Optimizing library services for mobile devices has never been more important, given current use trends. Mobile represents at least half of all use of the internet, though proportions vary according to geographic area and type of service. Many of us rely on multiple devicesódesktop, tablet, or phoneódepending on circumstances and the activity at hand. It is typical to use a phone for casual searches, online ordering, navigation, or other daily tasks. Some complex tasks are better suited for desktop or laptop computers with larger screens and keyboards. During this period when so many people are working from home, typical setups include multiple screens, VPN connections, and other equipment. Nevertheless, as many as 40 percent of internet users rely exclusively on their mobile devices.
Any organization publishing content or offering services on the internet must accommodate all these scenarios to serve the totality of their user community. Many of the activities related to a library are well suited for mobile access: catalog search, placing requests, checking opening hours, or reserving or downloading ebooks. Yet it is likely that researchers will use a more fully equipped device to perform extensive research, access scholarly articles, or produce their scholarly work.
Many, or most, tasks performed by library personnel fall into the category requiring full screen devices and may not be great candidates for mobile optimization. It would be hard to imagine performing complex tasks, such as cataloging or acquisitions on a phone. Many ILS vendors have developed mobile apps for a small subset of activities, such as pull lists for requested items, inventory, roving reference, or circulation services.
Libraries have been relatively slow to adapt their patron-facing services to mobile use. Many of the technologies employed were developed before mobile access became a fundamental consideration. It is notoriously difficult to rework interfaces originally designed for desktop use to also work well with mobile devices. Any new or redesigned interface will follow a mobilefirst strategy that delivers full capabilities for mobile devices in a way that will naturally also take advantage of the larger screens of laptops or desktops.
In the early days of mobile technologies, many libraries deployed mobile apps to compensate for websites not friendly for mobile devices. A decade ago, for example, it was common for a library to have a website, catalog, or other services created with only desktop screens in mind. These interfaces were painful to use on a phone. As demand for mobile access grew, many libraries would deploy an app with at least a subset of their services. Boopsie, for example, was an early provider of library apps, offering a nice mobile experience, at least for people interested enough in library services to take the time to find and install the app on their device.
It is no longer viable for libraries to offer internet-based services that are not mobile-friendly. Visitors to library websites have little tolerance for sites that do not work on phones and tablets as well as they would on a laptop or desktop computer. Fully responsive web-based services is table stakes for any patron-facing interface.
Today, mobile apps complement a library's range of webbased services rather than provide an escape hatch. Mobile apps today enable libraries to offer an even more sophisticated mobile experience, offering capabilities not easily achieved via responsive web interfaces. These apps access cameras, location services, and NFC capabilities to offer advanced self-service or personalized features.
This issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter features an important development in the library mobile technology sector. The acquisition of Boopsie by SOLUS consolidates this sector by a notch. It also represents a generational change away from a mobile app mostly used as an escape hatch for libraries without comprehensive mobile strategies toward mobile apps offering new services not easily accomplished even through responsive web interfaces.