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

Library mobile apps – what features do they have?

Myself and one of my colleagues at Birmingham City University are interested in finding out what functionality is currently being offered by libraries through mobile apps. If your library has a mobile app, please complete our very short survey to share with us what your mobile app includes. We’ll be sharing the aggregated results on the blog afterwards.

The survey is available at:

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!

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.

End of project survey – methods to support current and future m-library initiatives

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

Respondents were asked to indicate from a pre-determined list the methods that they would use to support current and future m-library initiatives in their library/information service. Most respondents plan to use a selection of sources, including (in order of popularity):

  • Keeping up-to-date with mobile technology
  • Case studies
  • Attending and following events
  • Reading/following existing research
  • Sharing and reading information via social media
  • Library/librarian blogs
  • Social media discussions
  • How-to guides
  • Mailing lists
  • Conducting own research
  • Project blogs

Other responses included collaborative projects (with other organisations or others within the organisation who may be more knowledgeable), dicsussion with/learning from colleagues, in house training/awareness sessions, creating your own m-library initiative, video demonstrations, and support from suppliers.

Some comments gave a little more detail:

Practical demos and sessions are always the most fulfilling so you can see the technology in action. This is what people remember.

Good case studies in relevant types of libraries (in our case engineering and industrial) might help.

Hopefully this blog will be one place to help signpost to these sources of information.

End of project survey – confidence in implementing mobile technologies

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

We were interested to find out the confidence level in implementing mobile technologies. The figure below shows the results:

Bar chart to show level of confidence in implementing mobile technologies

Bar chart to show level of confidence in implementing mobile technologies

Fortunately, the majority of respondents (72%) felt confident or very confident about implementing mobile technologies in the libraries. However, 26% did not feel confident, and 2% did not feel at all confident.

The comments explaining the reasons for these responses tended to relate to:

  • infrastructure
  • knowledge and skills
  • support from management
  • resources (e.g. time and money) to work on development

Lack of support at senior manager level as well as IT refusing to support mobile technologies (not confident response)

We have the knowledge & skills available, it’s just a case of implementation when we have time (confident response)

We are confident in our ability to offer these services once we have the technology and time to do so, but we’re not so confident that we will be able to find the time to implement these initiatives (confident response)

Flexible strategy in place with full senior management backing and growing expertise among Library staff (very confident response)

The responses emphasise the importance of having these elements in place in order for the staff to feel confident to implement mobile technologies.

End of project survey – barriers/challenges to implementation

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

We added some additional categories to the question about barriers/challenges based on the open responses to the last survey. We also asked an additional question about the primary barrier to discover which are the biggest barriers at present.

Barriers/challenges to utilising mobile technologies

Barriers/challenges to utilising mobile technologies

As can be seen from the graph, resource constraints are experienced by the majority of respondents (79%), with infrastructure/policy constraints being experience from almost half of respondents (47%). Other barriers and challenges were also present to a varying degree, and some added other barriers, including:

  • Traditional mindset of library staff/management resulting in risk averse culture and a steep learning curve if staff were to get involved
  • Vendors investing in separate apps rather than supporting access via library websites
  • Lack of third party support for mobile resources (e.g. catalogue, e-journals and databases)

When asked what the primary barrier was, the following pie chart shows the results:

Primary barrier to utilising mobile technologies

Primary barrier to utilising mobile technologies

As shown, resource constraints are the primary barrier for a large proportion (46%) of respondents. Infrastructure/policy constraints are the primary barrier for 17% of respondents, whilst licensing concerns, lack of technical support and not an organisation priority are also primary barriers for over 5% of respondents each.

A number of solutions were suggested to overcome barriers and challenges to utilising mobile technologies. These included:

  • Quick wins/low cost solutions
  • Demonstrating a clear business case
  • Staff changes (additional staffing or re-assigning staff duties)
  • Partnerships (internal and external)
  • Staff training
  • Learn from best practice of other libraries
  • Outsourcing

Comments and plans recommending ways for the barriers to be overcome included:

initially go for quick wins, using apps/services that are free or low cost, whilst beginning to embed mobile considerations into university processes and projects

We hope that clearly demonstrating the potential benefits for the student experience may result in funding being made available for mobile app development

We recently created a new position for a Digital Branch Manager, which helps shape our vision for all digital services, mobile included, and added 1 FTE to our IT staff

Utilising expertise from other departments (e.g. IT department) and other institutions

We are actively seeking partnerships with other businesses in the form of affiliate partnerships, donations, and advertising revenue

Keep trying to acquire good practice from others to save on development costs

End of project survey – future m-library initiatives

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

Interestingly, when asked if their library was considering using mobile technologies to support any aspect of the service or resources provision in future, less people responded yes (81.8%) than in the first survey (90.4%). This still shows the majority intend to incorporate mobile technologies in future plans, though may represent a slight decrease in planning (or could be due to a different sample of respondents.

Is your library/information service considering using mobile technologies to support any aspect of the service or resource provision in future?

Is your library/information service considering using mobile technologies to support any aspect of the service or resource provision in future?

Many of those who planned to use mobile technologies in this way in future did not yet know how they planned to use them (probably a sensible approach with things changing so rapidly!). Those who had started planning for future included the following (in order of popularity):

  • Roving support (using tablets for reference enquiries, demonstrations and supporting teaching)
  • Mobile catalogue
  • Mobile app
  • Mobile website
  • Mobile access to resources
  • SMS
  • Loaning mobile devices
  • Social media
  • QR codes
  • Mobile web chat/enquiry service
  • Augmented reality
  • Strategy development
  • Near Field Communication/Radio-Frequency Identification
  • Supporting Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)
  • Bibliographic management

Many of these are similar to the existing or current m-library initiatives, though it is interesting to note a few additions to the usual list such as mobile web chat, strategy development, near field communication and radio-frequency identification, supporting bring your own device, and bibliographic management.