Category Archives: Guest blog posts

Using SMS to reach students at Birmingham City University Library

This guest post is written by Chris Langham, Deputy Systems Librarian at Birmingham City University. It is also published on the BCU eLibrary blog.

In May 2008, we started sending out Library SMS Notifications at Birmingham City University. Initially this was just for library material that was 18 days overdue, but has since been extended to include a range of other notifications. The types of notifications which we now send by SMS include:

1. Items 8 days overdue
2. Items 18 days overdue
3. Reserved material ready to be collected
4. Physical Inter Library Loan ready to be collected.

SMS gets through to students

While this service was primarily targeted at students, any borrower with a mobile number in their library record can be sent these notifications.

In February 2009, we started sending SMS notifications for library material which was 8 days overdue. Following this change, we saw a drop in the number of 18 day overdue emails of between 25% and 50%. Library material was getting back into circulation sooner and students were paying less in Library fines. After we started sending out SMS informing borrowers that their reservation was ready to be collected, we found that there were fewer uncollected reservations and reservations were spending less time on the shelf waiting to be collected.

The service has been almost universally popular among students and there have been very few drawbacks to sending SMS. Although, the cost of sending SMS inhibits us using it for sending other reminders, such as sending an SMS reminder on the date that the item is due. Another concern is the accuracy of student mobile phone numbers. Students give mobile numbers at the start of their course or on course application, and they don’t always inform their Faculty when they get a new mobile number.

Is anyone else using SMS in this way? Any feedback to share?

Cambridge Judge Business School mobile app

Meg Westbury

Meg Westbury

This post is a guest blog post from Meg Westbury, Projects Officer for Cambridge Judge Business School Information and Library Services. She tweets at @meg_librarian and blogs at Library Pie.

Founded in 1990, the Cambridge Judge Business School is a world-class business school offering a wide-range of graduate and undergraduate degrees in business and finance. Information & Library Services seek to support the mission of the school by offering a wide variety of electronic and print resources, along with regular workshops in new and social media and experimenting with innovative ways of marketing its services. Over to Meg…

We want a mobile app – library specific or wider organisation app?

In the summer of 2011, we decided to make a library app.  We had just revamped our blog/website, but were not happy with how the site looked on mobile devices.  We thought that an app would be the best way to deliver mobile content, as we reflected that we personally didn’t do much on our smart phones if there wasn’t an app for it!

We planned to develop the app separately from the business school at large, as we thought it would be done quicker that way, but political and collaborative pressures led us in the autumn to team up with other departments to create a school-wide app, one component of which would be for library services.  The app committee that was formed consisted of people from IT, Information & Library Services and staff from the school’s various programmes.

Who is our audience?

From day one, the app has been thought of as being for current students enrolled at the school.  Another approach could have been to make an app for external audiences, which largely presented information about the school’s programmes.  But we wanted to make the app super useful – a Swiss army knife of sorts – that would help students get to information and services they needed quickly.

What do they want?

Initial focus groups

To understand students’ needs, we set up two focus groups to have discussions about what ideally students would want out of an app.  We asked for volunteers for these groups, and we gave them lunch: an approach which yielded two focus groups of about 5 students each, with representation across the school’s programmes.

At the focus groups, we tried to make questions open ended, concentrating on asking about what information students regularly needed to find and what they currently found difficult about the process.  The results were helpful though predictable.  Students mainly felt frustrated about all the different places they needed to go for information (e.g., the school intranet, the library portal, their course VLE, etc.).  With an app – i.e., with a single press of a button – they wanted all their most important information at their fingertips, especially information about timetables, library services, school events and room bookings.

The focus groups were helpful and gave us a starting point for discussions about what the app should do overall, but we still didn’t feel we had a strong sense of what to prioritise and put into the first release.  The focus groups generated a lot of ideas – too many really for the first version of the app —  and we weren’t sure how the larger student body would rank those ideas.

Wider survey

So in January 2012, we developed a general survey for students about what ideally they’d like in an app.  After asking about what programme they were in and about their usage of mobile devices, we asked them to brainstorm how an app could help them and then, in the next question, listed all the suggestions from the focus groups and had the students rank them using a point system.  (We offered 3-£20 vouchers to Amazon as an incentive to complete the survey.)

137 students completed the survey, representing 23% of the students.  53% of the respondents were from the MBA and EMBA programmes, with the remainder from the various Masters, MPhil and PhD programmes.

In terms of mobile device usage, 60% said they use Apple iPhones or iPads, and another 18% use Androids.  12% use Blackberries and 1% use Windows phones.  The remaining respondents use other devices such as the Nokia Symbian.

Not surprisingly, up-to-date information about time tables was first in both the suggestion- and ranking-portions of the survey.  Not-so-predictably, however, was how high library services ranked.  In the free-suggestion part of the survey, library services were the second-most frequently requested feature for the app (tied with information about school news and events).  In the ranking part of the survey, 4 of the top 10 features prioritised by students were aspects of library services.  Wow.

What library services did students ask for?  The top requests were the ability to

  • Access ebooks the library offers, especially those on reading lists
  • Access mobile-friendly research databases
  • Request and renew books
  • Ask a librarian a question

We at Information & Library Services were pleased (ok, chuffed!) with the results, not least because they showed the school that we are not an antiquated little department, quietly guarding our dusty collection of books (which is how we seem to be perceived by some parts of the school).  The students clearly said that along with other crucial information they regularly need, library services were an absolute necessity for their success as students.

So what now?

We are now working intently to have a version of the app ready for the new students in September 2012.  We are proud that the first release will feature library services so prominently.  It feels like a nice reward for all of the outreach, marketing and good public service we’ve done over the past years.  The students very clearly value our resources.

Fourth International M-Libraries Conference: call for papers now open

This post is a guest blog post written by Gill Needham, one of the organising team for the m-libraries conference at The Open University on 24th-26th September.

Gill is Associate Director, Information Management & Innovation at The Open University. She provides leadership for the teams in the Library which are responsible for acquiring and managing content, for the development of skills and services and for research and innovation. She is interested in digital libraries, learning technologies, digital and information literacies, evidence based practice and strategic planning. She has a particular research interest in the delivery of library content and services to mobile devices. Over to Gill…

M-libraries conference logo

M-libraries conference logo

I would like to draw the attention of followers of this blog to the Call for Papers for the forthcoming Fourth International M-Libraries Conference which is being hosted at the Open University from 24–26 September 2012.

Just to give you a bit of background – the M-Libraries conferences started here in 2007 as a partnership between the OU Library service and Athabasca University in Canada. We were both experimenting with mobile services and it was all very new. We had no idea how much interest there would be, but in the event we attracted delegates from 25 countries and it was very exciting indeed. Since then we have held conferences in Vancouver and Brisbane and the interest and number of papers submitted has grown exponentially.

One of the most interesting aspects of this movement (and I do think of it as a movement) is the fact that in many aspects it is colleagues in developing countries who are leading the way. The ubiquitous nature of mobile telephony in regions where internet access is patchy and unreliable has led to some of the most exciting and innovative developments in mobile delivery. So m-libraries are truly international – the papers from the Brisbane conference (the book has just been published by Facet ….) include stories from China, South Africa, Fiji, India, Japan, US, Australia, Canada, UK, Spain, Ireland, New Zealand and Germany.

This year we are planning to experiment a little with the format of the conference. As well as selecting some challenging speakers, we are allocating substantial amounts of time for discussion, reflection and hands-on experimentation. The world has moved on apace since the first conference in 2007 – what was once new and experimental is now the day to day – hence the Conference strapline ‘From margin to mainstream: how mobile technologies are transforming lives and libraries’. As we say on our website, it is now time for us, as an international community, ‘to review achievements to date and consider the creative challenges and opportunities ahead’. Please do visit our site and respond to the Call for papers. Contact us for details at

Further information on the Call for Papers

We are seeking lively contributions on the following broad themes:

  • Transformation – of services, learners or providers
  • Inspiration – innovative projects which challenge current thinking and practice
  • Implementation – the experience of implementing new mobile technologies

Papers will be short – 15 minutes for the presentation plus time for discussion/questions.

Please submit your abstracts (up to 300 words) by 15th of March 2012 to

These will be subject to peer review and authors will be notified by 26th of April 2012.