or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Creating a Mobile Library Website

   October 28th, 2010

Mobile website mockup in testiphone.comYou're probably sick of hearing about things I picked up at NELA2010, but I'm not done yet.

In the very last session of the conference, Steve Butzel from the Portsmouth (NH) Public Library demonstrated the Online Newsstand he created to boost their online magazine usage. That was neat in itself, but what I really took away from his talk was that I needed to - and easily could - create a version of our website specifically designed for mobile phones.

He showed theirs (in beta), which is simple and awesome. It inspired me to give it a try.

I started on http://chelmsfordlibrary.org/mobile/ yesterday, and am still working on it yet (in fact, I haven't even told anyone at my library yet that I'm doing it - surprise!).

I don't have a cell phone and so haven't tested this on a smartphone yet. I have been using testiphone.com (an online tool Steve highlighted - there are other tools, too), so please give it a try and let me know how it works.

Steve's point was that it could be very simple - hours, directions, events, a contact link, and a purchase suggestion link for patrons who are in a bookstore (great for people with apps like RedLaser). Here's the logic of what to include:

  • Hours
  • Directions (right now it just links to Google Maps, but I need to also include a link for our branch library)
  • Ask a Librarian (haven't created this yet, but it will be a simple email form)
  • Purchase Suggestion (also not done, but will be a simple form)
  • Upcoming Events (our calendar was not at all mobile-friendly, so I just grabbed the rss feed and ran it through feed2js.org to create just a list of our upcoming events. There could be separate feeds for adult events, childrens events, etc., but that might be overkill)
  • Link to the catalog (I also embedded a catalog search, but that might be too much. And I found the catalog isn't entirely mobile-friendly either - we'll be moving to the Evergreen ILS soon, so I'll wait and see on this, otherwise I'd investigate LibAnywhere from LibraryThing, which Steve also mentioned)
  • Link back to the main library website for everything else

The next trick will be getting our regular homepage to automatically detect mobile devices and reroute them to the mobile website. I haven't even attempted this yet, but have done a little research.

Apparently, cell phones and smartphones aren't just a fad after all, so having a website that works well on these devices is just as important as a browser-based website - and this will only become more important as a way to serve our patrons on their terms. I was happy with how easy it was. Now I need to find out what my coworkers think.

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14 Responses to “Creating a Mobile Library Website”

  1. Brett Says:

    Hi Brian,

    Check out CSS Media Queries for automatic phone detection.

    I’m using this technique to modify our library’s EZproxy page for inclusion in a mobile website.

    I found the technique on A List Apart


  2. A Says:

    Thanks for sharing this! I have a rogue mobile site for my library, and detecting mobile browsers is an issue I have. I can’t do anything fancy on the server, but I can run some JavaScript.

  3. Erin Says:

    Did you watch the GA Public Library Wednesday Webinar ‘the social library’? originally broadcast on July 21? There was some talk about mobile websites and they offered some great emulator sites as well. You may want to check it out – also Cliff Landis was the presentor and had great info! here is the archive link:


  4. Twitter Trackbacks for Swiss Army Librarian » Creating a Mobile Library Website :: Brian Herzog [swissarmylibrarian.net] on Topsy.com Says:

    […] Swiss Army Librarian » Creating a Mobile Library Website :: Brian Herzog swissarmylibrarian.net/2010/10/28/creating-a-mobile-library-website – view page – cached Swiss Army Librarian is a blog by Brian Herzog mostly about library and technology issues relating to public libraries Tweets about this link […]

  5. Tori Says:

    Hi Brian, you might want to check your page width and/or font sizes because it’s displaying pretty small on my 3GS. Other than that it looks great!

    I don’t know of any good way to have an automatic redirect on a static website. Javascript is a tedious option because you’ll have to customize for each mobile browser. But please do post if you find an alternative, thanks!


  6. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Brett & @A: browser detection is the last thing I need to work on – thanks for the input, and I’ll post here how my experience goes.

    @Erin: Thanks for the link – I’m listening to it right now.

    @Tori: I think I figured out what was causing that, so if it’s still happening please let me know.

  7. Winnie Says:

    Hi Brian,
    I don’t have a mobile phone either, but I have an iPod touch and this looks good. I don’t a have the width/font size problems mentioned above. It’s too bad that searching the catalogue is still such a pain.

  8. Brad Czerniak Says:

    I agree with Brett. For most libraries, CSS3 Media Queries are the best bet. It can be challenging to style an existing site to look good on mobile devices, but any site redesign should start from a mobile first philosophy. My preso Practically Mobile addresses this.

    The Canton Public Library website (though not catalog, yet!) implements this technique.

    Essentially, users expect the same information on their mobiles, just optimized for the different UI. Barebones mobile sites can be frustrating in a number of ways if not carefully designed.

    Brian, while I have your attention: I did a jQuery & HTML5 version of the ROI Calculator that CPL might roll out soon-ish. Thoughts?

  9. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Winnie: thanks for checking – it is sad (and ironic) that the interface libraries have the least amount of control over is the catalog.

    @Brad: thank you for the links – I really like how the CPL website content and navigation scales automatically based on window size – that’s great. I also much prefer the single-site approach. I’ll check out the html5 calculator next week – thanks for working on it.

  10. Krista Says:

    Thank you! I’m just about to start a mobile site for my library – this will be so helpful!

  11. Oleg K. Says:

    Hi Brian, just checked your site on my iPhone 3G and it looks great.

    I’ll have to keep your post (and the comments section) in mind if I’m ever fooling around with a library’s (or any other orgs) mobile site.

  12. Richard Uren Says:

    Hi Brian,

    You can detect and redirect mobile browsers using Handset Detection. Drop me an email and i’ll help you out with some extra detections. Hope that helps.


  13. Swiss Army Librarian » Upcoming Workshop: Mobilize Your Patrons :: Brian Herzog Says:

    […] should be a great day. For my part, I’m basically going to go through the steps I took to make a mobile site for my library, and also mention a few other mobile options for […]

  14. Swiss Army Librarian » NHLA11 Talk on Building a Mobile Website :: Brian Herzog Says:

    […] a few talks this year about how to build a mobile website for libraries – based, mainly, on my posts about the one I made for my library. This Friday is the first of those talks, for the New […]