Four Mobile Options for Libraries

I just read Your 4 Mobile Options by Paul Boag. Good stuff! In the article, Paul suggests that there are basically four options when it comes to having a mobile presence (taken from Paul’s article – you should go read the whole thing!):

  1. Responsive website: A responsive website is one that adapts to whatever device it is being viewed on. Whether that is a desktop computer, tablet or mobile device, the same website will display the same content using a visual design most suited to that device.
  2. Native application: Native apps are applications that run physically on the mobile device and are coded specifically for the operating system of that device. These are the applications you typically find in either the Google Play or iOS App Store.
  3. Web application: A web application shares characteristics with both a native application and a responsive website. As with a responsive website a web application is built using HTML, CSS and Javascript and lives entirely online.
  4. Hybrid application: A hybrid application is essentially a native application built with HTML, CSS and Javascript. By building it with web technology it is quicker to develop and easier to publish to multiple platforms (e.g. iOS or Android). The downsides are that performance tends not to be as good and they lack the design style of each platform.

Which one of these options should libraries use? Paul says this as a general rule of thumb: “A good starting point is to ask whether users are primarily completing a task or accessing information.”

I’d agree – that’s a good starting point. I’d go a bit farther, and say this – figure out what your mobile users are doing, and how they do it, and more importantly – WHAT they want to do. Then figure out the right flavor of mobile accessibility that best meets those needs. Also, figure out what you can do. For example, when my library was still on Horizon for our library catalog, we chose Boopsie because they could create a mobile version of our catalog (something our vendor hadn’t yet figured out). So we went with an app-driven mobile catalog.

We’re on Polaris now, and it comes with a web-based catalog that works great. Will we stay with our Boopsie app? Not necessarily, since the mobile version of Polaris works well. More on that later this year!

One other thing – if you haven’t yet started to think about the mobile web … why not? Pick something – anything – and start. Your smartphone-loving public is waiting!

Pic of Paul Boag from

  • Cari

    Same here–we have Boopsie, but now that VuFind has great mobile interface, I built a free google site that has all the same things our Boopsie app did. I made it a template in Google Sites if anyone wants to use it–called ‘Basic Mobile Site for Public Library’

  • Mike

    I have a Medical Library Website which I designed myself. I did not make it Responsive from the first design. But then I read Ethan Marcotte’s article then book and said Oh Boy I made a mistake. My patrons are highly mobile friendly and use their devices all the time for accessing Clinical Information. My site did not scale at all and looked awful on mobile devices. I knew I had to redesign the site. It was a “Bear” to go back and make it responsive. But I am so glad that I did. It renders so much better and is just more functional not only on mobile devices but on Desktops. I recommend making your site responsive from the beginning.

    I would also add. Think of the browsers your patrons will be using. Make sure your site works in all of them. I have to support IE 7 & 8. So I made a separate IE style sheet for IE since it will not support media queries (without JS Shiv) and other HTML 5 tags and CSS3 declarations.