Sunday, February 10, 2008

Where the Users Are

Two of the technology trends that I talked about at OLA this year are really parts of one over-arching trend: making it easy for our users to integrate the library and its online collections into their normal workflows. That is, going to where they are, in an online kind of way.

Over the Christmas break, I started playing with Google Gadgets as a way of incorporating the library's catalogue into my home page at iGoogle. It was surprisingly easy. In fact, it was surprisingly easy to set up a prototypical "Western" iGoogle template. Shortly after I started working on this, I discovered, via the Panlibus blog, that the Dublin City (Ireland) public library is doing something similar with a different service called Pageflakes. Netvibes is another service that does the same sort of thing. Google and Netvibes both claim to provide programming interfaces that allow their gadgets and widgets (respectively) be incorporated into all sorts of different sites. Then, just a few weeks into January, Proquest announced their widget builder, which simplifies creating Proquest search boxes in library (or other) home page. Of course, this sort of embedding is more about making the starting point more convenient, since it's not hard to get to the catalogue, or to a database just by bookmarking them.

The more interesting way, for me, of embedding our services into our users lives and workflows is the newer area of mobile web access. With the launch of the iPhone in the US last year, and the much rumoured launch here in Canada (supposedly any day now), with it's large screen, it suddenly makes sense to search the web standing wherever one might be. Just before Christmas, Bell Canada launched the new HTC Touch smartphone with the option of unlimited web browsing on the phone for a mere $7/month (this should not be confused with unlimited data, which it probably isn't). Suddenly, surfing the web on your phone isn't really geeky, but is actually useful: I have actually searched Amazon.ca's mobile interface while standing in my local Chapters store, just to see how much cheaper the book might be online. The Thunder Bay Public Library has purchased Innovative Interfaces's "AirPac" mobile web interface for their catalogue. If my local library had a mobile interface, I'd probably use it instead of Amazon's when looking for books in Chapters.

Discovery happens everywhere. We need to make sure that when our users discover something, that we're there too, to deliver it to them.

1 comment:

Josh Greenberg said...

You might find this relevant: a planning grant for the next generation of online homework help services at NYPL led us to the same place.