SMS
  8. Loaning mobile devices
  9. Augmented reality
  10. Social media

The results from these two section of the survey suggest that perhaps QR codes are already well used in libraries, and are therefore not a main priority for further development in many libraries (though are still being developed in others). Mobile catalogue is also available for a number libraries, but this is still being added for other libraries. Mobile access to resources is a main priority for many libraries in terms of current projects and initiatives, as shown by a sample of comments:

Ensuring all online services are mobile-friendly

Developing a web page which details mobile versions of information resources.

We’re just finishing a project to address the challenges involved in providing mobile access to eresources through a discovery tool

I have asked our systems team to promote the implementation of a mobile version of our discovery service for the coming academic year

The results also suggest that more libraries are looking at utilising mobile devices to support roving reference (i.e. staff using tablet computers to help users at the point of need) and also loaning mobile devices (primarily Kindles or iPads).

End of project survey – overview

Thanks again to those of you who completed the end of project fact finding survey we ran earlier this year. As before (see blog posts from previous fact finding survey), we’ll be publishing summary blog posts over the next couple of weeks sharing the findings from the different parts of the survey.

There were 138 responses to the survey, primarily from the academic library sector (68%).

Respondents by sector

Respondents by sector

The ‘other’ responses included health or hospital libraries, government libraries and law libraries.

The majority of respondents were from the UK (65%), with other respondents from the USA (28.9%), Canada (2%), Australia, Belgium and Turkey.

The majority of the respondents’ libraries either already have m-library initiatives (92%), or are currently working on m-library projects or services (61%) – unsurprising due to self-selected nature of sample. Common uses at present included (in order of frequency):

  • QR codes
  • Mobile catalogue
  • Mobile website
  • Guides to support the use of mobile services/apps
  • Mobile app for the institution
  • Using mobile devices to support roving reference
  • Loaning mobile devices
  • Mobile app for the library
  • SMS communication about borrower record

82% of respondents plan to implement additional m-library initiatives in future, though many did not have concrete plans in place and would follow developments to see which would be most relevant for their library. For those who did have plans, many included initiatives already mentioned. More innovative ideas included a mobile enquiry service, augmented reality, NFC/RFID, and supporting bring your own device (BYOD).

Barriers to development of m-library initiatives were experienced by a large proportion of respondents (95% gave at least one barrier). When asked to indicate the primary barrier, the main issues were resource constraints (46%) and infrastructure constraints (17%). A number of suggestions were made with regards to overcoming barriers, including quick wins/low costs solutions, a strong business case, staffing changes, and internal or external partnerships.

Though there are still some who do not feel at all confident implementing mobile technologies at their library, 72% felt confident or very confident. Confidence correlated with having infrastructure in place, support from management, and the resources to work on development.

Respondents planned to inform developments in a number of different ways, planning to keep up-to-date with mobile technologies, use case studies, attend or follow events, read or follow existing research, sharing and reading social media, library/librarian blogs, social media discussion, how-to guides, and mailing lists.

More detailed analysis for specific sections of the survey will follow next week using the using the end of project survey tag.

Project article – Supporting the experimental and innovative m-library community

CILIP Multimedia Information and Technology Group (MMIT) have recently released a special edition of their journal on mobile technologies. The journal is available to MMIT members, and an open access version of our article is available by clicking the image below.

MmIT Nov 2012 cover

Click the image to download the PDF of our article

M-libraries Conference – From margin to mainstream

On 24th-26th September 2012, The Open University hosted a group of 163 delegates from 19 different countries for the Fourth International M-libraries Conference. It was the first of the m-libraries conferences I have been able to attend in person, though I have followed others from afar. The theme of the conference, From margin to mainstream: mobile technologies transforming lives and libraries, demonstrates the progress made in the area of m-libraries, and this was evident from many of the keynotes and parallel sessions.

M-libraries conference

M-libraries conference

The keynote sessions were all recorded and are now available online, and I created an Eventifier archive which has some of the presentations from both the keynotes and parallel sessions, as well as photos, videos and tweets. Rather than recreate notes from each session, I wanted to highlight some of the key themes emerging from the conference.

Mobile technologies are global – supporting developing world as well as developed

Some of the most interesting presentations highlighted some of the innovative ways mobile technologies are being used in different countries. Steve Vosloo talked about projects UNESCO have been working on including Worldreader: books for all (which brings reading material to the developing world via Kindles or through their mobile phones via biNu), and literacy promotion via mobile phones (including educational information). We also heard about projects in India involving m-learning applications on the cheapest tablets in the world – less than $2 each! It was also interesting to note different challenges and benefits in different countries. For example, SMS messaging services aren’t widely used in UK due to cost, but in India this is not an issue. Kindles are robust enough for use in most countries and climates, but don’t deal well with the dust in Africa. Just a couple of examples of many things I previously hadn’t considered which were raised by delegates and speakers from across the world.

M-library initiatives don’t have to cost a lot – some just need staff time

There were some really innovative projects discussed at the conference, and many of these were from libraries that didn’t have funding for equipment or development. I attended some fantastic parallel sessions on innovations that utilised existing services to support delivery of library services. Georgina Parsons (Brunel University) spoke about their use of freely available services like Facebook, Twitter, QR Codes, and services they already subscribed to which offer mobile support like Summon, BookMyne and Library Elf. Neil Ford (Bournemouth University) shared their project on using QR codes to highlight electronic resources to students when they are browsing the physical library. The process incorporates checking reading lists to understand more about the courses, preparing relevant searches on electronic resources, and delivering those via QR codes and custom URLs on bookmarks near the key books for that area. The majority of this exercise is staff time and will also be useful even if the QR code uptake is low (i.e. better understanding of content of courses).

M-library developments are reliant on key technology companies

One of the presentations was from a representative at Microsoft, and other key players in the technology field were also mentioned throughout presentations. Martin White’s keynote focused entirely on developments of commercial companies such as Microsoft, Google, Apple and Amazon. The clear message coming through these presentations and the general discussions during the event was the reliance on developments from these companies. For example, some technologies which could enable additional functionality of mobile devices (e.g. contactless payments) will only become more popular if they are incorporated to the majority of devices.

Users are expecting delivery of content and service via mobile devices

There were a number of presentations which started with statistics based on user surveys/interviews or other anecdotal observations from discussions with users. Many of these demonstrated a shift in user expectations – more now seem to be expecting libraries to be delivering content and services via mobile devices. Mobile as a major trend and a key concern for libraries and other related organisations – see for example the UCISA 2012 Survey of Technology Enhanced Learning for higher education in the UK, the ACRL 2012 top ten trends in academic librarianship, and LITA’s Top Tech Trends at ALA Annual Conference. It seems, as with the theme of the conference, that mobile is becoming mainstream and is now expected, rather than being an additional bonus.

M-LIBRARIES-GROUP discussion list

As mentioned in an earlier post, we’ve been working on getting an email list set up to facilitate discussion around mobile technologies in libraries. The list is now live – please feel free to subscribe and start using the list for sharing resources, asking questions, and generating discussions on topics of relevance to the m-libraries area.


End of project report

1. Major Outputs

The major outputs of the project have been:

The project has also supported development of existing resources including the HE Lib Tech wiki Mobile Computing page and the Library Success wiki M-libraries page.

2. Background

The remit of the mobile library community support project was slightly different to the other projects within the programme. The aim was to support the community both within and outside the programme, in two main ways:

  1. Evidence gathering
  2. Community building

The objectives of the project were:

  • to build a body of evidence and practice around the notion of libraries and the provision of services and content to mobile devices
  • to seed and develop a sustainable community of practice around the development of m-libraries
  • to provide resources and evidence in usable formats, for example web-based resources, that will enable libraries to make informed choices and effectively develop their m-library provision

3. The challenge

The main challenge the project aimed to address was to begin to bring together different sources of information about mobile library initiatives and projects, and create a sustainable method for sharing new information within the community.

4. Lessons Learnt

Community building

Although we were aware of this at the outset, the project reinforced the fact that community building can be a challenging and time intensive process. Consistently throughout the project there was evidence of a reported demand for a community to share good practice and surface case studies as well as provide a focus for discussion. Although the project was able to seed discussion through blog posts and references to resources the challenge is for the community to take on a life of its own. While we had good feedback about the community there were a significant number of members who did not actively respond to posts or contribute to the discussion. This does not mean that they were not involved in the community but demonstrates there are many ways in which a community can be engaged and the benefits that an individual member might derive from involvement varies (for example, #mlibs tweets about resources frequently get favourited, presumably for people to check out at a later date). Sustainable communities are likely to be the ones that evolve organically over time.  It is questionable to what extent a project over a relatively short time period can result in a self sustaining community. While the project has developed a community it is likely that some further shaping and pump priming activity would be valuable over the short to medium term to ensure that it develops further.

Community website

A community website was in this case not the right option. Fortunately, we kept the approach flexible and did not dedicate a lot of project time to this as we wanted to see how the community responded before investing time. After gathering feedback it was decided a simpler approach of using a mailing list and a blog would better suit the needs of the community at present. The main lesson here was to remain flexible and open to adapting to suit the needs of the community (which makes it more difficult to plan but should hopefully ensure the delivered output is of greater use).

Case study collection

We had imagined that people would prefer for us to write up case studies following discussions with those who had been involved in projects. This was not the case in practice; people were offered this option but chose instead to write it themselves. Although initially this released some project time, it actually meant quite a lot of time spent co-ordinating and chasing case studies and difficulty in planning timing and quantity of case studies. There are still some outstanding case studies which we would like to share but are waiting for information about. In future it may be better to arrange visits or interviews and take a lead role on producing case studies rather than relying on staff external to the project who have competing priorities.

5. Conclusions

The objectives of the project have largely been met, though whether the community is sustainable remains to be seen. The community of practice has been supported by the information sharing event, the blog, the community site, and the mailing list as well as conversations on existing communication tools such as Twitter. Feedback from the m-libraries community (and research from LIS RiLIES project) suggests that events are a key dissemination tool for practitioners and we hope that the event organised by the project as well as presentations given at other events has helped support wider dissemination of our project findings and resources. Future events on m-libraries or mobile technologies session in wider LIS events will be one route to continue sharing of best practice.

The case studies and pathways to best practice guides have been key in providing resources and evidence to enable libraries to make informed choices. These project documents in addition to the resources collected on social bookmarking sites and those shared via the blog have been a core aspect of building a body of evidence and practice around provision of services and content to mobile devices.

As the project only has a short timescale, it has been difficult to ensure sustainability of the work of the project. It is hoped that the resources will continue to be useful in the short to medium term, and that discussions which take place on the mailing list and at relevant events will support longer term sharing of best practice.

QR codes – best practice

This is the fourth post in a tips and tricks series about QR codes. The full series includes an introduction to QR codes, tracking QR codes, examples of how they are being used in libraries, and best practice tips.

So, having read each of the following blog post on QR codes, have you decided you’d like to use them in your library? You may want to consider the following points:

Don’t use QR codes just because you think they’re cool. Is there a purpose for them? Something your library would like to do that QR codes can help with?  They’re more likely to be useful if they have a defined purpose.

Staff awareness
As with any new technologies, staff will need to be familiar with QR codes and understand their use. Before using QR codes in the library, ensure staff know what they are going to be used for and how to help users if they are unsure.

User awareness
Some users may be tech-savvy but QR codes are still only used by a small section of the population so they may well be unfamiliar with QR codes. It might be worth doing some research beforehand to see if they currently use QR codes or would be interested in doing so. Help and guidance should also be offered (through staff training, FAQs etc.).

This is a really important point. If you’re going to use QR codes you need to make sure the destination will work on a mobile device. It’s no good adding a QR code to an e-book if it will only work on a desktop computer, or linking to a webpage full of text and images that won’t display correctly on a mobile phone. Ideally, you’ll want to link to mobile optimised websites. YouTube videos can be made mobile-friendly so this is a good way of creating mobile-friendly videos.

If you’re going to use QR codes you need them to be easy to read. Simpler codes are better (hence shortening URLs before creating the code so they’re not so complex), but you will also want to make sure the size of the QR code is appropriate. This will depend on the context – will people be scanning from right next to it (e.g. on bookshelf) or from far away (e.g. on billboard)? You might need to test it out before printing a final version. If you want something a bit different and are feeling adventurous you could try adapting the design of the QR code (more examples here).

Measuring success
Remember to have everything in place to evaluate the QR codes. The earlier post in the series on tracking QR code usage offers three different options to achieve this. Keep an eye on the statistics, and consider the reasons for low or high usage. Do they perform better in a particular place in the library? Use this information, along with user feedback to shape future developments (and don’t be afraid to scrap them if they’re not working).

Please feel free to add any extra tips or advice in the comment section if you have been using QR codes and have anything to share.

How are libraries using QR codes?

This is the third post in a tips and tricks series about QR codes. The full series includes an introduction to QR codes, tracking QR codes, examples of how they are being used in libraries, and best practice tips.

So how are libraries using QR codes? Some of the more popular uses are listed in this post with links to examples. You may have some ideas of your own already, so please don’t be restricted to the ideas in this post.

Item records in OPAC

Adding QR codes to OPACs can help users get the information about resources onto their phone easily without having to take notes. Cutting scraps of paper to replenish supplies by OPACs used to take up so much of my time on an enquiry desk so this is a very welcome development for both staff and users! University of Bath were one of the pioneering institutions using QR codes in their library catalogue (see example):

By reading the code, you can save the Title, Author and Classmark of the book you are viewing on the catalogue to help you find it on the shelves

Senate House Library also has QR codes in their catalogue and you can read a full case study of QR codes at Senate House Library including what led them to implement it, how they did it, how it has been received, and future developments.

Linking to electronic resources from within the library

Another common use is to help promote electronic resources from with the library, ideally at the point of need. Often library resources are available in both print and electronic format and a QR code can be used to link to the electronic equivalent from with the shelves. University of Bedfordshire use posters to highlight ebook versions of texts in high demand (particularly useful if all print books are out on loan):

Ebook QR code poster

Ebook QR code poster

You could also use QR codes to link to relevant web resources for particular areas within the library, for example linking to subject guides, relevant websites or online reports near the books for that topic.

Guidance on how to use equipment or services

There’s a whole host of equipment to use in a library, much of which might need some explaining – particularly printers, copiers, laminators and binding machines. Of course signage can help, but a QR code can be used to link to a step-by-step guide online, or a video of the equipment being used.

They can also be used to direct people to get help – either by providing them with help contacts, opening an SMS message to the library contact number, or a webpage with facility to ask for help (i.e. virtual reference).

Additional information or calls to action on posters and handouts

We all know libraries love our posters, but sometimes they can get a little text heavy. A QR code could be used to link to additional information leaving the poster free for just the essential information. They can also be used to direct people to a certain website, often used for survey or to gather feedback.

They can be used in the same way on handouts, linking either to an online version of the guide (so that this can be bookmarked for future reference), additional information, or contact details of staff members.

QR codes on handouts at University of Huddersfield

QR codes on handouts at University of Huddersfield

Additional information about library space and booking study rooms

QR codes can be used to explain different areas of the library, particularly special collections or  unique areas of the library. The photograph below was taken at Staffordshire University outside a room which had recently been invested in and had lots of innovative technologies. The QR code directs you to a webpage with further information about the equipment in the room and its use (apologies for the poor quality but you get the idea!)

Explanatory QR codes at Staffordshire University

Explanatory QR codes at Staffordshire University

Some libraries are using also QR codes on the signs on study rooms to enable people to book them directly from their mobile devices.

Treasure/scavenger hunts

QR codes can be used to great effect to introduce users to the library by setting up treasure/scavenger hunts (for more information on this see our pathway to best practice guide 1). LSE Library have used these during induction period for new students.

LSE Library QR code treasure hunt

LSE Library QR code treasure hunt

What next?

Raring to go? You might want to hold fire for a moment, as there are some further considerations for using QR codes. The next post in the series tackles these and recommends best practice for implementing QR codes.

Tracking QR code usage

This is the second post in a tips and tricks series about QR codes. The full series includes an introduction to QR codes, tracking QR codes, examples of how they are being used in libraries, and best practice tips.

A number of libraries have started using QR codes around their library as a trial to see if they are useful. Anecdotal evidence may help evaluate these, but one method of evaluating how often they have been used is to ensure you use a QR code with trackable statistics.

How can I create a QR code with these statistics?

There are a number of different methods for creating QR codes with trackable statistics, and your choice will be dictated by a number of different factors such as existing systems, administrator access, and convenience.

Method 1: Google Analytics

You may well already use Google Analytics to track statistics of visitors to websites or the success of campaigns, in which case it makes sense to use Google Analytics to track QR code statistics. You can create a custom campaign URL (see custom campaign guide) so that you know people have used the QR code. This can be particularly useful if creating a campaign that you are promoting in a number of different ways – by using different custom URLs you can track how people are accessing the information and measure the success of different techniques.

Once you have created your custom URL it’s a good idea to shorten it (using any URL shortening service such as or before creating the QR code – this will make the QR code much simpler and therefore easier to scan.

Then you can use any QR code creator to get your QR code.

For more information on this, check out this guide from Andrew Preater at Senate House Libraries (which also explains how to add QR codes with trackable statistics to an OPAC).

Method 2: Trackable URL services

Many URL shortening services provide tracking information so you know who has used the shortened URL, when, and where from. If you don’t have Google Analytics you might want to use these to create a trackable URL before creating your QR code. This has the additional bonus as discussed earlier that the resulting QR code won’t be as complex as it is a shorter text string.

It’s even easier with which actually has a QR code automatically created for each shortened URL as standard. To find your QR code just go to the tracking page (through your account page or by adding a + to the end of the URL), and you’ll find a small QR code icon (see image below).

QR codes on

QR codes on

Clicking on the icon opens up a larger QR code in a new page that you can then download and use as you wish.

If you’re using the URL in different places (i.e. online as well as QR code), you’ll be able to see from the statistics page in the referrer section how many have accessed the link via the QR code compared to other sources.

There’s a little more detail in this How To Create a QR Code and Track with blog post.

Something to bear in mind with this option is that you might want to consider customising your link so that it’s something meaningful – having the text libraryfaq in the URL is much better than a random string of text and numbers, especially when users will have to consider whether they actually want to open the URL. In you do this by clicking on the pencil icon to edit the URL and then typing custom text and saving (see image below).

Customising URL

Customising URL

Method 3: QR code creator with tracking

If you’d rather stick with one service and let that take care of the tracking for you, you may wish to use a QR code creator that has tracking capabilities built in (this is probably the simplest route). There is often a charge for this service, though many offer pay as you go packages so you only pay for the number of QR codes you produce. Some examples of services include:

So now we know what QR codes are and how to create ones with tracking capabilities, but so what? What can we use these for in the library? The next post in the series will demonstrate some of the uses for QR codes in libraries.

Introduction to QR codes

This is the first post in a tips and tricks series about QR codes. The full series includes an introduction to QR codes, tracking QR codes, examples of how they are being used in libraries, and best practice tips.

You’ve probably started seeing these strange black and white pixelated boxes appear all over the place – and if you haven’t yet you’ll probably start noticing them soon! I’ve seen them on building sites, museums and galleries, on promotional stands, on products, on leaflets and guides, on TV adverts… everywhere!

What is a QR code?

QR stands for Quick Response and a QR code is a similar concept to a barcode. Scanning a QR code (usually by camera phone) can result in a number of different types of actions, including

  • Opening a URL
  • Displaying text
  • Populating an SMS message (with number to send to and message details/start)
  • Prompting a phone call
  • Displaying someone’s contact details by vCard

Often before scanning a QR code you may not know what it is going to do, so most QR code scanners will let you know and ask if you want to. So for example, if you scan a QR code and it’s going to take you to a web page, it will popup with a message letting you know what the code wants to do and asking if you want to continue.

I have a camera phone, how can I scan QR codes?

You’ll need to download a QR code reader application. Some examples for smartphones include RedLaser (iPhone), ZBar (iPhone), QR Reader (iPhone), i-nigma (iPhone), QRky (Android), QR Droid (Android) and Barcode Scanner (Android), QRafter (iPad), and Norton Snap (iOS or Android). This list is by no means exhaustive – try searching your app store for QR code to look at the different options (some free, some paid). If you have a regular camera phone rather than a smartphone you can often still get a QR code reader; try searching Google for your phone model number and the term QR code reader.

Once you have the reader installed, just look out for QR codes (check out posters and billboards as well as magazine and newspaper advertisements) then launch your reader application and hold your camera up to the QR code. Try this one as a test if you like (it should display text).


I have a cool idea for a QR code, how do I create one myself?

There are lots of QR code creators online, and we’ll explore some of the options in more depth in our upcoming blog post on tracking QR codes (if you’re planning to use them in your library, you will probably find it useful to be able to track usage to measure its success). If you just want to have a quick go now, Kaywa is a really simple creator which allows you to have a go at creating your own for lots of different purposes.

What else do I need to know?

That’s about it in terms of the basics, but we’ll be posting more on this topic including a post on how to create QR codes with tracking capabilities, a post on how QR codes are currently being used in libraries, and a list of considerations for best practice.