Stop the App Madness

The mobile web is growing big time.  If you don’t believe me then take a look at Resource Shelf blog post  referring to the 2009 Mobile Web Trend Report  from QuantCast. Mobile web consumption grew 110% in North America and 148% worldwide in 2009. While these growth numbers are huge, they still only represent 1.3 percent of all web pageviews. 

So everybody needs to settle down just a bit and breathe.  Yes the mobile web has grown tremendously and I am willing to bet (along with QuantCast 2010 sneak peak) that the mobile web will continue to grow.  Once we just had the Blackberry and iPhone as our major mobile web movers and shakers, but now Google has gotten into the fight as well as a whole boat load of cell phone makers. 

What should librarians and library vendors do about this?! 

First, resist all temptation, however strong, to run out and create an app.  Just don’t do it.  There are many, many, many things you and your people need to be doing and considering before you start down the app path.

The app path looks all pretty and inviting but you are seeing it through tech colored glasses that sometimes forget to show you that you will need to make more than just one app to reach your users.  At best you will need to create at least two apps (iPhone and Blackberry) to hit the majority of users.  But according to the Quantcast report, Motorola’s Droid, HTC’s Eris, and Palm Pixi were some of the most popular mobile gifts given this Christmas season. Don’t forget Google’s phone was just unveiled.  So if these platforms continue in popularity you now are faced with possibly creating apps for even more platforms.

Creating the app is just one problem.  Even if you decide that is completely impossible to make an app for every platform and you decide to just make two (iPhone and Blackberry -two most popular platforms right now), how are you and your company or library going to support, maintain, and upgrade the apps? Don’t create an app and just leave it. You must improve upon it.

Second, focus on your website.  I know it may sound silly that I mention this because lots of people are accessing the web from phones and every body’s instinct is to “have an app for that.”  But the most effective way to reach ALL of your mobile users is to create a mobile friendly website.  If your website is mobile friendly then you don’t have to worry how many of your users have iPhones, Blackberrys, Androids, Pixis, or whatever the next trendy sparkly new device, THEY ALL CAN USE YOUR CONTENT if your website is mobile friendly. 

Creating a mobile friendly website is the biggest bang for your buck.  It doesn’t require as much programming knowledge as an app and you are able to target way more people more effectively rather than constantly creating different apps.  Additionally you should set your mobile website up to feed you the usage stats.  People on mobile phones use the web differently.  Not only do we use non-mobile friendly sites differently on our phones but we use mobile friendly sites differently too.  What I am trying to say is that people who access a website from a computer usually are doing it for different reasons or looking for different things than people who are on their phones.  Therefore, even if you plan out your mobile website, it stands to reason your first version will have some different usage statistics than your traditional website.  Don’t just sit there with that information, use it and re-design your mobile website based on your usage stats to help satisfy your users’ needs. 

Once you have created a mobile website, looked at the usage statistics, redesign and tweak the mobile site, then you may start to consider creating an app.  But don’t just create an app to have an app.  There are so many lame and crummy apps from good companies (and not good companies) lying around in app land that  it is a bit like looking for survivors in zombie movie.  There are tons of lifeless and useless apps wandering the country side waiting to latch on to you. 

I feel apps are the new blog.  Way back when, blogs were the “in” thing to have.  Everybody wanted one for the website but nobody realized how much effort it took to create a good one and maintain it.  So you had a ton of blogs rotting away in the Internet wasteland.  There are so many apps out there for my iPhone that if an app is not as good or better than the traditional (or God willing) mobile website, I don’t bother with it.  I have app-athy and so do many other mobile users.

For example, there is thread on Web4Lib about a new app from LibraryThing called LocalBooks.  Because I have an iPhone and I am a librarian I was excited at first to read about the app.  I was also excited to see that it was rated 5 stars.  I downloaded the app and tried it out.  I have used LibraryThing on the web so I was expecting the app to do what the website does AND then some.  Wow I was disappointed with the app.  The app is called LocalBooks, you would think that it at least lets you do what you normally do on the LibraryThing website and find books locally (or anywhere). Nope.  All you can do is find bookstores and libraries in your area and search for events matching your topic.  Basically it AroundMe (another free popular iPhone app) with an event search.

So I typed in Twilight (which is all the rage right now and sure to have events somewhere).  The nearest “twilight” event to me (in Cleveland) was the Barrett Wharton public library branch (250 miles away in Barrett, WV) and when I tap on it, no upcoming events are listed.  Now how on earth did it find the Barrett Public library was having a “twilight” event if no events are listed? 

It does only a fair job of finding bookstores or libraries near me.  I decided to search for bookstores and libraries near me (while at a library). It failed to find Mathews Medical Books which according to AroundMe is 416 yards away and it listed the library that I was sitting in as being 3.19 miles away (AroundMe listed my library 419 yds away).  AroundMe was slightly off but LocalBooks couldn’t find a national bookstore and was way off on library location, if you are in a city (which I am) there are a lot of things packed into 3.19 miles. 

During the Web4Lib discussion Roy Tennant with OCLC Research mentioned that WorldCat has an app that will find books.  The WorldCat Mobile app is a sad neutered version of the traditional website.  I searched for Hurst’s the Heart.  Despite typing exactly the same thing, the iPhone app shows different results than the traditional website.  For example, the STATRef version shows up on the mobile app version and doesn’t show up on the website version.  WHY?!  That wasn’t the only oddity.  In the web version when I click on the link to the holding library I am immediately sent to the library’s catalog record for that book.  This does not happen in the mobile app version.  My guess would be because the app can’t handle the multiple ILS platforms out there.  Additionally I can’t request books to be delivered to my library using the mobile app which I can through the website.  These two things are the most powerful parts to WorldCat, therefore why would a I bother with the mobile app when traditional library site is the most functional?!  So why make an app that is wimpier and less productive than your website?!

Here you have two very popular traditional library type websites that decided to jump into the app world, yet neither of them have mobile friendly websites!  I use their websites quite often but I deleted their apps after only a day.  It is not my intention to pick on LibraryThing or WorldCat.  I think they are just two of the many out there who got sucked into the app hype and decided to make an app.  There are tons of medical apps out there that aren’t worth a darn either.  

There are so many junk apps out there I will rarely if ever pay for an app.  (I got a $20 iTunes gift card last year for Christmas, and I still have $8 on my account. I bought mostly songs.)  I won’t pay for any app unless it has at least 4 stars and I have read the reviews, even then I won’t pay above $1.99.

Medical and hospital libraries and library vendors (database, book, and journal companies) please think before you app.

***Update Jan. 10, 2010***

Just read an article on MSN, Apps call, but will your phone answer?  where they discuss the issue of an extremely diverse and fragmented mobile phone market that is hurting the app market.  I mentioned in my post that if you want to reach people through apps, you are going to have to design different apps for different phones.  It turns out I was overly simplistic with this statement.  Depending on the phone and its operating system, one app designed for a specific brand of phone like the Android, may not work on new Android models with newer operating systems. 

The app market is ugly and really not where librarians or librarian vendors need to be hanging out until some standardization happens.  The good news is that there is already some standardization happening in web development.  As the article mentions HTML5 will begin to make it easier to have robust mobile friendly websites that are platform independent and work on all phones.  But that doesn’t change the fact that people still will use the web differently on the phone vs. the computer, so you need to look at your usage statistics and your users and design something that works best on the mobile.  Just because HTML5 will allow you to create a more robust mobile website doesn’t mean that you should always design it that way.  Sometimes less is more, especially to those of us on 4 inch screens.

Library Tech Trends with LITA

It is the beginning of a new year, so it follows that people will come out with what hot in 2010.  The morning news shows are doing it with money, fashion, and technology.  Of course the library world is in on the gig too.  Sunday January 17th library 10:30-12:30 EST prognosticators will be discussing LITA Top Tech Trends.  You can follow them at, or via Twitter #alamwttt. 

Now this is happening on a Sunday, which means those of you can’t watch streaming media at work have the opportunity to watch it from your home.  It is fairly early in the day, plenty of time for you football watching librarians to virtually attend before the playoff games start later in the afternoon.

If you decide to watch the program, you will hear from

  • Amanda Etches-Johnson, User Experience Librarian at McMaster University
  • Jason Griffey, Head of Library Information Technology at University of Tennessee, Chattanooga
  • Joe Murphy, Science Librarian, Yale University
  • Lauren Pressley, Instructional Design Librarian, Wake Forest University
  • David Walker, Web Services Librarian, California State University System

Hopefully if all the stars align, I will be able to catch some of it in between nerf gun battles, painting cabinets, and picking up Christmas decorations.  Wait there is a thought, instead of listening to the radio while painting the cabinets I can plug in my laptop (safe distance from paint) and listen to it while I painting.  Wow, I am a library nerd.

Update: Facebook Privacy Changes

It feels like Facebook is constantly changing their privacy settings.  This is necessarily a bad thing if they didn’t make it so darn confusing.  Sometimes I think Facebook is playing both sides of the fence.  They update the privacy settings to make users happy, but they hide the settings and make it confusing so that many users fail to do it correctly which makes advertisers and other information gathering companies happy. 

I was listening to the radio the other day (it was a replay due to the holidays) and the radio hosts were lamenting the latest Facebook privacy changes.  One host commented that Facebook had set the default settings to be open so when they made the changes everybody and everything was open to all and on Google.  Now since this was a replay (and I didn’t tune into the beginning of the show to know when it was originally aired) I am not sure when this happened or if the hosts description of the event was entirely accurate.  However, the show did give me incentive to find a nice article on the latest privacy setting and to check my account.

Ars Technica has a nice article by Jacqui Cheng, An updated guide to Facebook privacy: December 2009 edition which gives more information on the latest (as of December 2009) privacy changes. 

One of the best things I learned was how to divide your friends into lists.  As the article mentions this was possible before, but the new changes makes lists much more powerful and potentially secure.  Because now you can assign different permissions to these lists.  According to the article, this ability is because “Facebook now considers your name, profile picture, city, gender, and friends ‘publicly available information,’ so anyone who finds you on Facebook can see who you associate with, even if you otherwise hide your info from non-friends.”

For example, I have noticed that as more of my family and friends are jumping on the Facebook (my mom just got an account over Christmas) there are more and more librarians that are friending me on Facebook.  Some of these librarians I know well, some I have met once or twice, some I know by name only, and other I have never known before.   I want to use Facebook to network and discuss library topics (less formally than other areas) but I also use Facebook to keep in touch with my cousins in Virginia and friends elsewhere.   The library people most likely don’t want to hear about my trials and tribulations of potty training my three year old.  Additionally my family and friends think controlled vocabulary is what you do when little ears are around. 

Using lists I can put all of my library friends in one list and all of my family and friends in another or both.  Now with Facebook’s new privacy settings I can change my posting permissions, which means I can post one thing to be seen by librarians, one thing to be seen by family, or something that can be seen by all.  The same can be done for pictures, everything in your Profile Information and Contact Information.

It is always a good idea to check out the privacy settings on your FB account regardless of whether you are more public or private.  Don’t forget to check out your permissions and privacy settings for what your friends can share about you through applications and websites.

Article Level Metrics

PLoS is doing some interesting with social networking and articles.  They provide “article level metrics” on all of the articles published within their titles.  Article level metrics refers to the data they are collecting on each article that can be used to help researchers to determine the value of the article within the scientific community.  So what kind of data are they collecting?  It includes citation information, online usage, social bookmarks, comments, notes, blog posts about the article, and ratings.  More information about how each of these data pieces are collected and used can be found at PLoS.

What I find most interesting is the online social networking tools they look at and use to help determine the impact of an article.  While much of this type of information is out there on the Internet, I think it is often overlooked.  News spreads rapidly through the social networking webverse.  There are countless reports where a breaking news story such as the plane landing  on the Hudson river was on Twitter before traditional news sources.  Twitter, blogs, and social bookmarks are naturally going to be quicker than traditional communication methods employed within research (letters to the editor, editorials, articles, etc.). 

I am not implying that an article that has a ton of Twitter chatter is on the same par as one that has been cited in many many research journals.  But I do think the Twitter chatter, the blog posts, and the bookmarks are an important indicator of what people think of an article in the present time.  This information should not be ignored.  This information along with traditional metrics data provide a more complete overall picture of the article.   People can would be able to see an article’s immediate impact on the scientific web community as well as the article’s long term impact.  

According to PLoS their metrics data is openly available for researchers to analyze.  The entire dataset for all article level metrics are available as an Excel file that is updated periodically.  What would be interesting is to take this data and see whether there is a correlation between online interest (blog posts, tweets, and bookmarks) and traditional research metrics that measure an article’s impact on the scientific community.  Do articles that get a lot of social media attention also generate a lot of attention in the long run with authors citing it or building the research upon it?

Interesting how social networking is wiggling its way into things we never thought it would.

NLM Ceases Cutters in LocatorPlus

According the December 22, 2009  NLM Technical Bulletin, “NLM will cease providing cutter numbers in LocatorPlus for most of the classification numbers assigned to print monographs that the library catalogs.”  The reason for this change is to increase efficiencies in NLM’s cataloging practices.  Apparently time spent cuttering was considered an inefficient activity.

The bulletin mentions that NLM has been shelving the print by accession number rather than call number for 15 years, but they provided full call numbers on their records as a convenience to other libraries using NLM records.  Because cutter numbers are unique to a library’s particular collection and librarians often adjust the numbers to fit in with their own library’s shelf range, NLM decided to stop adding them to the record and cataloging process.  Please note, “NLM is still committed to providing a classification number the reflects the subject of a book, in recognition that this information ca be used widely by others.”

 The changes will take effect on June 21, 2010.  So you have time to add a new cutter table to your 2010 holidays  wish list.

Ovid Tip

I primarily use Ovid to do Medline searches.  Every so often I get a really ugly search where I have to look through the results and select a few here and there to combine with other items within the Search Strategy.  In the beginning with Ovid (prior to SP) I simply clicked the boxes next to the citation and when done I  clicked the link for Main Search Page.  Selected citations were then added to my Search History.  With SP things changed.  The link for Main Search Page was absent because the Search History was on every page of the citation list.  So when I clicked the boxes next to the citations I couldn’t easily get them into the Search History box.  I ended up using rather clunky but effective method to add the citations to the Search History.  I clicked the citation boxes then I clicked Print Preview in the Results Manager.  The citations would display on the screen along with the link to the Main Search Page.  I would click the Main Search Page link and it then my selected results would be in the Search History. 

Last Friday I just found out that I no longer have to do all of this.  From now on when selecting articles I just click on the citation boxes and then scroll up to the top of the page and click View Selected (it is in blue and it is located next to Database Field Guide) and that automatically adds my selected citations to the Search Strategy.   I know this sounds like a silly tip to post about, but I thought I would pass it along because I bet there are others like me who don’t know about this. 

If you knew about this, then feel free to post another search tip about Ovid or PubMed that others can benefit from.

MLA Election Results

Thank you to everybody who served on the Nominating Committee, those who ran in the election, and most importantly the members who voted in this election.  Your participation in the organization is important.

President-elect Jerry Perry, Director Health Sciences Library Anschutz Medical Campus, University of Colorado Denver.

Board of Directors (2010-2013) Marianne Comegys Director Department of Medical Library Science, LSU Health Sciences Center Shreveport and Rikke Ogawa Emergent Technologies Coordinator and Health and Life Sciences Librarian, Louise Darling Biomedical Library, University of California Los Angeles.

Nominating Committee

  • Margaret Bandy
  • Janis Brown
  • Gary Byrd
  • Rebecca Davis
  • Jacqueline Doyle
  • Lynn Fortney
  • Thomas Hill
  • Anne Linton
  • Katherine Stemmer Frumento

This year the Nominating Committee, charged with finding suitable candidates to run for offices and with running the election, tried a few different things help give MLA members more information about the candidates.  We would like your opinion on these changes.  Please fill out this survey and comment on about the election process, what worked, what didn’t and what can be done to make it better.

MLA’s New AMS An In Depth Look

I mentioned in an earlier post that MLA’s new Association Management System (AMS) was live.  Well, Kate Corcoran has written a very detailed post on MLA Connections looking at the new AMS.   She provides an indepth look at each of the section and she includes screen shots as well as lots of information.  If you have any questions, thoughts, concerns or suggestions about the new AMS, submit a comment on MLA Connections post.

What Is Your Time Worth?

What price would you put on your time?  That is the question Brynn Beals asked as a solo librarian at Franciscan Health System Library.  She wrote the interesting article in the Journal of Hospital Librarianship, “Valuing Hospital Library Services: One Small Step for a Solo.”  After attending the “Measuring Your Impact: Using Evaluation to Demonstrate Value” class at an MLA chapter meeting she decided to create an evaluation form to measure how much time and money she was saving the hospital if she did searches instead of the doctor, nurse, etc. did the search. 

Using salary information from America’s Career InfoNet and Nursing Management’s 2007 compensation survey she was able to determine that the hospital saved $5914.  This is based off of the information from 21 of the 61 returned surveys that had quantifiable data that allowed her to attach an hourly rate to the search.  That means the hospital saved an average of $281/search question based off of her 21 questionnaires. 

At first blush $5914 is not a lot of money nor does it completely offset the cost of running a library or the true savings a library can provide a hospital if it health care personnel conducted their own research without a librarian.  However, it is just a small sampling of the savings a librarian can bring to a hospital.  Imagine the savings if all 61 of the questionnaires had quantifiable data.  Imagine if all 105 of her distributed surveys were returned with quantifiable data. The overall hospital savings would go up.   

Beals survey just focused on the amount of time/money saved and how the information was used (change diagnosis, policy development, CE, patient education, etc.).  Just think if we could add a few more layers to the study and find out the savings hospitals can realize by acquiring documents through Docline instead of outside document delivery services, or having a library journal subscription instead of multiple departmental subscriptions.  These are just some of my limited ideas of how one could expand this study.  I am sure there are more things to look at.

Jenny Garcia recently queried the MEDLIB-L  community about doing a research project studying hospitals that do not have a library.  Her question to the community was, “If you could have only one answerable question about hospitals without libraries, what would it be?”  I am sure the MEDLIB-L community will give her plenty of ideas. 

While Beals study and Garcia’s planned study are technically different they both look at the value of libraries and librarians within hospitals.  We need more of these studies.  We need studies similar to Beals that are easily reproducible for smaller hospital librarians and we need larger impact studies that survey several hospitals that Garcia is thinking of conducting so that we can illustrate the broader picture.