Literature Review

The literature review will highlight three areas of study examining user perception of library websites: mobile technology, library and mobile library website features and the user perspective. There is limited research currently available studying academic library websites and user perception of the resources they offer. Research studies examining public library mobile websites is difficult to find. Further investigation is needed into comparing mobile versions of academic and public library websites from the user perspective and the services offered by these institutions on mobile library websites.

Mobile Technology

Although use of mobile devices is becoming ubiquitous, there are barriers to consider in the use of this technology in providing mobile library websites to users (Fox 8). These barriers include subscription to data plans, availability and maintenance of open source software, content choice and presentation and user needs (Hahn 276). Mobile devices are task-specific in use in comparison to websites, which are more free form and flexible for the user to navigate, browse and search (Shrestha 187). Conversely, this technology provides unique learning opportunities and has advantages of mobility and portability. Academic, public and special libraries could use mobile technology in service innovations, m-learning, instruction in mobile device use, web lectures, reference services and catalog searching (Hahn 278-282). Vendors are now developing portals for the mobile platform; specifically, Gale Cengage now offers a series of library resource applications called AccessMyLibrary through the Apple AppStore (Gale Apps 2011; Martine 2010).

Smartphones are not the only mobile device used by libraries. Ebooks, readable on smartphones and ereaders depending on format, are becoming more prevalent, with indications that 66% of public libraries nationwide in the United States offer patrons free access to them (Emery 88). There are ongoing issues with this type of content provided to patrons on mobile devices, as libraries negotiate contracts and DRM licenses with content vendors and publishers. Mobile devices can be used to link to the Internet or mail clients through QR Codes, which are becoming more visible in libraries and library catalogs (Walsh 55). Mobile devices have been used in conjunction with QR codes to access instruction and subject guides and location-based information.

Further issues in the area of mobile technology and libraries includes the increasing popularity of tablets, especially the iPad, used by both patrons and library personnel. Libraries need to consider such aspects as time, resource investment and cost/benefit analysis in creating mobile applications of their library websites (Emery 89).

Library and Mobile Library Website Features

The number of universities with a web presence in the 111 English-speaking members of the Association of Research Libraries is 39, with 15 universities having only a university mobile site, 14 only having a library mobile website and 10 having both university and library websites (Aldrich 2010). Institutions often solicit feedback from students and faculty about the most useful features of their traditional library websites when considering developing mobile counterparts. Functions most commonly found on library websites include library hours, library directory, library catalog and contact us. "Mobile campus" type services include easy access to administration contacts, the library, email, news and search tools – more broadly provided services could be of the following types: individualized accounts, community information and resources, campus life and usage guides (Choi 17).

The Seeholzer and Salem (2011) study of the mobile web focused on one location: Kent State University. The purpose of the study was to determine which features of the traditional website would be most useful on a mobile device and how much time was spent using the web, library features they used and other available services users were interested in having access to (Seeholzer and Salem 9). Recurring themes included students desiring a more interactive, customizable experience, with the ability to perform a variety of tasks, such as read, chat and connect to resources beyond the basics of finding library hours, locations and directions (Seeholzer and Salem 18).

Libraries are discovering that mobile devices are a new way to reach out to their communities (Seeholder & Salem 9; Hahn 279). Mobile devices allow freedom of movement from one location to another and the ability to access the web to complete specific tasks of relatively short duration. Apps in mobile devices reduce information into prepackaged forms and are discrete units isolated from the larger context, which users can access depending on their information need (Aldrich 2010). Functions most commonly found on university mobile websites include event calendars, directories, news and campus maps (Aldrcih 2010). Specific research studies reviewing mobile website functions in depth include MIT, Ball State University, Duke University, the universities of Texas, North Carolina and Nebraska and Rice University. The study by Aldrich (2010) suggests that more dynamic, interactive and student-centric features should be incorporated into university mobile websites, as well as functions that meet education needs and address access for people with disabilities (Aldrich 2010).

Weaknesses of mobile website design include their more simplistic format and more minimalized look, as well as lack of services provided (Seeholzer and Salem 18-19). Seeholzer and Salem (2011) found 10 links the upper limit on mobile website interfaces, with adequate spacing between them required, as well as a link to the full university library website (Seeholzer and Salem 19). Mobile devices have small screens with content formatted within one column, making it difficult to display interface-rich web pages, wireless connections can be slower, memory size smaller and graphics support lacking, such as the non-use of Adobe Flash by Apple mobile device products (Shrestha 187; West, Hafner, and Faust 103). These drawbacks influence the variety of features libraries can provide on their mobile websites. In developing mobile library websites, libraries need to ensure these applications are user friendly and functional in interface design.

There are institutions providing more comprehensive features and resources for the mobile device platform. Library High Tech News (2009) and Multimedia Information & Technology (2009) published articles highlighting Duke University was offering the most comprehensive digital image collection specifically formatted for the iPhone, which includes 32,000 images over 20 collections. Additional services include campus news feeds, a campus map and an expanded schedule of courses. Institutions such as Duke University stand as examples of libraries embracing innovative technologies to provide content to their communities and expanding the range of services they provide to their users.

User Perspective

The user perspective is important in meeting user expectations of features available on mobile library websites. Kim (2011) suggests three varying perspectives of traditional library website usage, which include the user, website design and library service quality. Access to a library website enables users to optimize their time by allowing them to access information and online resources whenever and wherever needed (Kim 67). Users appreciate websites that offer the library services they are looking for including library catalogs and databases, reference services and campus news and information (Kim 68). Numerous studies mention the importance of the user perspective in the design process (Blandford and Buchanan 2003). Perspectives of website design are measured in simplicity and complexity, with users perceiving library website design as challenging (Kim 68-69).

Library resources users would likely access on their mobile devices include research databases and subject manuals, services such as contacting a librarian or the reference desk and logging into a personal library account (Seeholzer and Salem 14-17). Accessing library websites through the mobile device will provide users with new opportunities, such as social engagement, outreach programs and m-learning tools. Usability of mobile devices does pose a challenge on a variety of fronts for the user. Negative aspects for users of mobile websites include scrolling long pages of information, unclear organization of information and page structure, difficulty in typing in fields and forms, ease in selecting links and correcting mistakes (Shestha 191-192). Overall design and navigation of mobile library wesbites is an important consideration for the user.

Institutions developing mobile library websites should not only include the user perspective in the design stage but could look to the realm of digital libraries and the user perspective, as there are more studies available in this space than the user perspective of mobile library websites and the findings may be transferable. User preference in digital library features include: information should be easy and quick to find, simple to use visually-based interfaces, search results of one page in length and materials and resources classified in varying ways (Elahe, Ghinea and Chen 402-404). A structured and multi-leveled presentation of information relevant to the tasks users want to perform in also important (Tsakonas and Papatheodorou 1246). Menu structures representing information provided in mobile library website interfaces should be easy for the user to understand and navigate.

Users accessing library websites on mobile devices want more customizable features and interactive services such as chat and connecting to resources. Essentially, users are demanding features beyond the basics (Seeholzer and Salem 18). This is an important discovery as it leads to questioning whether mobile library websites will eventually succeed traditional library websites as users' first point of access to libraries.