Now that we have started to succeed in pursuading the profession of the importance next generation catalogues and the promises that faceted navigation, federating searching and user-generated content bring, it’s time to take a look at how we access these catalogues. A while ago, I wrote a post on how users are accessing our library catalogue. I can give you my own story on this. Three months ago I bought an iPhone. Up until that point, I had never used my phone for texting, internet, music or anything else. It was a phone…used for, yes, phoning someone. Now, I don’t picture myself as the non-techy type. I love technology, gadgets and see the potential that all of these great, new innovations have for the future of our libraries but I had never dreamed how a smartphone could, in three month’s time, change my searching behaviour.
Information Consumption v. Information/Content Creation
Once I started using my iPhone, it was easy to see why many Generation X-ers and Y-ers stopped using home computers. Like our replacement of landlines with cell phones, smartphones are replacing home computers. If you’re not a blogger or a student, or someone who generates information, there is no need for a computer. Your smartphone is your computer.
The majority of our patrons are consumers of information. They create very little information themselves. What they do create does not go beyond basic information creation or interaction. This includes email, social networking and occassionally purchasing something online. Even I find myself turning to my iPhone when I am seeking information. It is only when I generate information, such as a blog post, book review or paper that I turn to my netbook or notebook. If we accept that there is an ever increasing amount of users consuming information through mobile devices, it is essential that we start examining how our new social catalogues integrate with them.
Does your catalogue provide for a text-based version of your catalogue which you consider the mobile interface? I’ve been seeing a lot of libraries put up a text-based, “bare-bones” interface for mobile devices, calling it a mobile site. This isn’t good enough. Mobile sites, while forcing us to identify the most important features and functions of our catalogue, are not supposed to be a text-based copy of our existing sites. I’ve attempted to search catalogues on my iPhone that are text-based. There is a lot of expanding of pages and squinting. When most of these pages load, the text is so small that the simple, single search box that we are all so proud of is swiftly forgotten because it’s almost too small to see. Overall, it’s a less than satisfactory experience. This is unfortunate, because we’ve spent significant resources on implementing these innovative catalogues, only to become another outdated and unfriendly interface in the mobile world. Mobile sites and how our catalogues display on them are different. They are user-friendly, easy to read and “made” for smartphones.
But, part of the problem may be in identifying the essential features in our catalogues that need to be highlighed in a mobile app or website. Do we value cover art? Holdings information? Recommended titles and reading lists? Should we offer only a portion of what our catalogue can do on a mobile site in the interests of clarity and usability?
Identifying Essential Features
There are a handful of essential features that should be considered when creating a mobile site for our library catalogues. These features are broken into two categories – design and function v. content. Design and function should be based on the needs, limitations and strengths of smartphones. They take into consideration the two most important features – usability and visual appeal. This includes such things as screen size and data overload (font size, business of features). Content comes into play once you’ve created an attractive “box” or “package” to your mobile catalogue site. What should be included in this site? Amazon.ca’s mobile site is limited to make use easier, but allows users to switch over to the regular site if they want to perform more signficant searches or viewing.
We need to consider what our essential features are when creating a mobile application. Why are users using their phone when accessing our catalogue? What are their information seeking needs at that time? Is there a pattern or trend to what they are seeking when using their phones versus when they are using a computer?
Unlike our ILSs, we’re not so restricted in what we can implement or do when creating our mobile applications. With the ever-increasing growth in the use of mobile devices, this is an issue that will become even more pressing. And this time, we can lead the way, rather than waiting for one of the many other information sources to take the initiative.