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3 Things You Can Do Today to Get Your Library Ready for the Mobile Experience By the end of 2011

, almost 7 billion people will have access to mobile phones, according to an estimate by the International Telecommunication Union. These are impressive numbers, and now that information is available literally at everyone’s fingertips, the time is opportune for libraries to plan accordingly for this growth to place vital library resources and services into their users’ hands. For those who may feel intimidated by the task, there’s good news: it isn’t necessary to be a computer scientist to do this successfully and without great expense. The Handheld Librarian Online Conference occurs not just one once but twice a year, primarily because the rate of technological change in the mobile environment is staggering. In late 2010, keynote addresses, traditional presentations, and quick ten-minute Lightning Round presentations were incorporated into this two-day online event. One Lightning Round presentation titled “3 Things You Can Do Today to Get Your Library Ready for the Mobile Experience” discussed how to create a simple mobile-optimized website, how to generate and use QR (Quick Response) codes, and how to use Google Voice for a basic text messaging reference service. 1. Mobile-optimized Website In order to get one’s library ready for the mobile experience, a good first step is to create a mobile-optimized library web site. This is important because many mobile library users expect to obtain information easily via their mobile devices from anywhere and at any time. It’s simple: If a library’s website does not display well on mobile devices, then mobile users will go to another resource that does display well while providing them with the information they need. More than likely, these users will not look back and wait for libraries to get caught up.

As in any project, adding a mobile-optimized web site requires consideration of several aspects. The first is to determine who will design the site. If no library staff member has elementary web design experience, then find a volunteer who does, or hire an outside expert to do the work. Another consideration is what to include on the site. It’s important to note that not every feature that is included on a library’s full website will work on a mobile-optimized web site, primarily because technologies like Adobe’s Flash and other browser plug-ins will not yet work on mobile browsers–even those built using the WebKit browser engine.1 Going further, not every feature on a library’s full website should be included on the mobile-optimized version. Most users use mobile technologies while they’re on the go: at this point they’re not using sophisticated research tools and/or conducting rigorous studies. Instead, they’re searching for resources and then sharing these via email or their social networks; in-depth reading will occur when they’re using their desktop or laptop computers. When designing a mobile-optimized web site, it’s important to remember, as Ballard states, that “mobile refers to the user, not the device or application” (2007, p. 3). Another way to help determine what to include and perhaps what not to include on a mobileoptimized website is to use Google Analytics.2 Simply copy the free JavaScript code that is generated from Google Analytics and paste it into every library web page. Then collect usage data for a while in order to gain some insight into what resources are being used the most; try to include those in the new mobile-optimized library web site. Google Analytics has a feature that will overlay clicking statistics on top of hyperlinks, which show percentages of links clicked. Finally, it’s a good idea to ask your users what they expect in a mobile experience and then be sure to work diligently in order to get those features built into your mobile-optimized web site.


Once some preliminary work has been done to determine what to include in a library’s mobile-optimized Web site, the next task is to determine the look and feel. It will be important to determine what type of device or devices to design for. Some designers choose to design for the lowest common denominator, meaning that the mobile-optimized website will display well on all mobile devices. Others choose to create a mobile-optimized website that will work primarily on “smart” phones or mobile devices with touch screens. Still others design not one but two mobileoptimized websites so that they can reach all their mobile users. Many methods are available for redirecting mobile users to specific web sites. One popular way is to use JavaScript to detect what device is being used and then direct the user to a simple web page that provides options to pick what site to use (e.g., full website, simple text-based version, “touch” mobile-optimized version). Automatically directing mobile users to certain web pages can upset some people, so providing an option and/or a way to turn off the mobile-optimized version is a good practice to follow. One option is to use Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) and design a simple text-based web site that will display well on all mobile devices. Alternatively, free tools such as jQTouch or jQuery Mobile can provide a framework to help one design more sophisticated mobile-optimized websites that appear and function like native applications. A native application must be installed on the device, whereas a mobile-optimized web page is web-based and requires no installation and/or upgrades in order to work. There are many markup languages and web authoring tools available, but the bottom line is to make sure the web pages are tested on actual mobile devices and that they validate via the World Wide Consortium’s (W3C) MobileOK checker or via’s mobile checker system.3


When designing a mobile-optimized website for the lowest common denominator, it is good practice to include minimal content. Including few images is also a good idea so that users do not have to wait a long time in order to view the site. Also, using access keys will allow those without a touch screen to be able to use their numeric keypads to select hyperlinks.4 Before releasing a mobile-optimized web site to the public, it is important to design web pages that are mobile-compliant to ensure that they display well on a variety of mobile browsers. Although mobile device emulators are excellent tools to use while designing mobile-optimized web pages, testing a new mobile-optimized website should be done on as many different mobile devices as possible.5 Going further, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has a mobileOK Basic Tests document ( that has extensive documentation to help design a mobile web page that is compliant (i.e., mobileOK) according to industry best practices and standards. And finally, if planning to include library research databases or a library catalog, be sure to include only mobile-optimized versions so that the look and feel remain consistent with the overall design of the website. 2. QR (Quick Response) Codes A QR (Quick Response) code can quickly guide mobile users from physical objects to digital destinations. A QR code is similar to a barcode and when encoded can include contact information, hyperlinks, wireless login credentials, music, videos, and much more. There are many QR code generators available on the web. For example, BeeTagg, which is both a QR code generator and a reader, can encode RSS feeds, URLs, YouTube videos, and contact information into one QR code.


Creating a QR code is easy. Simply enter the information in the available fields and then click on the “generate code” button to create an image of a QR code. Then save that image and affix or insert it onto business cards, handouts, flyers, ID badges, posters, book spines, email signatures, bookshelves, and office doors. Many libraries are already using QR codes creatively. For instance, the New York Public Library, for its centennial anniversary, had a QR code scavenger hunt where guests retrieved artifacts from the library, scanned them using QR Codes, and then drafted a document that was inspired by the found artifact. The accumulated documents were bound into a book and will be added to the library’s collection (NYConvergence, 2011). Although there has been speculation that scanning QR codes will be replaced by near field communication (NFC) and/or augmented reality technologies, it is safe to say that QR codes are still gaining in popularity. Many popular magazines and catalogs are using these codes to enhance their print publications. With NFC or augmented reality technologies, mobile users won’t need to scan or take a picture of a QR code and store that information on the device; instead, they only have to be near a physical object for the NFC chip or augmented reality app to automatically guide them to the digital object. QR code technologies are evolving now that more people are using them. ShareSquare is an innovative company that is enhancing QR codes by allowing more information to be encoded within one code.6 A ShareSquare can include a YouTube video, downloadable content, picture slideshows, a biographical page, and social media sharing options with suggested status updates all within one code. ShareSquare is continuously updating its product and recently added a “lock” module that will require someone to “like” a Facebook Page (e.g., a library Facebook page) before being granted access to all


other ShareSquare modules. Most QR Code generators also offer analytic tools to help one determine if the codes are being used. 3. Google Voice for Text Reference Service Although Google Voice was initially available only for invited guests, it is now available to everyone. Phone calls within the United States and Canada are free; however, international calls require calling credits. Creating a Google email account (Gmail) for one’s library is easy and once the Gmail account is set up, getting Google Voice activated is just a couple of clicks away. At the time of this writing, Google Voice had a mobile application for Android, BlackBerry, iPhone, Palm WebOS, Nokia S60, Windows, and a few other mobile operating systems, making it an even more powerful communication tool. With Google Voice, users can have personalized greetings, share voicemails, block and/or screen callers, have voicemail messages transcribed and then sent via email and text messaging, have calls to other phone numbers routed to their Google Voice number, conduct conference calls, and initiate SMS (i.e., text messaging) to email functions. Once a library has a Google Voice phone number, it is a good idea to promote the number by including it on handouts, library flyers, office doors, web pages, syllabi–basically anywhere users may need to refer to it. To hyperlink a Google Voice number so that users can send a text message question directly to the library, simply add this HTML to the library’s full as well as mobile-optimized website: <a href="sms://7271234567">Send a text to the library</a> Once a user is logged in to the library’s Gmail account, text messages and phone calls can be initiated via the Chat section, but there are other ways to access Google Voice. Perhaps the easiest is to select the “More” link and scroll to the Google Voice option. The Google Voice

interface is straightforward and resembles Gmail. By default there are four folders: Inbox, Starred, Spam, and Trash. Frequent users can be included in the Contacts section, making it simple to revisit reference queries in order to make sure the library user had his or her question[s] answered satisfactorily. The History section stores voicemails, text messages, and missed calls. A library that does not want to use the web-based version of Google Voice could purchase a mobile phone, install the Google Voice application, and use it only for texting reference and/or voice calls/messages. Within Gmail, however, it is possible to have Google Voice messages forwarded to another email account (e.g., Outlook) and this is usually sufficient. There are other tools available that will monitor a Google Voice account and route the messages to a variety of communication services. GVMax, for instance, will route Google Voice messages via instant messaging clients, Twitter, email, and text messages. With GVMax, calls can be initiated from an instant messaging client, and text messages can be sent to groups of contacts. Perhaps the nicest GVMax feature is that it can broadcast one text message that is sent to a Google Voice number and have it forwarded to multiple phones. That way, more than one library staff person can retrieve text messages and reply. Creating a Google account for one’s library has many benefits because once new tools and services are released by Google they can, for the most part, be integrated into the library’s arsenal of research tools and services. A great example is Google Cloud Print, which allows printers installed within a network to be accessed via a user’s Google account, making it possible to print wirelessly from mobile phones without too much hassle. Printing wirelessly from a mobile device would be a fantastic library service for mobile users because they would


not have to log in to a desktop computer in order to print. They could essentially print from the “cloud,” using their device while on the go. Although mobile usage statistics for library resources and services may not be impressive at this time, libraries should not wait too long to get into this mobile space. There’s no doubt that the mobile web will become more prevalent especially since “smart” phones are becoming less expensive and thus available to and used by more and more people. If libraries are not ready for this growth, library users will simply seek help somewhere else. When close to 80 percent of the world’s population has access to information via mobile devices, they will find library resources and services that are visible; however, if these are visible but not mobile-optimized, mobile users will move to other resources that do work on their devices. Libraries can be ready by implementing at least one or all three things mentioned in this article.


References Ballard, B. (2007). Designing the mobile user experience. Chichester: Wiley.

International Telecommunication Union Newsroom--press release. Retrieved 11/2/2010 from NYConvergence. (2011). NY Public Library sets QR Code “scavenger hunt.” Retrieved 4/16/2011 from


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For more information about WebKit visit For more information about Google Analytics, visit 3 and the W3C Mobile Web Initiative Web sites have great resources worth exploring if a library is planning to design a mobile website. 4 <a class="call" href="tel:17273417177" accesskey="0">Call the Library</a> | (727) 3417177/>) 5 Web Developer 1.1.8, developed by Chris Pederick, is an extension for Firefox and Chrome browsers that provides an amazing set of tools for web developers and includes a Small Screen Rendering option. This option displays any web page viewed on a desktop computer as if rendered in an emulated mobile format.

For more information on ShareSquare visit