We apologise for the lack of Wrap Up for Thing 21, it got lost in the excitement of seeing the finish in 2 weeks!!!! – Kate.
But now, Thing 22…
Searching for information to help a customer with a homework assignment? Providing advice to an avid fiction reader on what to read next?
There’s an app for that!
No, really! There is!
Thing 22 is eResource vendor apps. There is a growing range of apps available and there are a number of lists around the web you can use to find out about the variety of apps available.
For this week’s topic, I’d like to challenge you to think about the experience your customers have with apps related to your collections and services.
In a former life, I was an electronic services librarian at a large public library. A substantial part of my job was building and managing the online collection. I’ve maintained an interest in electronic collections both for my personal interest (I’m an ebook reader – to the extent that if I can’t get a book in e, I just don’t read it) and also for professional interest. I teach collections management so it’s important I stay on top of what’s happening in all types of collecting, including electronic collections and consequently I’ve been watching how the online collections marketplace is evolving with interest.
Before we get into the guts of this week’s topic, I want to make a couple of distinctions to underpin our discussion.
Native apps and web apps
When we talk about ‘apps’, we are generally talking about ‘native apps’. These are software or applications that are installed on a mobile device. You might also have heard the phrase ‘web app’. Web apps aren’t really apps at all, rather, they are mobile optimised websites that are accessible via an app-like icon on your device’s desktop. When you launch these web apps, you are pushed off into the web browser on your device but generally these web apps still look and function a lot like native apps. The beauty of web apps is they are generally coded in HTML5 and that means they can be used across platforms, regardless of operating system.
Here’s an example: The Kindle app is a native app that you install on your device. The iPad Kindle Store app is a web app. To try out the Kindle Store app, navigate to amazon.com/iPadKindleStore on your iPad. You should be prompted to save an icon for the web app to your device.
If you don’t have an iPad and would like to have a look at a web app, just try a quick Google search for web app examples.
You might like to read more about the different kinds of apps and their benefits and drawbacks.
Types of vendor apps
I’d like to make a distinction between two types of vendor apps. The first of these are apps for databases and other online information products. This post is focused on these database and online product apps.
The second are catalogue apps, which allow customers to search library catalogues. There are a number of different proprietary apps that libraries can use to provide customers with an app based version of their catalogue, including Boopsie and BookMyne, among others.
So let’s get into the interesting stuff: what are the issues with vendor apps? There are three issues I’d like you to reflect on: the user experience for vendor apps; ‘siloing’ of content and the impact of apps on this; and integration.
Issue: Do users have a good experience of using eresource vendor apps?
I stopped borrowing ebooks from my public library years ago because the process of getting content onto my devices was just too hard – thank you, DRM! (Plus the range of content available was very limited – and I belong to a library with an exceptional online collection. The content available for Australian libraries to buy is still not great. But that’s a whole different issue.) When I started preparing this post, I decided I’d better have another crack at using my public library’s ebook service using the OverDrive app and I was very pleasantly surprised at how much the experience has improved. Once I had jumped the hurdle of resetting my Adobe ID after the recent security breach, I was reading a book in a flash. What a vast improvement!
One of the biggest barriers to use of online collections is the way our online collections are structured. Libraries buy products on a number of different platforms and consequently, our online collections exist in silos. This isn’t ideal, but it’s a setup that’s unlikely to change.
In academic libraries, discovery layers that index the content of many major databases help to reduce the impact of these silos by allowing customers to search a big chunk of the content the library subscribes to from a single search box.
The state of play in public libraries is a bit different. In Australia, there are very few public libraries that have discovery layers in place. There are also very few public libraries that have their electronic serial holdings in their catalogue, which means that customers searching the catalogue for a magazine title won’t find the electronic holdings. Instead, customers have to know which serials are in which databases in order to access the content. This is obviously a substantial barrier that our customers need to overcome.
As an online collection manager, my goal was always to make the silos disappear – or at least to make them invisible to customers. Visible silos mean a disjointed experience for customers, who often don’t (and really shouldn’t have to) understand the online information product marketplace. Our business is to connect customers with the information they need and to do this in the most efficient way possible.
Does a proliferation of vendor apps help with this? I don’t think so, and in fact I’d argue that unless they are very carefully deployed, vendor apps reinforce these silos because they don’t facilitate integrated access to collections. Promoting vendor apps to our customers means highlighting the cracks in our supply model and perpetuate dis-integrated access to our collections. Does this mean we should stop promoting vendor apps to our customers? I think the answer to that question varies depending on the library type, the product type, app functionality, and the way we promote the apps. The key is integration.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that many libraries don’t provide seamless access to online collections for mobile users. And I think this is true with regard to both eresource apps and mobile web versions of eresources.
I’d like to send you on an excursion. Here’s what you need to do.
- On your smartphone (or tablet if you don’t have access to a smartphone), open your library’s website in your browser.
- How does your library site look on your mobile device? Is it optimised for mobile? If not, is it usable?
- Your mission is to navigate to a database – any database – using your library’s website.
- Can you do it? What’s the experience like?
- Now choose a database and attempt to access it.
- How does the product look in your web browser? Is it usable? Do a search or browse and view an information resource. Is it readable?
If your library has an app for your catalogue or website, I’d like to send you on a second excursion.
- Open your library’s app.
- Navigate to a database – any database.
- Can you do it? What’s the experience like?
Time to reflect
- Have you used an eresource vendor app lately? What was your experience like? If you haven’t used one lately, download one and give it a go. Think about your experience using the app and reflect on the quality of that experience.
- Does your library have a mobile friendly version of its website and/or catalogue (either via a website, an app or a web app)?
- Does your library provide integrated, seamless access to online resources for mobile users?
- How might libraries deal with issues around integration while still promoting vendor apps?
This post was written by Kate Davis.