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August, 2010:

20 Tips for Planning Your Mobile Website

Last Thursday at the new student orientation, I  have launched the new mobile website for our library.  You can also see how it works from this tutorial.

Florida International University Medical Library Mobile Website

From the survey of the first year medical students, we have discovered that over 90% of them owned a mobile device or a smartphone and the majority of devices were iPhone or iPod Touch.  Since medical students go into the clerkship at hospitals in their third year and they are expected to use mobile devices in order to keep up with reference and research needs at the point of care, the library has been preparing for additional support for students’ mobile devices and the library’s mobile resources.  I have added mobile resources to the list of workshops I offer during the semester and created a web page dedicated to medical apps and other mobile databases available on mobile devices.  Now the mobile library website should further improve the students’ access to library resources and services.

A little before launching the library’s mobile website, I also had an opportunity to do a Pecha Kucha presentation for Handheld Librarian Online Conference III about how to plan a library’s first mobile website in the right way.  At the presentation, I focused more on the project management side of building a mobile website.  Although many people tend to think that building a mobile website is mostly a technical work, without proper planning work and appropriate project management, things may not turn out as expected.

Here are my 20 tips for planning right for your first mobile website that I shared at Handheld Librarian Online Conference III.

Planning begins with an environmental scan: what your peer library organizations are doing and what your own user base expects.

Know what your capabilities and limits are so that you can set a reasonable and realistic project goal.

A mobile website is all about users. Find out what they want and what their expectations are and make sure to develop your  mobile website based upon these needs.

Feature the library services and resources that would attract mobile device users such as a video, SMS reference, or mobile-optimized resources.

Recycle for branding. Whenever possible take advantage of a style sheet for a mobile website that already exists in your organization. Using a consistent style across different units of the same organization is also good for branding purposes.

Less is more. A mobile website should meet the particular needs of mobile device users, i.e. their needs for information on the go. Do not replicate the entire library website.

Do make the scope of your mobile website project explicit. Decide upon how many pages and what content you will be creating  and stick to it unless a change is absolutely necessary. Communicate this to stakeholders in advance.

Be flexible about funding options. If you are sure that what your users needs cannot be created in-house, look for funding outside the library such as grant opportunities.

If you can afford, invest in market research, usability testing, and/or hiring an experienced web developer. Keep in mind that the mobile website exists to offer a better experience for users.

Take advantage of many existing mobile frameworks such as iUi, JQTouch, iWebkit, XUI to save development time.

Pay attention to a potential scope creep. Keep your focus on the users’ needs, and not all stakeholders’ requests.

Define the roles for content providers, usability experts, and web designers /developers in advance for a better design and improved usability of a web site.

Avoid perfectionism. Since the mobile devices and markets are constantly changing, do not try to make your site perfect for all types of devices at one go.  Research what mobile devices the majority of your users use and make sure to design your mobile web site or web app in accordance with web standards.

Before launching it, do let users do a test-drive. Let them try your mobile site on their own devices, and solicit their feedback on both content and design. Find out what they find useful and gain insight from their comments.

Launch it! Make it sure that it goes with a bang, so that the majority of your mobile device users would notice the new mobile website of your library.

Publicize. Devise a clear plan of marketing your mobile site to your target users.

Use both traditional and social media to market your mobile website. There is no bad publicity and the more exposure the better for your mobile website.

Stay flexible and be ready to make quick changes. The mobile market and user expectations undergo frequent changes.

Make your mobile website fit your users’ workflows and not the other way.

Remember to put the piece of codes to track where the visitors come from and what they do, so that you can improve through iteration.

Of course, I don’t mean to say that I have followed all of these twenty things I have just listed here. Depending on the environment, some of them may not be applicable or feasible. For example, at our library, it was impossible to have a content expert, a usability specialist, and a web designer/developer.  So those three roles were all played by me. And I continuously reminded myself of keeping in mind which perspective of these three different roles I need to apply to the different stages of building the mobile website.

Similarly, marketing considerations can overweigh other factors.  Although I said above to put in the tracking codes for statistics before the launch, since we really really wanted to launch the mobile website at the new student orientation for the maximum exposure and marketing effect, we put the site up in the production server before we were ready for the tracking codes yet. Again, it was not ideal, but considering the alternative of delaying the launch and having a struggle with marketing the mobile website later, what we did was clearly a better move.

So, these 20 tips are only a guideline. But no matter what your environment is, it certainly helps to plan the whole project from the beginning to the end as it helps you to adjust your project to work with particular conditions, under which you will have to develop your own mobile website.  And here are my presentation slides.

Getting Published in a Peer-Reviewed Journal

My very first scholarly article in a LIS journal is about to be published in the fall issue of the Journal of Web Librarianship!  And I have two more articles submitted to two other journals, the Reference Librarian and Technical Services Quarterly.  As you can imagine, I am very excited.  But on the other hand, I still find it difficult to believe that my article is actually getting published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Getting published can be a daunting task for new librarians. Considering that a two-year LIS program may well fail to provide sufficient practice and experience for LIS students to gain confidence in writing a scholarly article, new librarians without prior experience in scholarly writing are likely to not know where to begin.  I am personally divided on the issue of the faculty status of librarians and the resulting obligation of publishing.  But that certainly is not an excuse for avoiding writing.

As to many others, the major problem to me was how to begin.  The pace of my work was extremely fast as I was working towards opening up a brand-new library.  My work life as a librarian seemed to leave no room left for scholarly writing.  Moreover, I  wasn’t sure what my true scholarly interests were and whether I knew enough to write about anything.  This is to say that, like many new librarians, I was not sure when or how I was ever going to get published “ever.”

National Maritime Museum - A flight of three Supermarine  Southampton Mark II Flying boats in the air over HendonI was lucky to attend the ACRL New Members group meeting about “Academic Librarians and Getting Published” at my first ALA Annual Conference that I attended in 2009. Not only did the three presentations given by Emily Drabinski, Lisa Carlucci Thomas & Karen Sobel, and Linda Hofschire offer excellent and practical tips for writing but also this session helped me realize that writing is something everyone struggles with and being rejected is part of the process of getting published. Even though we all know that writing is horrendous to many others, not just to us, we tend to believe that those who have been published are somehow quite different from us who have not been published.  This session effectively demystified this misconception of mine.

In this session, one of the presenters gave this tip: “To get motivated, use deadlines, generate good ideas, write them down right away, set aside time to write–get up 30 min. early everyday.”  Although I liked this idea very much, I just could not sit down everyday to write for 30 minutes.  I could not get up 30 minutes early and I could not spare 30 minutes before going to bed.  It could have been a lack of the will, a doubt, busy work, or numerous other things.  But the real reason was, I think, this crazy thought of mine that I would get published “once” I first figure out my interests, do some thorough research, generate some worthy ideas quite different from others’, and am convinced that I am ready to write an article of a journal.

Oh well, I can tell you as the first-time author who wrote for a LIS journal that things don’t work that way. Period.  But I used the most important part of this tip to get started: “Use Deadlines.”

This is how I started writing.

  • Read some blogs on which CFPs are collected and listed.
  • Pick one CFP and write a proposal.
  • Get the proposal accepted.
    (This is generally not difficult.)
  • Announce yourself the deadline forced by the journal editor.
    (This is hard but could be the best thing that happens to your writing.)

The deadline for the article was Halloween last year and I submitted a very unorganized and hard-to-read draft.  The thing is, until somebody tells you this, you cannot wash the fish scale off of your eyes, which make you so completely falsely believe that your paper is half-way presentable.  Interestingly enough, you cannot see how truly bad a writer you are until you get the dreaded peer reviews.  I was not devastated but simply agreed with the feedback I had received, which was beyond devastating.  For some unfathomable reason, my truly nice editor, Nina McHale, gave me a chance to revise with wonderfully helpful comments. This lead to some agonizing time I spent trying to re-write my own paper that was practically-impossible-to-read now that I could read it through others’ eyes.

US National Archive - Older Women Doing Hand Ironing in Laundry Where General Lay-Out Is Good, But Women Apparently Have No Seats

So the second deadline came.  I was convinced that my paper would be rejected. I was also so tired of the topic by then.  But my wonderful colleague, Marissa, who patiently read through my paper and gave me plenty of helpful advice and comments, kept telling me that I had some good ideas.  The most surprising thing was that I thought better and more clearly when I was in conversation with her than when I was writing alone.  Writing is basically a dialogue between a writer and his/her readers.  But we write as if writing is a soliloquy.  Marissa also gave me the very useful tip that by changing font-size and style, and page orientation, I can more effectively proofread.  I also read aloud my entire paper before submitting it this time.

I had not heard for months again.  The peer-review process can really takes eternity.  I was dreading the rejection notice.  I could hardly believe when I was told that my paper was accepted.

The hardest thing in writing is to say what one wants to say. I spend so much time writing something that doesn’t speak and rather misrepresent what I want to say.  Now that I have gone through my first experience of writing for a peer-reviewed journal, I realize that a scholarly article is not just a product of an author.  It is so much more than that.  My article would not have been written that way without the comments from my editor and the reviewers.  Although being reviewed can be a dreadful experience, this is a boon to new librarians since it means that they will receive much-needed help and get invaluable comments for their writing.  I will be forever grateful for my editor and anonymous peer reviewers who took upon themselves reading my awful first draft.

I am not any better writer and I am not any more knowledgeable.  But through my experience I have learned that writing begins with a deadline and beginning is nearly the half of the work of getting published.  Well, that and making a bibliography one-hundred percent correct in the asked citation style is no less than art (and I say this as solemnly as I can as a librarian).