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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.

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?