Miami University Libraries Mobile Site

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Interview with Jason Michel and Kwabena Sekyere, librarians at Miami University

Jason Paul Michel, User Experience Librarian and Kwabena Sekyere, Electronic Information Services Librarian, both work at Miami University's libraries.

Provide background on Miami University and its library service.

The university serves approximately 15,000 undergrads and 2,000 graduate students.  A public institution, Miami University is ranked second in undergraduate teaching, tied with Princeton, according to the 2011 edition of US News and World Report. i

The school supports seven libraries on its campus: King Library (the main library), Brill Science Library, Wertz Art and Architecture Library, Amos Music Library, Havighurst Special Collections, University Archives and Western Archives. Together the libraries hold around 4 million books and 1,400 databases, and employ close to 100 staff members.

One library project that both Jason and Kwabena are involved with at Miami University is the libraries mobile site. The actual site can be found at http://www.lib.muohio.edu/m, however the suggestion is for visitors to start here http://www.lib.muohio.edu/news_and_notes/new-mobile-site to get some background information on the site.

What does the mobile site do and how should users interact with it?

The mobile site is designed to allow for efficient use of the core functions of the libraries.  Users can search the entire catalog; search select databases that offer mobile sites; contact librarians in a number of ways: via text, IM chat, voice and email; check hours; get GPS directions to branch libraries and check our social media content.

Describe the technology behind the site:

The mobile site is a web application and not a device-dependent application.  Most mobile devices that have a web browser can utilize it. 

Our main web site is built using the Drupal Content Management System.  The mobile site was built in Drupal as well.  Essentially the site is, in Drupal parlance, a Panel.  Panels is not a core module for drupal and must be downloaded.  Within the Panel you can add customized content.  Our mobile site is a Panel that has “Blocks” of customized content. “Blocks” is a core Drupal module. 

Each box that you see on the mobile site is a Block of content.  The Catalog search block is a custom module our Computing Information Services Specialist, Rob Casson, designed using PHP.  It pulls bibliographic content from our Solr index, which is populated by our Millenium data through a series of Perl and Python scripts. The search databases block is just a simple html list of links to external databases.  We currently only link to database vendors who are providing mobile web sites as opposed to applications.  The rest of the blocks are either basic html or custom php modules.

What resources went into this site such as funding, staff, etc?

The site was designed primarily by the three members of our web team.  We did not obtain any additional funding for the project. Due to the extreme flexibility of Drupal, we were able to build  a mobile site without needing any special software.

Describe each of your roles on the site, in both the development and the on-going support.

We all work together on the site, dividing up the tasks between us. 

Do you have any future plans for additions to the site?

We certainly plan on improving the site and adding more functionality, though we don’t want to cram a lot of content in unnecessarily.  We would like to include more database support, but that is dependent upon the vendors building mobile-friendly interfaces.  We are also in the process of building a study room scheduling function.  Users do not currently have the ability to request items and view their account.  We are hoping to fix that in future iterations of the site.

What type of feedback are you getting from users of the site?

We track the usage of the mobile site via Google analytics.  We are currently getting around 240 page views per month.  This isn’t fantastic but we do see that it is growing as we add more content.  The feedback that we get from users is very good, though we haven’t done any formal assessment as of yet.

How are you promoting the site?

We have promoted the site via our library blog, Facebook and Twitter. We’ve also created a video which runs on a video screen in the lobby of our main library.  In addition, our subject librarians market the site in instructional sessions.

You recently presented your mobile site at the Internet Librarian 2010 Conference. What type of reaction did you get?

We got a very positive response and some helpful feedback from colleagues about some potential improvements to the site.  We as a profession are just beginning to dip our toes into the mobile realm and there are a lot of ideas and opinions out there.  It’s very exciting!  Jason and Kwabena's presentation can be found at http://conferences.infotoday.com/documents/111/C102_Michel.pdf.

What advice would have for other institutions interested in setting up their own mobile site?

My advice would be to just go for it.  If you have staff with basic web design knowledge you can start experimenting with a mobile site and it will improve over time.  If you don’t have any coding or design expertise on staff,  there are also outsourcing options such as Boopsie which might be worth looking into.  Additionally, I would strive to build a tool that is accessible to as many users as possible.  This is why we chose to build a mobile web site as opposed to a device dependent application.

Additional questions about this article or to contact the librarians directly you can twitter Jason Paul Michel at jpmichel or email him at micheljp@muohio.edu, or email Kwabena Sekyere at sekyerk@muohio.edu.
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i U.S. News & World Report, http://colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-colleges/oxford-oh/miami-university-7104 (accessed November 22, 2010).

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