Category Archives: Guest blog posts

Branded QR codes – let’s make them interesting!

There have been a few posts on the blog about QR codes, but so far we haven’t looked at how to change them visually to fit into branding guidelines. Jacqui Lockwood from University of Warwick worked on a project to do just that for their library, and this post shares her experiences and provides you with tips for doing the same.

Jacqui Lockwood is the Learning Grid Officer at the University of Warwick Library. Her role mainly involves working alongside the Learning Grid Coordinators, assisting in the smooth running of the four Grid sites and developing the service to ensure it is at the forefront of innovative teaching and learning within the university. She also is involved in marketing, disability awareness, and QR code working groups as well as several other projects. Before this post she worked as a Library Adviser in the Enquiry Support Team and was involved in the development and marketing of the recent Just ASK campaign.

Where it all began

So, let’s face it, QR Codes look rubbish. They’re boring, monotone, blocky, and ugly.

Despite this, they do provide a quick and easy route for customers to reach web based information and resources. The question is how can we use QR Codes without ruining the aesthetics of the overall product?

For those who don’t know, a QR Code is 2-D barcode developed by Denso Wave  (QR Code is a registered trademark of Denso Wave) with the aim of being easily read by a scanner and the potential to hold a great deal of information. On release in 1994, it was originally picked up by automotive companies to help keep track of manufacturing processes. However, thanks to Denso Waves decision not to exercise their patent rights and the emergence of barcode scanning software available on smartphones, advertising moguls saw an opportunity.

It wasn’t long before these little black and white boxes started appearing everywhere, from posters to trucks, drinks cans to coins. The trouble was that people were starting to get a little bored.

Image source: Royal Dutch Mint

Image source: Royal Dutch Mint

So, what was next? One by one, companies and ad agencies started to play around with a rather useful feature of QR Codes – the ability to have an error correction capability of up to 30%. Although this was originally created to assist with the restoration of data, even if the symbol is partially dirty or damaged, it can be exploited to include branding as part of the image.

Image source: SET

Image source: SET

Applying it in the Library…

With such a strong brand identity in place in the University of Warwick Library, it seemed possible to incorporate this into QR Codes to make them part of our designs rather than a scar on them. In May 2012, with the development of the Just ASK campaign building pace, there was an opportunity for me to give this a go.

Warwick Print and the Just ASK marketing team had finalised the branding for the campaign….

Just ASK campaign branding

Just ASK campaign branding

The design seemed to lend itself quite well to the development of a branded QR Code. It took quite a while to get it quite right though…

Version 1

Version 1

Version 1

Starting out with the full word in the middle of the code, although it works and looks quite nice, it didn’t quite keep in with the branding as much as we’d like, so it was back to the drawing board.

Version 2

Version 2

Version 2

Taking the original image from the branding and popping a black QR code over the top worked in matching the branding but the results when trying to scan the code with such a dark background weren’t ideal. People aren’t likely to spend ages trying to get a code to scan, it needed to work first time.

Version 3

Version 3

Version 3

Version 3 became the shining light in this project, the QR code would work in the red and blue picked for Just ASK (the Stewards using black meant that they’d never be much of a problem.)

Version 4 – the final product

Version 4 - the final product

Version 4 - the final product

As incorporating the codes into the advertising went on, the text at the bottom was abandoned and we were left with three clean, crisp, and far less boring QR Codes ready to stick wherever was relevant. All three scan quickly, even when reduced down and printed to sizes below 1.5cm square.

We added them to our advertising material and that was that…

Final advertising material for Just ASK

Final advertising material for Just ASK - depending on your screen resolution, you may wish to view the full sized image (click on image to do so) to scan the QR codes

So, how’s it done?

When first playing about to get an idea of how much you can utilise the error correction capabilities, we started off using Gimp (mainly because it was the only image editing software, besides paint, that I had on my computer!) This was, at times, a little fiddly and it proved easier when playing around, to import the different sections as layers and move them about in Microsoft Publisher.

Once I’d realised the sorts of sizes you can get away with, the colours that work and don’t work, and the key locations that need to be kept free of any branding, it was back to proper image editing software to get them just right.

With the help of our in house IT team, the final QR Codes were created in Adobe Illustrator as vector files. This meant we could change them to any desired size without losing resolution and convert them in to JPEGs when required. The main reason we did this was to ensure that, no matter where we send to image to for printing, it should always arrive as a sharp image. Initial JPEG files sent to the printers came back blurry when incorporated on to leaflet designs.

Developments since then…

Since working on this project, a number of sources have appeared that can help people created braded QR codes without the need for fiddly work in image editing software.
First off is Denso Wave’s own service, LogoQ, the only issue here being that it isn’t a free service. If you’re after a free tool, Unitag helps you customise a branded code to high extent via their free service with the option to pay for more customised work.

Of course, nothing works better than doing it yourself. Any free tool will have limitations on how close you can get it to your branding style.

Would we do it again?

There have been a few other experiments with branded codes at the University of Warwick Library since this project, but the use of all QR Codes, branded or not, is still quite low.

What we learned from this is that, for short campaigns and adverts, branded codes give us a great way of connecting our customers to webpage they may otherwise overlook without compromising our strong marketing style. There is also only a place for these little codes if there is a requirement for the customer to access online material, a pointless link to a redundant website would be a waste of time for both the creator and the scanner.

Now for some top tips…

  1. Keep testing your code.
    Don’t think that because it worked when the added features were a millimetre one way that it will work when you move it. Every time you make an alteration scan that code!
  2. Print out test sizes.
    Try printing out lots of size variations of your created code and check they all scan. If the QR Code has a lot of data in it, reducing the size can make the individual components hard to pick up by your scanner.
  3. Try different scanning devices.
    Don’t just rely on your smartphone. Get an iPad out, or borrow someone else’s smartphone (preferably a different make or model!). You need to make sure that anyone who comes to scan your code should be able to.
  4. Don’t make one just for the sake of it.
    QR Codes can be irritating if they don’t serve a purpose. A recent trip to a nearby library presented me with a QR code on a plasma screen that informed me that the corridor below it led to the toilets. Is that really necessary? Codes that don’t provide the customer with something they might actually be interested in can make them reluctant to bother scanning any of the others you put in place.


Integrating mobile technologies at the University of Surrey Library

A lightning talk at the recent UKSG conference focused on Integrating Mobile Technologies into the Academic Library, based on the experiences of University of Surrey. In this guest blog post, Claire Gill and Claire Gravely share more information about some of the initiatives at University of Surrey Library to support staff deliver services, and to support users. Claire Gill is Virtual Support & eServices Developer, who became interested in mobile technologies as part of her role is to maximise the accessibility and usability of the website and e-resources. Claire Gravely is Information Resources Advisor, who was previously involved with e-resource management and access, which sparked an interest in access to information and resources through new technologies. 


After seeing an increase in the number of users with mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets we decided to investigate the different options available to the Library to support this usage.

Our approach from the start has been to focus on what we can do or change now. This allowed us to take a step back from whether or not we would be able to create and support a mobile app, which seems to be all the rage, and to focus on what was in front of us and the quick wins we could achieve.

Focus on Staff

A first step was to get Library staff introduced to the technology. We held some initial training sessions in which staff were invited to come along and try out a few different tablets and e-readers. This allowed them to have a play with the devices and they were given some basic instructions to show them how a user might access some of our resources through these.

A number of iPads have now been integrated into the staff workflows. We have an iPad for troubleshooting and testing which is used by web development and the e-resources team. The user support team have recently implemented a roving service which now also uses iPads which have been colour coordinated with library staff lanyards to give a more professional presence around the library.

The academic liaison librarians have started to use iPads to support students, and also to take to meetings across campus – they have found them particularly useful to show changes to the website and new resources to their faculties while out and about.

Focus on the user

We wanted to find out what our users wanted from the Library on their mobiles, so we put a poll on our blog, and then held two focus groups.
What came out overwhelmingly was that students didn’t really care where information came from – the Library, or other parts of the University – and wanted an app that would combine all information in one place.

We have therefore been holding talks with the University’s Digital Platforms team looking at creating a University-wide app with input from all departments.

In the meantime we have been doing the things we can do in the Library. We have implemented QR codes (we use to generate these, as we can get statistics). We currently use these on posters, and electronic displays, to link to further information online, or to the contact details of our Academic Liaison Librarians. While the statistics show a relatively low usage of these, the effort involved in creating them is negligible, so we feel it is worth it.

Another easy implementation – just changing a setting – was the mobile version of our Library Catalogue, which is now available for students to search for and renew books on the move – this was a very popular request that came out of the focus groups.

We have created mobile friendly versions of our opening hours page, and of our room bookings site – the latter of which was another need highlighted by the focus groups – and we are working on getting this linked to the physical rooms by use of qr codes.

We have investigated the different apps available for resources we subscribe to and are working on a new webpage to promote the most useful ones to students.

Things to Consider

Some tips for others looking to start implementing mobile technologies would be:

  • Don’t get too bogged down in the app vs mobile responsive design argument
  • Look for things you can change with the resources you have:
    • Changes to optimise webpages that students use most
    • Look for simple uses of free technology such as QR codes to get people started
  • Don’t forget that what works on a monitor may not work on a small phone screen – be prepared to change your way of thinking
  • Don’t forget your staff! If you are expecting your users to use apps and mobile devices then they will come to you for help – make sure your staff are comfortable with the technology
  • Speak to your users! There is no point building fancy apps or responsive web design for pages they won’t use. Focus groups are a great way to get feedback on what your users really think

Beyond 23 Things: mobile skills for Library staff

One of the common barriers preventing implementation of mobile technologies is staff awareness and familiarity. A number of different methods have been used to assist in this area of skills development, and 23 things programmes have been developed to support development of mobile skills – see for example the open 23mobilethings course.

University of Glasgow have developed a 23 things style course for introducing their staff to mobile devices and technologies, and their experiences are shared in this guest blog post by Kay Munro and Karen Stevenson. Kay Munro is convenor of the University of Glasgow Library’s Mobile Technologies Group. Kay is a College Librarian providing support to the College of Social Science. Karen Stevenson is a member of the University of Glasgow Library’s Mobile Technologies Group. Karen is the Library Systems Manager and a member of the Digital Library Team.


23 Things Mobile is a self-directed training course, designed to introduce Library staff to mobile technology and its applications that has been developed by the University of Glasgow Library. The 23 things concept has been widely adopted in recent years and, when looking for an online training model to support a Library staff skills initiative on mobile technology, it was an obvious one to consider. However, because of the dynamic nature of the topic, we wanted to provide staff with a fun and interactive experience which incorporated opportunities to come together to try out devices, apps and activities using the wide range of devices and facilities available in the Library’s Live Lab. So a hybrid model, based on the 23 things idea, was developed.

Course structure

Glasgow’s 23 Things Mobile course is made up of three elements: VLE content, a private blog and group sessions in the Live Lab. The majority of the content is delivered via our VLE, Moodle, which allows us to create visually rich and interactive content. The dedicated blog hosted on WordPress allows participants to engage with each other and share their experiences and thoughts about the course content or related aspects of mobile technology. The Live Lab concept, established at an early stage in Glasgow’s mobile strategy, had been developed to provide Library staff with the opportunity to use a wide range of mobile devices in a dedicated space within the Library, or to borrow for use at conferences or at home. The Live Lab sessions for 23 Things Mobile took place half way through the course and brought participants together in small groups to try out a range of devices and a series of fun, but related, tasks which covered all aspects of the course content.

Course content

A decision taken early in the process was that the focus would be on mobile technology in general and not specifically on its application to libraries. The aim was to develop skills generally to increase confidence and familiarity with all aspects of the mobile environment. The course content was created in-house, but did incorporate content from external sources, such as the websites of the major device manufacturers and software developers as well as blogs and other social media outputs from the technology and academic communities. The content was a mixture of text, images, video, audio, presentations and quizzes. Using the 23 things model, the course was structured around a number of themes with several ‘things’ grouped together in each theme.

  • Devices: phones, tablets
  • Networks: wifi, 3G/4G, the cloud
  • Applications: mobile web, apps, QR codes
  • Communicating: blogs, text/instant messaging, email, Facebook, Twitter
  • Library stuff: ebooks, ejournals, mobile databases
  • Fun stuff: Live Lab, music, photos/videos, gaming
  • Other: introductory session, mobile futures, 23 Things round-up quiz

The order of the main themes was determined to ensure that the course was progressive, allowing participants to build on knowledge from week to week. We also tried not to make any assumptions about the skill level of participants. The course was therefore designed to be introductory but with opportunities for discovery of more technical aspects via optional ‘Geek spots’.

Pilot study

The first version of the programme was tested with a small pilot study of 23 participants. This gave us the opportunity to test both the content and the administration of the course. It ran for 10 weeks during late summer 2012. Fifteen participants (65%) completed the whole course. Of the eight participants who failed to complete the course, two only failed to complete the final week but four completed less than 50% of the course. Evidence gathered from post-pilot interviews with participants who failed to complete the course and analyses of the Moodle logs suggest that making time each week proved difficult for certain grades of staff. The reasons for this appear to be varied, but holidays, illness and the pressure of work all seemed to be contributory factors. It was clear that some individuals struggled to motivate themselves to complete the course once they had slipped behind with the weekly programme. A few participants also reported that they felt that they already knew a lot about mobile technology and/or had no interest in certain aspects of the course.

Reassuringly, 100% of participants who responded to the post-pilot survey said that they would recommend the course to a colleague and in response to questions about course content, 90% indicated that it was pitched ‘just right’. The most popular element of the course was the Live Lab session, “I like the idea of getting mixed groups of people together and letting them have the space to play around”. Several respondents asked for more of this type of activity during the course, while others recommended that more support should be available during the Live Lab session.

Course roll-out

Following on from the pilot, the course was approved by Library senior management and has now become a mandatory training requirement for all Library staff. The course is currently being rolled out in a number of tranches, with 40 per tranche, to all daytime staff in the first instance. On the basis of pilot feedback, the course structure was reduced to 8 weeks plus an introductory session, which also gives participants the opportunity to meet each other. Where necessary, participants who are not in positions which allow them to manage their own working day are timetabled a 1 hour slot each week specifically for this activity.


The amount of time and commitment to delivering a staff training programme of this size and complexity in a large academic library is considerable. The course is currently administered by 3 members of the Library’s Digital Media Skills Group. The expectation is that, in the future, colleagues who have been through the 23 Things Mobile course will be able to contribute to its ongoing administration and provide support for current participants. Some of the pilot participants have already taken the opportunity to become ‘Geek buddies’ and are actively engaged in the 23 Things Blog and are also providing invaluable support during the Live Lab sessions. We hope that as the pool of staff completing the course increases, more ‘Geek buddies’ will emerge and will contribute not only to the administration and support for 23 Things Mobile, but will become involved with updating content.

The end … so far

The first tranche of 40 staff, post-pilot, are coming to the end of the course, and the second tranche is just underway. It looks like we are heading for 100% completion rate of tranche 1 participants, and there have been high levels of interaction in the blog about the course and other aspects of mobile technology. Here are just a few comments from the group who are just finishing:

I’ve just completed the quiz and feel genuinely deflated that my 23 Things experience is over; 8 weeks have just whizzed past! Good luck to the recently enrolled newbies, I hope you enjoy as much as I have and learn lots of new things…or 23.

I can’t believe it is 8 weeks since we started 23 things mobile! I suppose time is really fast when you are having fun? I have learned quite a lot during the course, and I can now show off to my friends when they ask what does that mean? or how can you do this on your mobile?

The course was well paced, extremely informative, varied, interesting, thought-provoking, and, ultimately, somewhat scary (Week 8 and the future!). But above all it was FUN, as promised at our induction! … And may I ask if former participants are still allowed to blog occasionally should the desire seize them?

Access to the Moodle and blog remain open to all previous participants. This allows them to refresh their knowledge as content changes and keep updated with the Library’s mobile initiatives, and hopefully, to continue to support their colleagues as they embark on the 23 Things Mobile adventure. For the course administrators, delivering the programme to our evening and weekend staff will be the next challenge!

A longer version of this paper will appear in Issue 58 of SCONUL Focus:

QR QR: quick referencing with QR codes

QR code to mobile referencing project information

QR code to mobile referencing project information


This guest blog post is based on a current QR code project to help students with referencing. Nic Howorth and Sarah Munks are Subject Librarians at the University of Huddersfield. Sarah is based at the Barnsley campus and has responsibility for Art, Design and Architecture and Music subject areas. Nic looks after the School of Education and Professional Development. Both regularly deliver information skills sessions to students and staff. 

Project aim

To make use of QR code and mobile technology to provide in-hand, timely, text specific referencing advice for students.


  • Utilise QR code/mobile technology to improve student’s citation and referencing skills
  • Provide referencing support to students anytime, anywhere
  • Enhance the student learning experience using mobile technology
  • Cross collaboration: liaise with module leaders to ensure key texts are included in the project
  • Cross collaboration: liaise with academic skills tutor to ensure referencing and citation information is accurate
  • To reach those student who may be unwilling to ask for help
  • Promote QR codes as a tool for learning

Project overview

The project is based at our campus library in Barnsley and is investigating the willingness of students’ use of mobile and QR code technology to access learning support. Recent research has suggested that the rise in use of mobile technology is resulting in more and more learning taking place outside the traditional classroom or lecture theatre (Solvberg & Rismark, 2012) and the increase in and availability of mobile devices and developments in technology (smartphones, tablets, portable music players etc) allow users to readily and easily access the internet or download applications (Walsh, 2012).

Students want more choice with regards to when and how they learn and increasingly want to be able to use their own mobile device to access teaching and learning materials. Using QR Codes is an ideal way of utilising user owned mobile technology to engage and support learners. As a result a short survey was conducted at the campus and revealed 66% of respondents owned a smart phone, and 68% of these students would use it to access help with referencing which started the project.

Mobile referencing blog

Mobile referencing blog (click to visit)

Two courses were identified within the School of Education and Professional Development but with a different demographic of students for each course. The project hopes to identify if students on a particular course and part of a particular demographic were more or less likely to use mobile technology to access learning support. A reading list from a PGCE in-service module and Early Years BA (Hons) module were utilised and a blog entry for each title on the reading lists was created. The blog entry advises students how to produce an in-text citation and reference using our institutions Harvard referencing guide. QR codes were then produced linking to each of the blog entries and attached to each text on the reading lists with text advising students what the code was for. A decision was made early on to promote the QR codes to one group of students and leave the other to their own devices with a view of seeing if promotional activities make a difference with regards to usage.

Current progress

  • During December we promoted the QR codes in referencing sessions delivered to the PGCE cohort.
  • During March we ran an exit survey to gauge the level of awareness of QR technology amongst our student population. The results are being reviewed.
  • The project is still on-going and the next steps are to arrange focus groups with students to gain qualitative feedback. In particular the usefulness of delivering advice/support using QR codes and mobile technology, the analytics of hits/views to the blog posts will also be reviewed.


We used the free Kaywa QR code generator as this allowed us to produce and save multiple QR codes. We have since discovered Power QR which allows you to produce a QR code then change what it links to remotely without having to re-produce or re-print additional codes. This wouldn’t have worked for our referencing project but would be ideal if you’re thinking of using QR codes as promotional tools (i.e. you could link to a different site/resource each week using the same QR code).

As the referencing information was probably going to be viewed using a mobile device we used WordPress to create our blog as their blogs are optimized for viewing on a mobile device. Where possible, we included an image of the book cover for each blog post to make it more visual – see the Mobile Referencing blog for examples.


Solvberg, A., and Rismark, M. (2012) ‘Learning spaces in mobile learning environments’. Active Learning in Higher Education. 13 (1), pp.23-33.
Walsh, A. (2012) Using mobile technology to deliver library services: A handbook. London: Facet.

Evaluating QR code generators

We’ve previously shared some tips and advice about how to use QR codes, but today we’re looking a slightly different angle – how do you decide which tool to use? To cover this topic we have a guest blog post from Neil Ford, Academic Liaison Development Manager for Library and Learning Support at Bournemouth University. Neil has previous experience in health, public, commercial and academic libraries, current interests include: digital literacy and academic skills support, QR codes, collection development, co-creation of reading lists in academic liaison.

Evaluating QR codes

Evaluating QR codes

There are now a wealth of free QR code generators on the web. Google,, Delivr etc.

Recently colleagues and students who want to use QR codes in their work have been asking “which tool should I use”? With so much choice it can be a difficult question, and one that depends partly on what you want to achieve with your QR campaign. In this post, I’m going to discuss some criteria that can be used to evaluate URL shortening and QR code generating tools. I’ll be drawing on experience using these tools on a recent project at Bournemouth University that introduced QR codes to our book shelves to guide students to relevant ebooks.

URL shortening

Many online tools now enable you to create shortened URLs and QR codes. This dual functionality makes a lot of sense as the shorter the URL, the easier the QR code is going to be to scan.

Are all URL shorteners equal? Well no!

In terms of technical performance there is quite a difference between different providers.

Another point to consider is whether the tool been designed as a URL shortener or as a QR code generator or both? This might seem like a silly question but, how the tools developers see the product, could have a profound effect on its usability for your purpose (see the section on user interface below).

Image quality

The size and quality of a QR code can have a significant effect on how easy it is for devices to scan. It’s worth comparing the images that different tools produce to see how well the image meets your  needs. How big is the QR code that is produced? Will it meet your needs or will you need to edit it using an image editor?

Again this may not matter too much if you are only producing a couple of codes. If you’re working with large numbers of codes you will want to avoid too much work manipulating images. In general: the larger the image, the better! It’s much easier to shrink an image and maintain quality than vice-versa.

The media that you use to deliver your QR codes will affect how important this criteria is to you. If you are producing codes for a small handout or business card then image size may not matter (as users can get right up close to scan the code). If you’re using codes on posters, signage or lecture slides it may be more of an issue. Creating and testing a prototype using a variety of tools will help you to find out which tools meet your needs.

User Interface

How easy is it to shorten the URL and get a QR code out of the interface? If you are just producing a few codes for posters then this may not be such a concern for you. If however you are producing hundreds or even thousands of codes then ease of use is going to matter! Even a couple of extra clicks could make a great difference. Half way through our QR code project at BU,’s user interface was “enhanced”, which added extra steps to the process of getting to a QR code. Whilst you can’t control how web tools develop their interfaces, you can select a tool that demonstrates concern for their user community when implementing change.


Metrics always useful to track value

Metrics always useful to track value

Seeing the number of hits on your QR code should be a key part of your ongoing evaluation of your QR campaign. Does the service you’re using to create your shortened URLs and QR codes enable you to see the usage? Statistics about how and when your users access library resources can be part of the added value that you can get from a QR campaign. As well as promoting resources, usage statistics can tell you about how and when your users want to access library resources.


You may need to dust off your crystal ball for this one. Free, web-based tools offer us great opportunities but it’s important to remember that, even though the tool may be “free” you are investing your time and work in using it. There is always a risk that the tools will change, move, or even disappear… (did anyone else feel slightly nervous when that whole Delicious thing was going on?). While there are no guarantees, if reliability is important to you then it may be worth going with a well-established tool like Google, even if you prefer a different user interface or URL shortener. If the worst happened and the tool that you’ve used for your url shortening were to disappear, how easy would it be to move your shortened urls and QR codes to another platform? Keeping a record of the targets that your QR codes point to is one way to recover from such a disaster with minimum fuss!

Persistence vs flexibility

Similar to the last point, you may want to consider the life cycle of your shortened URL/ QR code. One of the main reasons that we chose to use for our QR code shortener was that it guaranteed that the shortened URL was persistent and would not expire. At the time this seemed like a benefit. Reflecting back though, being able to change the target of our QR codes would have been a better attribute. Shortly after our QR codes were added to the shelves, we learnt that our library catalogue (our QR codes point to catalogue searches for ebooks) had changed ownership and as a result would be changing their URL! This means that we will need to create new shortened URLs and QR code labels for about 1,000 catalogue searches!

Fortunately, we have recorded our searches and will be able to complete the work efficiently. Looking on the bright side, this gives us an opportunity to re-evaluate the tools we’ve been using and move to one that better meets our needs in terms of usability, metrics and flexibility.

I hope this has been a useful reflection. I’d love to hear about your experiences creating QR codes. Which of the criteria above are important to you? Do you have any other considerations when choosing this sort of tool?

What’s in an app? Mobile-ising the library at Birmingham City University

Annmarie Lee

This guest blog post is written by Annmarie Lee, an Assistant Liaison Librarian – Enquiry Services for Library and Learning Resources at Birmingham City University. On a day to day basis she is part of a team that provide enquiry services at the University’s Health library and Art and Design libraries. She has participated in several strategic projects including the development of a single Help Desk within the libraries, the implementation of a library online chat service and more recently the use of mobile technologies in libraries.

The situation

As part of Library and Learning Resources’ Mobile Technologies working group at Birmingham City University, a small working group was established to look at the development of the library facility on the Birmingham City University Mobile App (iBCU).

Surveying other libraries

Our first task was to find out what functionality is currently being offered by libraries through mobile apps. We devised a short survey asking libraries to share with us what their mobile app included.

A total of 28 responses were received from both public and academic libraries both within the UK and internationally.

Respondents indicated that 61% used Apple devices for their library apps, followed closely by 54% using Android devices. 82% indicated that they used a mobile web app (accessed via mobile browser).

In terms of library features, contact details, a facility to search for books and library opening hours prevailed with the highest response rates.  Library locations and account information were also popular features available. The one feature we were particularly interested in was the ability to book library tutorials via a mobile app; however no respondents listed this as a feature of their mobile app. The chart below shows more information on the results:

Which of the features does your library's mobile app have?

Which of the features does your library's mobile app have?

Surveying our users

Following on from this, we decided to survey our users to see what library features they would like to use through a mobile app. In order to avoid a clash with the National Student Survey and also to gain insight from users who may already be familiar with mobile apps, we decided on conducting a Facebook and Twitter poll posing the following question:

Facebook poll for BCU users

Facebook poll for BCU users

Early results indicate that managing library accounts are of most interest, with searching for books, accessing electronic resources like e-books and e-journals, and booking study rooms also likely to be popular features.

What next?

The iBCU app already has a library facility to view your account details. The next step will be to work with ICT to look at the feasibility of adding functionality to this like the ability to renew items. A separate working group has also been established to look at embedding mobile apps like that of the EBSCO database into the existing iBCU app.

Report from LIR/AGI Mobile Technologies Symposium, Dublin, 22nd November 2012

Time for another guest blog post, this time from Hugh Murphy who presented at the LIR/AGI Mobile Technologies Symposium. The day generated some really interesting discussion on social media, and all presentations and videos are now available at First a brief introduction to Hugh…

I have the wonderfully protracted title of Senior Librarian, Collection Management Services here at NUI Maynooth. Basically this puts me in the enviable position of having responsibility for and causing general confusion  in our collections (print, rare and digital), our technical services and systems departments. I find technology to be both a massive enabler but also frequently an inhibitor – and this is one of the critical things that fascinates me about mobile – when it’s good, it’s very very good, but when it’s bad (or ill conceived)… well,  I am also a dedicated fighter in the battle against techno determinism. If you want to talk to me, consider a carrier pigeon, flag semaphore or, more realistically either or @hughtweet

Over to Hugh for his event report…

Two powerhouse communities of librarians in Ireland, LIR and the Acquisition Group of Ireland joined forces to host Mobile Technologies Symposium recently in Dublin in November 2012. Featuring a variety of interesting presentations from practitioners on both sides of the Irish Sea, the high attendance was a sure sign that it was a topic of interest to those of us who work in libraries (and beyond).  Throughout the talks and from informal discussions, there really was a genuine sense that ‘mobile’s time has come’ – so many of the tools are in place, however what appears to be frequently lacking was the sense that adequate resourcing could be put in place.

Hugh Murphy

Hugh Murphy

I had the honour of speaking in an introductory capacity, with Getting a handle on handheld” and I was at pains to stress the point that mobile is a service option – it is not something that we should simply do because we can.  Thankfully my talk and this point in particular seemed to be quite well received (who wants to die on stage!) and the evidence from those giving case studies seemed to indicate both a considerable amount of thought having gone into the provision of a service, but also thinking seriously about the ‘why’ of it.

Next up was Mobilising your e-content: scholarly information on the move from Alison McNab – who is undoubtedly familiar to many as one of the more prominent voices in this area.  Alison’s talk could scarcely have been more comprehensive and strikes me as a perfect stepping on point for anyone looking to dive into this arena. (Warning – the arena, being mobile, may have moved so look before you leap).  A critical part of Alison’s presentation focused on the gulf that exists between what commercial vendors and publishers are supplying and what we as librarians, and what our users need.  That gulf is vast.

Alison McNab

Alison McNab

Alison’s presentation was complimented in many ways by Ronán Kennedy from NUI Galway who gave us “Who’s doing what: a quick guide of how providers are approaching mobile content”.  Ronán’s typically pithy presentation showed what his institution are doing, but also placed it in the context of broader mobile solutions – again including those offered by vendors generally.

UCD, as Ireland’s largest institution could well be expected to be on the cutting edge of developments in this area and they certainly appear to be moving in the right direction, judging from Joshua Clark and Samantha Drennan’s presentation on “The Mobile Library at UCD – Achievements and Plans”.  Talking to us about developments in UCD and beyond, they really conveyed a sense that the sea change towards mobilised content is growing ever stronger. UCD have taken the opportunity to include mobile optimised content when redesigning their whole web experience – a decision which presumably will continue to pay off for them for some considerable time.

In terms of policy – Ros Pan (also of UCD) spoke about  “library apps: their place in an overall mLibrary strategy and options for creation” Ros is working on a project which will endeavour to give a national snapshot of where we are in terms of library apps and mobilised content. No doubt we can learn from colleagues in the UK who have already undertaken (and benefited?) from a lot of this type of work.

Louise Saults

Louise Saults

NUI Maynooth was ably represented by Louise Saults, who spoke about a very successful NUIM Library Kindle Pilot project which we put in place in 2011 and which is still going strong. The success of this project, to my mind proves that it doesn’t have to be entirely ‘bells and whistles’ – that sometimes the less elaborate option is actually the service solution which our users needs.  That said, the success of this project suggests to me that our users might be ready for another, new solution and it’s up to us to find one that suits them.

David Kane, of Waterford Institute of Technology and Jil Fairclough, of Brighton & Sussex Medical School gave talks which, while arguably more ‘niche’ were no less interesting for it. Jill spoke about “putting digital mobile resources in the hands of medical students – impact, lessons learnt and the future” which detailed findings of the MoMEd project.  This project seems to have been very comprehensively planned and carried out and, from a technology view point, it was fascinating to see the challenges which occur when a project straddles a few years – the tech involved in delivering content has changed dramatically – from PDAs (remember them?!) to Smartphones.  David spoke about the creation of a Plug-in for Moodle and how best to optimise their intuitions’ services in this regard – for mobile and beyond.

Andrew Walsh, University of Huddersfield, is very familiar to many for his participation in Lemontree and he spoke about this in his presentation on “Lemons, badges, fun and games: Gamification and Libraries”.  Having followed the progress of this work from afar it was great to get some detail from one of the central players. What was particularly interesting to me was the fact that part of the potential outcome of the game is to affect user attendance patterns – for example to incentives coming in at certain times.

In conclusion the symposium was excellent – and it would have been hard to give greater illustration of the sheer breadth of work that can fall under the mantle of ‘mobile’.  Of course this diversity brings even greater challenges in many ways, but also indicates to me, that there is huge scope for librarians and others to think very creatively in terms of provision of a new type of service – a service which our users do appear to want.  It would have been nice to have seen somebody discussing Augmented Reality in a library context – this will have to go on the post Christmas to do list. Which will, of course be on my Smartphone!

Copac Mobile case study

Many service providers have been through processes to determine what, if any, support their users would like to enable access to their service via mobile devices. For some this is due to customer demand (i.e. statistics showing people are accessing their services/resources via mobile devices), whilst for others this is from customer feedback or anecdotal evidence. Copac, which brings together over 70 of UK and Ireland’s research library catalogues (funded by JISC and administered by Mimas) is one such service wanting to understand what their users would like. This case study from project manager Janine Rigby outlines some of the activities they undertook as part of this mobile project and what they plan to do for future. 

Mobile Copac

The new Copac was launched on the 1st May 2012, with a new interface designed to facilitate easier navigation on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. This new interface is the result of extensive user research and user interface design. Here’s our story.

Mobile at Mimas – a quick history

We’ve been monitoring the uptake of mobile technology and its impact on education for over five years. One of the first Mimas mobile developments was the mobile friendly version of our Hairdressing Training service, which proved popular with users and went on to win an award for innovation at the Handheld Learning Awards in 2008. The success of this site initiated further projects at Mimas, including the Intute Mobile Internet Detective project, which took an online tutorial and redeveloped it for mobiles.

The decision to develop more mobile friendly sites was informed both by secondary data and the analysis of our own primary user data. Throughout this time we monitored mobile usage on Google Analytics for all of our services, carried out user research and collated external evidence from sources such as professional conferences and the 2010 Horizon Report which highlighted mobile computing as a technology which was going to be adopted by the teaching and learning community within the next year.

The most compelling evidence for the growing mobile trend came from our own users, and in particular from the market research we conducted for the Mobile Internet Detective in 2009/10. This revealed that, although students were not using the mobile web extensively for academic research, they would use the mobile Internet for their academic work if:

  • their phones had larger screens
  • it was quick and easy to load and navigate Web sites
  • it was cheaper or free (included in their contract) to access the Internet

In 2009, most of our focus group participants were not smartphone users, but there was a definite desire to upgrade. Towards the end of 2010, whilst conducting studies with research students we asked what phones they used and how important mobile accessibility was to them. In a nutshell, it was clear that barriers to uptake highlighted by the Mobile Internet Detective Research were no longer significant. In the space of just two years, our users had upgraded to smartphones and now expected every website they visited to be mobile accessible.

Clearly, our services needed to be mobile.

Making Copac mobile

With Copac undergoing re-engineering and a website redesign in 2011, it made sense to look at mobile accessibility of the site as part of this process, especially when we saw that the number of hits from mobile users had grown exponentially. For example the month of March 2010 showed that Copac was accessed by a mobile device on 198 separate occasions. This is less than 1% of total visits to Copac for March, but for the same month a year later, (2011) Copac received a total of 367 visits from mobile devices. Admittedly this is still less than 1% of total visits, but still represents a dramatic increase.

With the re-engineering underway, we began investigating the various options for services to achieve mobile friendliness.

The Technology

Following the user requirements gathering exercise for the mobile development, the technical team took the findings and developed a responsive mobile design for the alpha version of Copac. This design used HTML5 and CSS to ‘rearrange’ the web page depending on the size of the screen, and was optimised to allow users to interact with alpha.Copac from multiple smartphone devices and tablets. Users would see a different arrangement of screen elements depending on the device.

Asking the users

We tested the prototype mobile Copac site with 10 postgraduate students in August 2011. This consisted of a focus group and in depth user testing exercises with students using their own personal smartphones.

These researchers rated the usability of the mobile interface highly, and the overall experience of the Copac website was positive, the majority scoring it as ‘it is nice’ and it was ‘totally easy’ or ‘quite easy to use’.

As with our previous user research, reactions to using mobile devices were mixed. Research, for them, was not done on an adhoc basis, but required much planning and organising. They tended to set aside specific time to browse resources on the internet and acquired the resources they needed to do this – a computer, a desk, notepads and reference books. Access via a smartphone was seen as convenient for those last minute panics, but not the access choice of preference when serious research is required. On a practical level the small screen alone is a big put off for serious research sessions.

‘I would certainly use this if I could not get access to a computer, but if I could easily access a computer that would be preferred over using my phone’. Mobile user tester Copac, August 2011.

However, a small minority used their smartphones above all other devices and didn’t see screen size as an issue. They had familiarised themselves with the small screen using other websites and were prepared to persevere to get information quickly and at their convenience.

‘It’s a great idea and it works well. Good if you can’t get access to a computer and saves time if speed is important to you’. Mobile user tester Copac, August 2011.

All of the volunteers that took part in the user testing, had used their smartphones to access the internet to varying degrees. But although the majority still preferred to browse on their computers if given a choice, none of the testers said that they would never use Copac on their mobile. In fact, the majority said that they might find a mobile Copac useful and a small minority couldn’t wait to use it.

Although there was commonality between the groups, (that they all at some point had used a mobile site), all groups had individuals who were high end users and early adopters of technology and others in the groups who enjoyed their phone but, always returned to a computer when available.

Future proofing

In March 2012 Copac received 1,303 separate visits from mobile devices – an increase of over 500% since March 2010. Visitors to the site via mobile devices are also staying on Copac for longer and viewing more pages whilst they are there and, significantly, they’re also using different devices. By far the most popular mobile device used to access Copac this year is the Apple iPad – a device that is, perhaps, more suited to the demands of research than a smartphone.

Attitudes and opportunities to access the internet on mobile devices has changed considerably over the past 3 years and we are in no doubt that attitudes will continue to change. Our conversations with researchers suggest that some will welcome mobile accessibility and use it immediately, others will use it when needed and some will not use it at all. But if mobile use increases as our statistics suggest, by making the site mobile friendly the Copac service is effectively future proofed and ready for the increased uptake.

What now for mobile at Mimas?

With the new Copac now launched, the Mimas Marketing Team are working closely with the Copac service to monitor mobile usage using a combination of statistics gathered from Google Analytics and feedback from users. But it isn’t just Copac that is seeing an increase in mobile usage. The number of users accessing Mimas services by mobile devices increases daily, and as a result, more of Mimas services and projects will be exploring and using the lessons learnt from this project to implement mobile friendly designs.

You can also download a pdf version of the Copac Mobile case study.

Cambridge Journals Online (CJO) to Kindle

There have been a number of discussions and requests recently about information on what different content providers are offering to support access to their resources via mobile devices. I’m hoping to publish some information on this in the next few weeks (based on our own research and speaking to a number of different library content providers). If you know of any useful resources (e.g. mobile apps, mobile web websites, access to resources via e-readers), please let me know

In the meantime, we have a guest blog post from one such provider, Cambridge Journals Online, about their new method for readers to send articles direct to their Kindles. This post has been written by Danny Davies, Senior Online Development Executive at Cambridge Journals. 

Danny Davies is part of the growing Cambridge Journals Online Development team, with a particular interest in gadgetry – tablets, e-readers, phones. He is also responsible for CJO Mobile (“you can thank me later”, he said “sweets are always welcome…”). All opinions are his own. Apart from those he’s pinched.

Over to Danny…

If you look closely at a full text article on CJO, you may notice we’ve introduced a new, rather unassuming little link. As of this release (CJO Release 12-1, if we’re using proper names), if you have access to the full text of an article, in PDF or HTML format, we’ve implemented a means to email that article to read on your Kindle. When you click the button on your computer and enter your Kindle email address, CJO will send the paper you’re reading direct to your Kindle. The article will then appear in your Kindle home screen when you next sync your device, ready to read off line. You’ll find this link in the left hand menu for PDF or above the headers on HTML article.

CJO-to-Kindle button

CJO-to-Kindle button

So why have we done this? We’ve held to something of an unspoken convention so far, in that we don’t normally develop specifically for one manufacturer’s hardware. It’s why we didn’t rush headlong into developing a CJO app for iOS, but instead created a mobile web version (iPad users, of course, can take advantage of the full site anyway). There are a number of e-readers on the market, and the Kindle, it seems, doesn’t share its competitors’ tastes as far as file formats go.

We’ve admitted in the past that a fair few of us here at Cambridge Journals are rather fond of the Kindle, so I think we’d be lying if we claimed that didn’t shape this development just a little. But, staff preferences aside, the Kindle is being mentioned at more and more journal editorial meetings as a preferred reading environment. Also, there is a very mature infrastructure behind the Kindle, and there are enough of them out in the wild to make it worth the gamble, without worrying that support for the device is going to disappear.

At the moment, HTML articles are text-only (no images yet), so we’re kind of considering this a ‘beta’ feature, but we’re working on improving it for future releases. Most of all, we’d like to know how it works for you and if you find it useful.

Please let us know by commenting or using the CJO feedback form here. Alternatively, leave a note on our Facebook wall, or tweet us @CambridgeJnls.

This post first appeared on the Cambridge Journals Blog ( on 23rd April 2012.

Mobile Leeds Met Library – developing and promoting our mobile provision

This guest blog post is from Debbie Morris from Leeds Metropolitan University and discusses their research into user needs and their subsequent plans for supporting mobile technologies. Over to Debbie…

Increasingly, Library users at Leeds Metropolitan University are requesting all kinds of mobile access, from expecting that our e-books and digital readings can be viewed on a e-book reader (sounds obvious, opens a huge can of worms) to asking if their timetable is available to view on a smartphone (yes it is!).

What do users want via mobile?

Early in 2012 we conducted a short online survey about mobile access. Over 500 of our users responded.  They told us that the top 5 services they would like to access via a mobile device were:

  • Timetables
  • Emails
  • Virtual Learning Environment
  • University Portal
  • Library Catalogue / Account

Key findings of the survey found:

  • many students feel that an iPhone/Android app is necessary and that the university should already have this feature;
  • more focus needs to be put on advertising the mobile services we already have and how to use/access them (the majority of respondents said accessing timetables and emails would be of great benefit to them – these are services we already have available);
  • when creating any kind of mobile access, focus need to be placed on iPhone, Android and Blackberry;
  • there is an overwhelming feeling against charging for any type of mobile application.

Quick wins

I’m sure we are not alone in needing to look at cost-effective ways of delivering mobile provision.  With this in mind, we have started to work on some quick wins that will make improvements at low/no cost and will only take a short time to develop:

  • produce some custom Library webpages suitable for mobile access/install an open source CMS for mobile access and use this as a portal to all other Library Mobile enabled services;
  • install and configure a low-cost library system API to utilise free Library mobile apps;
  • list journals/databases with mobile access on the new Library mobile site, begin to build each subject area a mobile page;
  • increase the promotion of current services which already provide mobile access.

Long term plans

For the longer term, we are now connecting with colleagues across the University to ensure that our mobile plans complement the direction of the pan-University mobile strategy.

For further information please contact the Project Manager – Adam Watson (@adlab/ or Debbie Morris (@debbiemn/

I’ll leave you with a word-cloud summary of responses from our users, when asked, ‘What could we do to improve access from mobile devices for you?’ (my favourite is –buymeaniphone!)

Tag cloud

What could we do to improve access from mobile devices for you? tag cloud