Category Archives: Mobile devices

American Libraries Live: Mobile Services – the library in your pocket

Last week, American Libraries Live held a discussion hosted by Jason Griffey with contributors Maurice Coleman and Robin Hastings. They discussed what they mean by mobile, gave examples of some of the ways libraries are using mobile technologies, and answered questions posed by viewers. You can view a recording of the session by clicking on the image below or directly via this link.

AL Live screenshot

AL Live screenshot

Some of the highlights I took from the session included:

  •  The importance of knowing your users, the technologies they use, and things they would like to use their mobile devices for. Google Analytics was recommended as a tool to help with this as it includes information on devices and browsers used to access your website.
  • Also consider those who aren’t currently using the library. Mobile services may be one way to reach out to the people who don’t currently use library services.
  • Users tend to expect to be able to use their mobile devices for simple discovery of resources (e.g. catalogue), location and opening hours information, and to contact the library.
  • Some libraries are experimenting with using mobile devices for circulation (all speakers agreed that it would be great to be able to offer users the ability to borrow items by using their mobile devices to check them out).
  • Mobile payments are gathering traction and are likely to be used more in future (e.g. Square Register and Square Wallet).

ALA LITA MCIG virtual meeting

I recently attended a webinar hosted by the American Library Association Library and Information Technology Association Mobile Computing Interest Group. I created a Storify to share the presentations and related resources.

Unfortunately I’m not able to embed the Storify but you can access it from the link below.

View the story “LITA MCIG virtual meeting” on Storify

A Dose of (Augmented) Reality: Exploring possible uses within a library setting

One of the areas mentioned in our surveys as something to investigate for future was Augmented Reality. Birmingham City University library’s Mobile Technlogies Working Group have been considering different ways of using augmented reality as this guest post by Anthony Humphries demonstrates (recreated with kind permission from BCU eLibrary blog). A brief introduction to Anthony…

I’m the Learning Resources Co-ordinator within a busy Lending Services department, supporting the Help Desk to improve our customer’s experience as much as possible.  A committed techno-positivist, I am highly interested in the ability of emerging technologies to enrich the experience of our users and sustain the relevance of our libraries.  I am always keen to discuss my ideas and if you want further information please contact me:

And now for his blog post…

Of the many emerging mobile technologies that libraries are looking at one that has always appealed to me is augmented reality (AR). Compared to other technologies that are discussed AR has:

  • fewer introductory barriers to overcome
  • is virtually cost-free
  • does not require specialised technical staff
  • the general public will increasingly have some familiarity with it.
  • can also be a lot of fun.

So I committed myself to turning some of these ideas into practical demonstrations for a group of interested colleagues.

I used the Aurasma platform as it’s free, straightforward to use, and has considerable market penetration. It works by having a pre-prepared image – a trigger – uploaded to their servers. Then when a device using the Aurasma browser focuses on one of these triggers information in the form of images and movies are overlaid onto the image in a predetermined way. Digital information is ‘superimposed’ onto what you are seeing through the devices camera. The big advantage of this optical approach compared to location based AR is that you can be precise with the location and it can be used over multiple floors without interference. There was a steep learning curve initially, learning what worked well (formats, sizes, scales) as a trigger and overlay, but after some trial and error using the software is actually quick and easy. Development forums provided some useful advice but a thorough introductory ‘best practice’ guide would have been welcome.

I came up with 9 possible categories of uses for AR and put together a demonstration for each of these. The focus was on provoking ideas rather than fleshed-out practical application:

  1. Video demonstration Pointing mobile device at the screen of the self-service issue machines automatically plays a video guiding the user on how the machine operates. There is also a button beneath this video saying ‘Need PIN?’ – when tapped this takes the user to a website with information on this.
  2. Enhanced publicity/directional map Pointing a mobile device at a floor plan map (either on a plinth at the library entrance or in hand-held form) overlays a re-coloured map indicating areas that can be tapped. When they are at a photo of that location there is a pop up giving users a ‘virtual tour’ and more information on that area.
  3. AR summon helpHelp on a screen-based service Pointing a mobile device at the Summon discovery tool overlays guidance arrows and notes onto the screen– pointing out the where to enter the search, where to refine filters & then view results
  4. AR virtual bay endVirtual bay-ends Pointing mobile device at a particular image (perhaps located near catalogue PCs) overlays directional arrows to where resources are located – giving users an initial idea of where to find what they are looking for.
  5. AR enhance instructional guideEnhanced instructional guide Pointing a mobile device at a leaflet about accessing our online resources automatically plays a video with screenshots showing the stages that they need to go through. To the right are buttons that could be tapped to directly call, email and complete a form if further help was needed.
  6. Induction/Treasure Hunt Students could scan a ‘frame’ placed in an area of the library. Once scanned a video would play introducing them to that area and how to use it – alongside the video a new question would appear that would guide them to another area to continue the ‘game’.
  7. Enhanced publicity material Pointing a mobile device at our main library introduction guide which is enhanced with pictures, videos and extra information beyond what could be included on a physical copy. Also all telephone numbers, email addresses and hyperlinks are made into tappable live links.
  8. AR Staff assistanceStaff assistance/reminder. Pointing a mobile device at the borrower registration screen of the LMS that we use overlaid with extra information to show the various fields that need completing. It is designed as a quick check for staff to ensure that it is completed accurately.
  9. ‘Book Locator’/directional video Using a mobile device to scan an image near to a catalogue PC to bring up a virtual table containing dewey ranges, i.e. 000 – 070. Tapping one of these would make a simple video pop-up directing the user from that location to the approximate shelving run. Technically this does not use AR at all, but was an interesting use of the software.

The demonstrations went well and generated some interesting debate amongst my library colleagues. Some brief thoughts after the demonstrations:

  • Point of need content – The way that triggers work allows them to be highly context specific, you are essentially just ‘looking’ at the thing that you want help with, i.e. a room, a screen or leaflet. Could there be a future where users just get used to pointing their device at things and getting assistance and extended content?
  • AR vs QR codes – The AR feels a lot more immediate than QR codes. Whereas scanning a code sometimes feels like an additional step and takes you away from what you are doing the extra information from AR is more integrated into your activity. Aurasma allows extra functionality too.
  • Getting library users onboard – Is an issue whenever something new is introduced. Some level of training would be required. People have to download the app, subscribe to a particular channel and then know where to scan. Technological improvements may mitigate some of this – for example Aurasma allow the possibility of integrating their software into an existing app, meaning that users will not need anything new or have to subscribe to channels.
  • Ease of development – As described above, the platform is not as intuitive as it might be initially but after a brief explanation I could see colleagues from across the service creating content, all it takes is some very basic image manipulation. I was creating these rough demos in about 15 minutes. The technical barrier is very low.
  • Range of devices – The demos all worked equally well on iOS and Android smartphones that I tested. They looked great on larger tablet devices.

Are you currently using augmented reality or planning to do so? Let us know your ideas in the comments.

Which library content providers are utilising mobile technologies?

During the course of the project, we’ve been keeping track of which library content providers are utilising mobile technologies, by speaking to suppliers at exhibitions and by checking details via their own websites and guides produced by libraries. There are a variety of different approaches, which we thought would be useful information to share.

Not all providers are supporting access to their content via mobile devices, though many are. Some are ensuring their content displays on different sizes and types of devices via mobile websites, whilst others are choosing to develop their own mobile application (see earlier blog post on mobile web vs. mobile app if you are not sure of the difference).

Authentication is a common issue for many of the providers, particularly those currently offering resources via authentication systems such as Shibboleth, Athens, or a proxy server. Though many of these work relatively seamlessly now on a desktop or laptop computer, mobile browsers do not cope well with multiple redirects and sometimes time out. Some suppliers offer full text access via mobile devices, but only when on site (via IP range), whilst others have systems for supporting off site access. This is often by creating a verification code whilst on campus and using that to log into a mobile app, which then provides access for a period of time without having to log in. Some also support full text when accessing via VPN.

There are a number different purposes for the mobile apps and websites – some aim to facilitate discovery of resources, whilst others focus on saving material for reading via mobile devices (or a combination). Apps for reading sometimes have the option to save material offline so that it can be read without an internet connection (useful when travelling).

More suppliers appear to be providing multiple options (e.g. they may have initially just had an iPhone app, but now have apps for other devices as well as a mobile website). We’ve also noticed that mobile websites are becoming more common, many of which auto detect that the site is being access via a mobile device, which is a real advantage if they are being accessed from another site (e.g. the library’s website/search tool) rather than via the suppliers website.

What’s best for users though? Many librarians feel that numerous apps are not much use to the average library user – they want access to the content and may not be aware which supplier it comes via. Often subject interests will spread across different suppliers too, so having to search on a number of different mobile apps would be a long process (something that discovery services have tried to prevent) and having things stored in multiple places could be frustrating. For specialist researchers, apps focused on their area may be useful, but the most library users it’s likely that mobile friendly websites will be of more use, particularly if the library has a search tool to search for content across different providers.

Rather than replicate information already out there, we have added our findings to the list of providers on the m-libraries section of the Library Success wiki. Here’s a preview – for the full up-to-date version click on the image to open the section on the wiki.

M-libraries wiki screenshot

M-libraries wiki screenshot

We hope you find this information useful in your own library in supporting your users. If you know any further information about mobile options from suppliers, please let us know or you can register an account on the Library Success wiki and edit it directly.

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.

Mlibs event – Delivering existing library-owned content (e.g. historical maps) on mobile devices

This is part of a series of blog posts based on the sessions held at the Mobile technologies in libraries: information sharing event. More resources from the day are available at the event Lanyrd page.

Ed Fay

Ed Fay

Ed Fay (London School of Economics) presented a demonstration of the PhoneBooth project (part of the JISC mobile infrastructure for libraries programme) during the afternoon breakout sessions.

The PhoneBooth project is taking existing library owned data and repurposing it for use on mobile devices. In this case the data is historical maps from the Charles Booth Online Archive – from Booth’s survey into life and labour in London (1886-1903). The materials are already available digitally, and the PhoneBooth project is building on this to bring the data to mobile devices. This will then enable examination of the map data whilst out on location, as well as comparison with current geographical map data.

The PhoneBooth project is currently at the prototyping stage and Ed provided a demonstration during the workshop as well as providing a handout to explain the project and show the maps overlaid with other geographical data such as Google Maps and the Index of Multiple Deprivation 2010. The handout is available online:

For further information about the JISC PhoneBooth project is available from the project blog:

Mlibs event – Bibliographic management on mobile devices

This is part of a series of blog posts based on the sessions held at the Mobile technologies in libraries: information sharing event. More resources from the day are available at the event Lanyrd page.

Mike Jones

Mike Jones

Mike Jones (University of Bristol) presented during the afternoon breakout sessions on bibliographic management on mobile devices.

Mike gave an overview of the m-biblio project which is being undertaken at the University of Bristol as part of the JISC Mobile Infrastructure for Libraries programme.

The project is investigating the use of mobile devices in capturing references and looking at how it might be possible to gather useful statistics for the Library, including data about library items that are often confined to branches such as periodicals, journals and reference books.

The project has included a student survey and a workshop, both of which have contributed to a greater understanding of how students use bibliographic data and how this can be supported by mobile devices. This also uncovered the pain points and what students would like from a simple piece of software to help:

Compile them, format them to the desired style, and alphabetise

The m-biblio project has ensured that the information from the survey and the workshop has fed into the development of the mobile app, which we were fortunate enough to watch a demo of. Mike was able to scan the barcode of a book and get the bibliographic data into the app, and also showed us how you can add information in (or edit) manually – great for when the information isn’t quite right. He then showed us how to export the list ready for adding to assignments.

Although it’s still in development, what’s there so far is simple to use yet effective and we all agreed it would be great to be able to offer this sort of app to our students.

Some brief notes from the flipchart based on the discussion that followed the presentation and demo:

  • Easybib –  mobile app for bibliographic data on mobile devices (though doesn’t provide as much functionality as m-biblio)
  • Could m-biblio be available as a mobile website rather than an app? (the project team had investigated this option but decided against it due to the advantage of being able to use the camera through an app)
  • Geolocation – is this creepy or does it have potential for obtaining library metrics (i.e. where materials are being used)

Mike’s presentation is available on Slideshare at and for more information on the m-biblio project you can visit their project blog.

Native mobile app vs mobile web

A common topic that seems to be mentioned during discussions on mobile is whether a native mobile app or mobile web is most appropriate.

What’s the difference?

A native app is an application that is downloaded to a mobile device, can make use of the devices hardware such as the camera and geolocation, and often enables information to be stored offline. Mobile web is accessed via the browser and requires an internet connection; it can use some of the hardware though native apps can do this more easily. Access to a native app requires the user to have visited an app store and downloaded the app (this could be free or paid for), whilst mobile web is accessed via your mobile browser; often the website will detect if you are using a mobile device and display the mobile web version if so.

The screenshots below demonstrate the difference using the BBC News as an example:

BBC News - mobile app (left) and mobile web (right)

BBC News - mobile app (left) and mobile web (right)

Which is more suitable?

The suitability of a native app or mobile web depends on the desired purpose and how users will be expected to interact with the service. Research by Yahoo! grouped typical activities on mobile devices into categories and examined user preferences for each activity:

Mobile app vs. mobile browser

Mobile app vs. mobile browser

This sort of information can be useful when considering whether app or browser is most appropriate to invest in – if you were developing a communication service it seems an app would be preferable, but if you were selling items to consumers, browser seems to be preferable. Of course, this is only broad guidance and user research into your community is recommended good practice.

Are there any other options?

To add an extra option to the mix, there are also hybrid apps which are a bridge between the native apps and mobile web. These are developed in a similar way to mobile web (so are compatible with a number of mobile platforms) but can also utilise the phone’s hardware (camera, contacts etc.) and be downloaded as an app.

The table below gives an overview of the main features of native, hybrid and web:

Advantages and disadvantages of native, hybrid and web apps

Advantages and disadvantages of native, hybrid and web apps

What should libraries be doing?

Well, it depends. There are examples of libraries using native mobile apps (either developing their own or purchasing commercial options) and examples of libraries using mobile web. Each of the following factors (and no doubt more) will need to be considered to assist in your decision about the most appropriate choice for your library:

  • Functionality required (hardware needed? offline access needed?)
  • Planned user interaction and activity
  • User preferences and devices
  • Budget for development
  • Technical knowledge (different programming languages for different types of app)
  • Timescale (app store approval process can be lengthy)

Recommended resources:

Yahoo! Mobile Modes Whitepaper

The fight gets technical: mobile apps vs. mobile sites

Mobile Web App vs. Native App? It’s Complicated

Mobile web vs apps: what’s right for your user? (from CILIP Multimedia Information & Technology newsletter)

HTML5, Hybrid or Native Mobile App Development Webinar

What is mobile?

One of the main purposes of this project is to gather evidence including case studies and examples of good practice around mobile technology in libraries. But what do we mean by mobile?

Mobile phones are becoming ubiquitous in today’s society in the UK, in fact according to Ofcom’s latest statistics (checked November 2011), 91% of the adult UK population personally own or use a mobile phone.

In addition to mobile phones, there have been a number of new products released in the tablet market including iPad, Samsung Galaxy, Motorola Xoom, Blackberry Playbook, and Amazon Kindle Fire. This has resulted in a growth in the number of tablet computer owners, many of whom are using these whilst out and about (i.e. mobile).

Many people are also utilising mobile devices such as mobile phones and tablets to access the internet – the July 2011 Tecmark report on Mobile and UK web traffic found that 12.59% of all web traffic was from mobile devices (increasing at a rapid rate – up from 8.09% in January 2011). The graph below demostrates the growth in mobile web access in recent years:

From Tecmark report (click for full report)

For the purposes of the m-library support project, we are including all types of mobile devices including:

  • mobile phones
  • tablet computers
  • e-readers
  • PDAs…
…basically, any device that is portable enough to carry around and enables you to access information on the go. Who knows what new devices might be on the market by the time this project ends!