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Smart Libraries Q&A: Mobile App vs. Responsive library website

Smart Libraries Newsletter [February 2020]


Are there advantages to having a mobile library app when you have a responsive library website? If so, what are the advantages?

As suggested, it is paramount for libraries to ensure that their websites are responsive. Given that more than half of website traffic globally takes place through mobile devices, libraries must deploy their websites using designs and technologies that work well on smart phones and tablets in addition to desktop and laptop computers.4 Responsive websites adjust their layout automatically to accommodate the size of screen and other characteristics of the device accessing each page.

A responsive site works well via a web browser on any type of device. There is no need to download an app or install software. Access to the site and all its featured are gained via its URL, which most users will find via a search engine. If the website has been well designed and follows the basic methods of responsive design, there will be very few limitations experiences by those accessing it on a smartphone. Content and images will flow according to the real estate available on the screen and users will navigate using the usual swipes and gestures. Sites not deployed with a responsive design, in contrast, can be very frustrating to use on a small device. Users may have to pinch the screen to view content or to be able to click on links or buttons. While libraries have made great progress in shifting to responsive sites, I still come across many which don't work well on small devices.

For libraries that have not already made their sites responsive, any resources available should be channeled into making those improvements. It may be tempting for libraries with non-responsive sites to invest in native apps to deliver a better experience to mobile users. It is highly unlikely that users frustrated with accessing a non-responsive site on their phone would take the time to find and install a library app. Rather, they will probably move on to another site that may be easier to use, even if it does not offer the quality resources available through their library.

So, if your library has a nicely designed, fully responsive website, should you also invest in creating mobile apps? There may be some scenarios where apps may be needed. A responsive website, for example, cannot access the device's camera or built-in notifications. Libraries interested in enabling mobile self-service will need to develop or acquire a mobile app programmed to use the camera to scan barcodes or QR codes. Library mobile apps can also integrate capabilities for downloading and reading e-books that wouldn't be as effective as on a responsive website.

A mobile app might be appreciated by a library's most dedicated users. Only a small minority of the library's users are likely to find it worthwhile to install an app. But for these frequent users, there can be some nice benefits. Once the app has been installed, it provides easy access to the library's resources. Otherwise, the user would need to perform a search on their browser or search app. A library mobile app can also be designed for a persistent login so that users can easily check their account, place requests, or download e-books without having to sign-on each time.

Libraries considering the deployment of apps will need to consider a variety of factors. Will the benefits to the small number of patrons that install and use the app be a good investment for the library? Would it be better to channel these resources into improvements in the library's website and other services, especially in the area of better user experience for mobile users? Does the library have operational needs that depend on apps, such as increased emphasis on self-service on user-provided devices? What is the demand from library users for a mobile app? If many patrons are requesting an app, is it because they really prefer to use a dedicated app, or is it because they are frustrated with the library's website?

While some libraries may wisely proceed with developing or acquiring native apps for smartphones and tablets, I generally anticipate that most will focus their energies on delivering the best possible user experience for mobile users via responsive websites.

View Citation
Publication Year:2020
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Smart Libraries Newsletter
Publication Info:Volume 40 Number 02
Issue:February 2020
Publisher:ALA TechSource
Series: Smart Libraries Q&A
Place of Publication:Chicago, IL
Record Number:25071
Last Update:2022-11-29 00:11:32
Date Created:2020-04-20 11:54:42