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Magazines > Computers in Libraries > April 2022

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Vol. 42 No. 3 — April 2022
FEATURE

Five Ways to Up Your Library’s Mobile Game
by David Lee King


Are there ways to enhance [your customers’] mobile experience while visiting the library? You bet.
I was binge-watching The Andy Griffith Show and saw something that blew my mind. Sheriff Taylor stopped to help someone who had a car phone. I had no idea mobile car phones existed in 1966. Walkie-talkies, I could believe, but car phones? Curious, I did a bit of reading (yay, Wikipedia). I found out that the first commercial mobile phone service was offered about 20 years before that particular Andy Griffith episode, way back in 1946, in St. Louis, Mo.

Apparently, mobile car phones are not a new technology. My own mobile device use started in the early 2000s with a Treo 650 and a PalmPilot. When the first iPhone came out in 2007, I was quick to buy one, and I haven’t looked back.

Most of your library’s customers own smartphones too, and they are using them for an average of almost 3 hours per day. It makes sense to try to connect with those customers by using the devices already in their hands. Your customers want to use their mobile devices in and around your library— they just need direction. So, how do you help your phone-friendly customers have a great mobile experience while using your library? Let’s explore five ways to up your mobile game with your smartphone-owning customers.

To begin, let’s consider the mobile technology landscape for a moment. Today’s mobile technology includes smartphones, tablets, laptops, and Internet of Things tools and services. There are add-ons to mobile devices that extend the phone’s functionality, such as microphones, camera lenses, batteries, styluses, covers, keyboards, and devices that interact with individual apps (for example, the Square Reader). Mobile devices have definitely come a long way since 1946.

In today’s fast-paced world, most of us own one or more of these devices and use them often. Pew Research Center recently shared a few statistics about mobile and broadband usage: 1

  • 85% of Americans own a smartphone.
  • 77% have broadband at home.
  • 15% of American adults are smartphone-only internet users.
  • 27% of Americans with a household earning less than $30,000 a year do not have broadband at home.

Here’s an interesting statistic from Leftronic: “Smartphone usage statistics suggest that an average person spends 2 hours and 51 minutes per day on their mobile device. What’s more, 22% of us check our phones every few minutes, and 51% of users look at it a few times per hour.” 2 So, with customers who love the library and love using their mobile devices while visiting the library, here are five ways that libraries can up their mobile game.

1 - Make Sure Your Website Works on Mobile

Your library needs a website and a library catalog that work on mobile devices. In or out of the building, your customers want to interact with the library using their mobile devices. They might want to put a book on hold, use a database, or read a blog post your library just published. They might want to do something as simple as check your hours to see when you’re open tomorrow morning.

All of this can easily be done from a smartphone, using a website that works well in a mobile setting. If you have redesigned your website in the last 5 years, you probably built a responsive website— one designed to work with different screen sizes, including a large desktop screen and a much smaller mobile device. This responsiveness allows the site to adjust to fit any screen size. You should also explore offering a mobile app for your customers. Sometimes, mobile apps (if they’re well-designed) can be easier to use than a mobile website. An app icon on a customer’s smartphone screen serves as a library reminder. Will people use it? Maybe, maybe not—but that’s another article entirely. But they definitely won’t use it if you don’t have one.

There are a lot of mobile app vendors that libraries can work with to build an app. My library currently uses the Communico app (communico.us/patron-app-936). OCLC’s CapiraMobile (oclc.org/en/capira/capiramobile.html) and The Library App from SOLUS (wp .sol.us/the-library-app) are other examples.  

2 - Have a Mobile Apps Page

Besides having a responsive website that works on all screen sizes, you should also have a webpage on your site that lists all of the mobile apps you offer to customers. You probably do have quite a few mobile apps. For example, my library offers the following: the library’s mobile app, Libby, hoopla, Flipster, SmartALEC, Creativebug, LinkedIn Learning, Mango Languages, EBSCOhost, and Beanstack.

As an example, check out the Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library’s mobile app page (tscpl.org/mobile-apps-at-the-library). We list each app beside its app icon, provide a short description, and link to both the Apple App Store and the Google Play store, so customers can easily find and download any mobile apps they need.

Make sure to let people know about that page and about your mobile apps. For example, you can share that you have an easy-to-use mobile apps page in a social media post. You can post a short video highlighting the page or individual apps. Write a press release and share that you have a page full of smartphone tools for your customers. In the building, add some simple sign-age pointing to your mobile app page, and use a QR code to direct customers to the page. Spread the word, and you’ll find that visits to your app page increase and— more importantly—more customers will discover and download those apps.

3 - Create a Comfortable In-Building Mobile Experience

Many of your customers are using their smartphones while inside your library. Are there ways to enhance their mobile experience while visiting the library? You bet. Here are some things to think about that can make your customers’ lives a bit better.

Comfortable seating — I have seen customers sitting on the floor or on the ground outside the main doors to the library because of the power outlet locations. Sometimes, people sit on uncomfortable wooden benches—again, because those benches happen to be close to a power outlet, and they need to charge their smartphones. We can do better than that. Make sure your library has comfortable seating located throughout the building and that it also has easy access to power outlets, which brings me to a related point.

Easy access to power outlets — Some of the group worktables at my library have a pop-up power outlet in the middle of the table, complete with a built-in USB outlet. We also have a couple of small charging stations located throughout the building that include a variety of power adapters to charge most mobile devices.

If your library doesn’t have access to power outlets or if you don’t have a lot of them, there are other things you can do. Some libraries, for example, have portable power chargers and batteries that customers can check out and use in the building. You can also buy stand-up power outlet poles. That way, you can use one power outlet to provide a way for people to charge six to eight devices at once.

A strong, consistent Wi-Fi signal throughout the building — I think the most important thing you can offer in your building is good, reliable broadband internet. Some libraries don’t offer Wi-Fi, and others do, but it’s not always adequate for heavy use. When the library gets busy, the Wi-Fi crashes or slows down because the access points can’t handle that level of traffic. Some libraries simply haven’t been able to add a Wi-Fi upgrade to their budgets. Others have older buildings with thick walls that don’t work well with Wi-Fi— or more likely, they haven’t installed enough access points to handle their bandwidth needs.

The fact remains that today’s library customers want a strong, reliable Wi-Fi internet signal. They get one at the mall, at Walmart, at the coffee shop, and at work and school. They expect the same service when visiting your library. Plan and budget for adequate Wi-Fi based on your customers’ needs.  

4 - Find Fun Ways to Connect

Think about creating some smartphone spots throughout your building. For example, my library has offered photo booths during events. We set up an iPad with a photo booth app that takes photos with fun virtual backdrops. We have also set up places to take photo booth-style photos, complete with props—but customers use their own phones to take the photos. We place signs that encourage patrons to share those photos on their favorite social media accounts, using suggested hashtags.

For example, we set up a photo booth space in our art gallery that was connected to a summer reading event. The event had a space theme, so we used a large outer space backdrop with stars and galaxies. People could use some props and take a photo, either with the iPad that was placed in the area or with their own device.

You could also set up some Instagram-able areas in your library. I call these selfies stops. For example, my library has an aquarium and a large dinosaur sculpture in the youth services area. We also have a cool local history room (the Topeka Room) with old traditional furniture, great lighting, and a fireplace.

We could easily turn these already cool spaces into selfie stops simply by hanging up a hashtag sign (we tend to use #TopekaLibrary or #StayCurious as local library hashtags). Hang up those signs, and you have just created a place where people might want to take a selfie to share with friends and followers on social media, using those suggested hashtags.

5 - Train Staff on Mobile Devices and Apps

Don’t forget library staff members. There’s usually a lot of training to be done for mobile devices. If you have multiple mobile apps, your staffers need to be trained to use each one. They don’t have to be experts on an app, but they should know how to download and install it and set it up so that it connects to your library. Staffers should also be trained in the basics of using different varieties of smartphones—at least Androids and iPhones. They should also know how to connect to Wi-Fi and how to download an app on both platforms.

So, that’s five ways to up your library’s mobile game inside your building. Notice that I didn’t mention some of the usual ways to use mobile devices within a library, such as for social media or reading ebooks. Those are certainly popular patron activities, but libraries also have a basic responsibility to help customers have a successful visit—and why not have a little fun in the process? Get creative, and harness the power of the mobile technology that your customers hold in their hands.

Endnotes

1. Perrin, A. “Mobile Technology and Home Broadband 2021,” Pew Research Center. June 3, 2021. Accessed 2/15/22. pewresearch.org/internet/ 2021/06/03/mobile-technology-and-home-broadband-2021.

2. Marko, M. “29+ Smartphone Usage Statistics: Around the World in 2022,” Leftronic. Feb. 27, 2021. Accessed 2/15/22. leftronic.com/blog/smartphone-usage-statistics.


David Lee King David Lee King (davidleeking@gmail.com) is the digital services director at Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library in Topeka, Kansas. He explores social media, emerging trends, and websites on his blog at davidleeking.com.