A quick overview and introduction to our thinking and work on a federal libary mobile website.
In observing the growing trend in the use of mobile devices, a small group of us at CISTI decided to explore the options and best practices for offering better access to CISTI services.
Check out the CISTI Mobile website (beta).
We had been investigating the possibility of producing some sort of application, possibly for the iPhone/iPad... but there are a couple of distinct disadvantages to that approach. Firstly, we'd need to obtain and retain the knowledge to support application development - or contract for someone to do that work. Secondly, we'd only be improving access on a small sub-set of the main mobile devices available.
With that understanding, we pursued investigation into providing better access for mobile devices to our website. CISTI is an institute of the National Research Council - an agency of the federal government, and hence obliged to meet federal government CLF standards for websites. Fitting our full featured CLF site into a mobile screen size was essentially impossible. Moreover, very few federal government mobile websites exist - and those that do seem to be older WAP-based sites designed before the advent of modern smartphones.
Further investigation revealed that the current best practice is to create simplified and separate dedicated mobile website in these cases - reducing the content and services to their core - and offering clients the option of using either the full regular site, or the mobile site as desired.
That said, the site attempts to meet the spirit of federal government CLF policy (branding, look and feel, accessibility and bilingualism) - but could not actually follow the established guidelines as they are based on desktop oriented browsers, and monitors.
Armed with this knowledge, a prototype was created using JQuery Mobile and the beginnings of code to connect with the Metalib API. This prototype was intended to gauge the amount of effort that would be required to produce a fully functioning mobile website - and to demonstrate the concept to interested stakeholders. Development of a functional prototype took far less time than expected, and demonstrated that a mobile website was achievable with minimal effort. Further, the prototype was able to demonstrate that we could create a single mobile website suitable for most common and modern versions of iPhone, Android and Blackberry devices.
Most library mobile websites provide contact/location information, hours of operation, access to search the library catalogue, and often - particularly in the case of academic libraries - reserves, holding information, course notes, etc.
CISTI, as usual, is different in this regard. We are not, particularly, a conventional lending library, nor an academic library, and the resources of most interest to our clients (and particularly the research staff of the National Research Council) are the licensed electronic access to scientific and technical articles. A simple search of the Catalogue would not do. Hence, we focused our effort towards providing access to search across large sets of scientific articles in addition to our library catalogue and local institutional repositories. Though the Metalib x-server api, we were able to construct queries and receive results from any sets of licenced and local resources required - and format those results to make them suitable for display in most mobile devices. Taking advantage of Metalib means having to code this once - and having mobile access to all of our available search resources.
Location and contact information (phone, maps) are something that most mobile devices support very well - and we thought it would be a useful (and easy) addition to the content of the mobile site.
Further, links to CISTI's Twitter, Facebook, the ubiquitous "about us" pages, and a link to CISTI's full website were included.
More information is available on the CISTI Lab Website page for CISTI Mobile. Comments and suggestions on CISTI Mobile (beta) are welcomed at this blog, or via any of CISTI's usual communication channels.