Mobile, mobile, mobile. It’s all we hear these days. Mobile…it’s the new black. Mobile…you just GOTTA. At my library, mobile web browsers have only accounted for .3% of the total site traffic so far this semester. Taking all the public PCs into account (the default webpage for which is of course the library web page) only takes this up to .5%. So, should my staff and I still put effort into a mobile library site, just to serve this handful of people?
In a word, yes.
This traffic, small right now, will continue to grow. With some initial planning a mobile-optimized website is within every library’s reach. At ALA Midwinter in Boston, I participated in a half-day pre-conference workshop sponsored by ACRL, titled “Anytime, Anywhere, Any Device: Developing a Mobile Website for Your Library,” expertly taught by Beth Ruane, Missy Roser, and Courtney Greene from DePaul University in Chicago. I learned that with some initial planning, a mobile-optimized website is within every library’s reach.
This may seem obvious to say, but pages in a mobile website are just that—web pages. They are optimized for the tiny screens of a mobile device, but that’s where the differences end. The trick is to do adequate planning with mobile users in mind, rather than simply making a more streamlined copy of all existing content.
One of the most important points in the Midwinter workshop was that it’s necessary to divide mobile devices in two classes: smart phones and lower-end devices. These two types of devices typically have different size screens and bring two different interaction styles to the table: touch and scroll.
A content management system like Drupal is capable of creating a mobile website through stylesheets and theming, as are programs like Dreamweaver. Taking advantage of this capability will mean having only one set of content pages to change.
Six steps to mobile development
The steps we walked through in the workshop were:
Needs assessment: plan for a useful site by first talking with library staff and users by asking questions such as: who are the internal and external stakeholders? How can data be gathered? Are there sources of helpful secondary data? The final step in a needs assessment is to analyze the data that’s been gathered and to report these findings to the stakeholders.
Integrating with existing library services: the thought of creating a mobile-optimized equivalent of the entire library website is intimidating. Use the data gathered in the needs assessment to identify and prioritize services for which a mobile version would be ideal.
Project planning: Don’t underestimate the value of written documents in formalizing and building consensus, in sharpening your own vision of what is to be accomplished, and in beginning the very important process of project documentation.
Building the site: with screen size in mind, sketch out what your mobile site might look like.
Testing, marketing, launching: The plethora of library services is so broad and deep these days that we cannot simply build a mobile website, expecting people to come. When thinking of marketing any library service, mobile website or otherwise, it’s important to set goals.
Keeping up: The teachers gave participants a toolkit of resources (bookmarks and slides) on keeping on top of technologies and trends affecting mobile use and services. We spent time adding to this list the names of organizations, people and information sources that are our go-to places for keeping up.
Cindi Trainor is the Coordinator for Library Technology and Data Services at Eastern Kentucky University, a division of five library staff who manage and support library computers and systems. She also blogs for ALA Tech Source and is active member of LITA.