Another fascinating session at CNI in December 2009 was given by a librarian at North Carolina State University who described their creation of a suite of library services accessible from a mobile device. In a nutshell, they have developed a mini-website of library information that can be accessed via three types (or tiers) of devices: 1) iPhone, Palm Pre, Android, etc; 2) Blackberries and similar smart phones; and 3) “vanilla” cell phones with texting capabilities. (I dialed into the website using my Blackberry Bold and it worked beautifully.)
This site includes six services:
1. Library locations and hours
2. Computer availability (in real time)
3. A catalog search function
4. Ask (reference service via chat, email, texting, etc.)
5. Webcams in the library and outside
6. New and events (and advertisement of services)
One of the most popular of the above is the webcam outside the library cafe so students can see how long the coffee line is! The system is server based so users don’t have to download a “client” to their phone, thus the ability to handle just about any handheld device.
The designers had two primary guiding principles: 1) don’t try to reproduce the entire library website; and 2) save the time of the user. The presenter noted that designing for mobile is more than designing for a small screen device. One must design for a satisfying and effective user experience and that requires a greater understandng of the user context. He cautioned that any library designing such a system must remember that they will always be challenged by the rapid and continuous changes in mobile technology. Check it out at http://m.lib.ncsu.edu.
He also described the Wolfwalk (Pilot) Project which allows a person to use their cell phone to take a self-guided walking tour of campus landmarks at NCSU. Included are images of buildings, past and present, from the University Archives as well as historical notes. If your phone has built-in GPS or triangulation software, it automatically displays the building at your location. The goal is to increase the visibility and accessibility of the university archives by the use of their images and historical information. You can see a demo at http://webdev.lib.ncsu.edu/m/wolfwalk
There are two issues to consider when developing any mobile service:
1) what value does “mobile” add to the user experience?
2) what incentives does the user have to access the content on a limited “computer” device like a cell phone?
I hope our library will find the time and resources to do our own suite of mobile services in the future. If we build it, will Loyola come?