Is there an app for people who are tired of apps?

I don’t have a smartphone, so all these “apps” I am constantly hearing about are pretty much useless to me. Even though Mashable.com says that smartphone use will grow by 49.2% in 2011, I will not be among those users given that I am a poor student with one year left on my contract. But that doesn’t mean libraries shouldn’t investigate how they can use mobile technology to connect with the increasing number of smartphone users. Having a mobile site or an app is just another example of being where your patrons are.

Earlier this month I attended a CLA workshop at Ottawa Public Library about OPL’s new mobile site. Chris Simmons, a systems librarian at OPL who delivered the presentation, noted that mobile sites should be stripped-down versions of the library’s site. This makes sense, since people connecting to the library on a mobile device are more likely to be trying to accomplish a task such as renewing a book than they are to be browsing. OPL’s focus included the catalogue, e-books, and databases as well as locations, programs, and readers’ advisory pages. OPL would also like to offer reference services through text message or instant messaging to reach patrons on the go. As Simmons pointed out, the problem of creating an app vs. a site is that the library would have to create a separate app for each operating system, which means constantly checking to see which devices are the most popular and creating apps for them. This is expensive and time-consuming, and while it seem good enough to create an app for the most popular one or two devices, with the rate that technology changes, what is popular today may not be tomorrow.

I found it quite interesting to see UWO’s mobile site. It is  certainly bare compared to the regular site but it has the most important information, such as hours, contact information, and the catalogue and databases. I like that there is a link to the regular site for those whose devices could handle it. One potential problem with the site is that only a limited number of databases are available. I’m not sure if this was UWO’s choice or if it has anything to do with which databases can be displayed as mobile sites.

Before this week’s lesson, I didn’t know much about QR codes. I had seen them before but I have not had any reason to use them, again because I don’t have the internet on my phone. Using QR codes to link print items to electronic catalogue records seems like an obvious thing to do, but Ashford’s article mentioned many good ideas, such as QR codes that load the library’s contact information into the user’s phone. It sounds like QR codes are actually relatively easy and cheap to obtain, which means libraries don’t have to stretch the budget to try out the technology (though of course staff time will be required to learn how to use QR codes and to implement them).

I can’t say I have much experience with podcasts, either, but I am a bit more familiar with them. I like the idea of libraries making events such as story times and author readings available as podcasts so that anyone can enjoy them from anywhere in the world. Podcasts can also serve a readers’ advisory function if librarians record their book talks. Patrons can get involved too by submitting podcasts or vodcasts (side note: I hate the word “vodcast”) about favourite books. I am actually hoping to take a course next semester on internet broadcasting so that I can learn more about podcasts since I see it as something useful I could use in my future career as a librarian. Maybe if I can figure out how to make a podcast this week I’ll be ahead of the game for next term.

UPDATE: The podcast is now available here.

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4 thoughts on “Is there an app for people who are tired of apps?

  1. Designing sites and features for mobile web devices seems to be the next big trend for web usability, and it’s a trend I think libraries are easily prepared for. As mentioned, most users of a library would visit the site for its barebones services anyway (i.e, searching their catalogue, checking about hours, booking computer terminals, etc.) and these services seem easily transferable to more a simplistic mobile device display. Likewise, podcasting makes mobile accessibility to library information easy as well, since patrons can just listen to information about library events, new acquisitions, book talks, and the like. Of course what always comes into question is whether or not users would be enticed to use such features. Granted, I definitely see the purpose of having a minimal-mobile version of the library website for users who rely on their mobile device to connect online. However, most of the public seem to have a very limited view of the services which libraries perform (i.e., holding books, lending out books…really, most see libraries as just big buildings full of books), and it may be hard to convince the public that library podcasts could hold pertinent information that is not just about books. While a large segment of library users may be enticed to listen into a booktalk podcast and similar programs, librarians must also consider what information can be included in these audio programs that would appeal to infrequent or potential users of libraries in the community, and how to promote such podcasts.

    • That’s an interesting point. Non-users are less likely to discover the podcasts. Something like an author reading might appeal to non-users if it is someone they have heard of and whose books they enjoy, but the library would need to find a way to publicize the podcast in addition to the actual event.

  2. Kim: I think this post is a thinly veiled attack on me and my love of my iPhone apps. If so: ouch. I like your comment on how QR codes can be used to load the library’s contact information directly into the user’s phone. That is a great use of this technology, but considering the small amount of people who use QR codes in Canada, do you think it will really catch on here?

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