Web Publishing Branch
Approved: April 2012
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia licence

1         Introduction

Where opportunity exists, conceptual leaders stand ready and eager to innovate. The mobile web provides superb food for innovation, as evidenced by the immersive Ludwig II app by the Bavarian State Library, which includes augmented reality features like 3D pattern recognition so that historical digital objects appear on the mobile screen, triggered by the physical location of the user.

It’s also demonstrated by NASA, who created a mobile portal to learning about space through their latest images from space, video, news and social media activity. The Eyewitness app acts as a showcase for the best photography featured in the Observer and the Guardian. It showcases the 100 most recent and topical images and includes ‘pro tips’ from the photographers. And it’s seen in Biblion, the New York Public Library scholarly journal reborn as a “multi-linear immersive experience” for the iPad. The inaugural edition (2011) delivers manuscript material, images, films, audio, and essays on the 1940 New York World’s Fair.

Importantly, the achievements of these institutions have been realised against a backdrop of economic hardship and a substantial reduction in funding for cultural and research institutions around the world.

Mobile is slowly but surely changing the world. We know that the information ecosystem is in a period of transition, moving further away from physical to digital access to information. Accordingly, libraries have paid considerable attention to addressing issues of collection, preservation and access.  However, in recent history our solutions have for the most part included an inherent assumption of ongoing dependency on traditional modes and methods of obtaining online access. They do not redress the rapid movement away from these modes of access.

In developed and developing countries alike, more users are abandoning traditional digital and web access devices – desktops and laptops – for mobile devices. What is also clear is that:

  • The number of people with smartphones is increasing – a reported 79% of mobiles shipped to Australia last year were smartphones (IDC telecommunications, 2011).
  • The proportion of users who never or infrequently use the desktop web, relying solely on mobile access, is growing. This is true of developed countries such as the UK and the US, as well as in developing countries (Mobi Thinking, 2010).
  • User information-seeking habits are changing. The overwhelming behavioural evidence suggests that users are demonstrating an increasing reliance on mobile devices for information seeking, for more meaningful and significant causes. A recent study by Google showed that of the 82% of American smartphone owners, more than half use their phones for information-seeking, including for the purposes of looking up information for work, for study or for health related reasons (Google, 2011).

Importantly, these trends imply that mobile is gradually sliding into the background as a tool that users take for granted. On the whole libraries are not keeping up with the demand for services that are integrated and consistent with the wider mobile experience. This lack of consistency creates barriers which prove too high for most users and consequently the information behind those barriers becomes increasingly ignored. Without mobile delivery libraries risk becoming increasingly marginalised and our collection material progressively underutilised.

In response to this threat a growing proportion of libraries are moving towards mobile access, most commonly with the release of mobile websites and native apps. Every week Australian libraries are enabling mobile modules in Library Management Systems and launching mobile websites. Overseas, predominantly in the US, there are some more sophisticated native apps that offer users advanced search options, browsing, web 2.0 features, digital library cards and other utility functions.

Amongst this activity the National Library’s current performance is typical but not exceptional. The release of a mobile catalogue app and the mobile audio tour for Treasures both hint at our intention to further engage in this area. However, these are stand-alone projects which do not represent a broader reaching strategy. Given the stature of the institution and the depth and breadth of our expertise, now is the time for the Library to formulate a strategic vision of the role mobile technologies will play in our evolution as an institution and as an aspiring leader in this field.

To effectively redress these changes in user behaviour, with a view to ensuring long-term relevance, the Library cannot simply undertake discrete mobile activity but must move towards a model with comprehensive mobile access to online services.

2         Defining mobile at the Library

The term ‘mobile’ has come to encompass an ever-expanding field of devices, platforms and content, the latter of which in of itself may not be restricted to handheld devices. Within the Library it currently refers chiefly to one-way broadcast of services and content outwards and to a lesser extent to in-house (enterprise) uses of mobile devices by staff for specific purposes.

In terms of technology this includes devices that are:

  • Pocketable (phones, wifi-enabled media players and gaming devices) or portable (tablets and eReaders)
  • Smart (internet enabled) or dumb/cellular (not internet enabled)
  • Supplied (on-site device distribution) or privately owned (used offsite or ‘bring your own device’ onsite)

In terms of platforms this includes:

  • Native apps (content that ‘lives’ on the device and is developed for specific platforms / operating systems). For example, native apps such as the National Library mobile catalogue and the Treasures gallery app for Apple and Android mobile devices.
  • Mobile websites (content that ‘lives’ on the web but is optimised for mobile viewing). For example the mobile optimised view of the Library website released in June 2011 as a feature of the new Drupal content management system.

In terms of content this includes:

  • Applications (software designed for specific tasks). The Library makes use of the Eventbrite app to manage onsite event registrations)
  • Podcasts (audio and video content), all podcasts are optimised for iOS devices (iPhone, iPod) amongst other formats, such as Android. Online reader education resources such as screencasts are viewable on mobile devices (via YouTube).
  • Other downloadable content (e.g. PDFs and ebooks). ebooks (ePub files) which are mobile compatible are under development – one is a unique work on Voss to be released as an enhanced ebook in association with the National Film and Sound Archive. The others are simultaneous productions of print and electronic versions of works developed by the Publishing Branch.

This interpretation of mobile is largely indicative of the activity currently underway at the Library. However, there are no lasting and unquestioned solutions to supporting a technology which is both variable and rapidly changing.  

Further, the fact that mobile will likely come to define the nature of the web experience will have an enormous strategic and practical impact on how the Library will present itself online. For example, the Library may look to harness the potential of these technologies to break away from the traditional broadcast-only website presence and move towards two-way conversations between the Library and its users, or conversations between the users themselves.  We must also prepare for what this will mean for an institution which has invested in a number of complex online interfaces for services that contain large quantities of data and variable content types. 

Accordingly the Library must come to terms with a growing and accepted culture of experimentation and a definition of ‘mobile’ that will change quickly and radically over time.

3         Our mobile vision

The National Library’s Strategic Directions for 2012-2014 includes a commitment to “find faster and cheaper ways of making our collections discoverable in the online environment”.  Speed, convenience and usability are at the heart of the rising demand for mobile solutions, which provide an ideal vehicle for high performance in these areas.

This focus on mobile as a driver for access was underscored by the National Library of Australia Council discussion (2010) on mobile access to Library content in the context of the priority Digital Library Infrastructure Replacement project (DLIR).

At a more localised level, the key objectives stated in the Information Technology Strategic Plan 2012-2015 include Online Presence and supporting “the needs of our users for easy discovery of, access to, and engagement with our services, collections and other information resources in the digital environment”.  This in turn translates into the IT Operational Plan which formalises ongoing investigations into the use of mobile technologies.

The aim of the National Library’s mobile strategy in the simplest terms is to ensure equal access to our resources and services for all Australians.

The impact of new mobile technologies extends beyond presenting opportunities to provide relevant access to collection material. Internet enabled mobiles have added a new dimension to the so-called ‘digital divide’, creating a barrier to online content for the growing number of users who rely exclusively on them for Internet access. The objective of this strategy, therefore, is not just to deliver add-on delivery points for user-convenience but to facilitate equal access to Library resources for everyone.

Trends in information-seeking behaviours suggest that increasingly this does not mean on-the-go. 30% of smartphone users use the mobile internet from their couch, 90% use it from home (Google, 2011). Putting Library resources into the hands of users in their lounge rooms reflects a deeper understanding of the need to move beyond the desire to follow our users and instead reach out to them to “take them some place new” (Proctor, 2011).

Although idealistic, this aim is also pragmatic. Like most cultural institutions the Library will always labour to find the resources to support everything that it aspires to accomplish. All indications are that the need for mobile will only continue to grow and overtake desktop internet usage within 2-3 years and forward-thinking organisations such as the Smithsonian Institution are already planning for the development of a principal mobile website which is large-screen compatible.

Mobile literacy is a cornerstone of this vision.  This includes understanding the importance of the growing mobile culture and impact on both users and organisationally to promote effectiveness and introduce efficiencies. The action of building both infrastructure and a culture of engagement will pave the way to more efficiently and effectively meeting that need in the future.

4         Strategic goals

The Library’s mobile goals are statements of what we wish to achieve. They have been formulated within the context of the organisation’s strategic priorities and encourage the adoption of emerging technologies in support of improved service and corporate efficacy.

  • Improve access to our collection and services for audiences, wherever they are, whether on-site or anywhere else in the world.

This means equal access to all users, supporting casual usage, focusing on the long tail supply (Anderson, 2005) and thinking about a vision for small screen access for online services. Mobile will play a key role in broadening access to collections and should be an active consideration in collecting, creating and delivering content.

  • Equip staff to champion and drive the development of mobile services to improve access and productivity.

Upskilling staff is critical in equipping the Library to not only grow and share knowledge and collections but also to envisage ways to use mobile technology, enhance the Library’s organisational capabilities and generate cost savings through collaborative efforts.

  • Adopt an evidence-based approach to service development and delivery

Within the cultural sector mobile service delivery is, for the most part, new and largely untested. The next few years will continue to be driven by exploration and innovation but must be tempered by evidence-based methodology, focused on understanding user needs and behaviours, employing this knowledge to shape service development, and objectively evaluating the success of our activity.

  • Modernise the Library brand to reflect relevance, accessibility and innovation.

The ‘brand essence’ in the 2011 Identity Guidelines describes the Library as a community beacon for “switched-on advice, new ideas and inspiring insights”. This feeds well into the social media context where passion, excitement and expertise are high-value attributes.

  • Create opportunities for learning

Mobile technologies create a ubiquitous learning environment where users are able to retrieve information to fulfil their immediate needs. Mobile services where applicable should support the Library’s learning policy and empower users to access the Library’s collections self-sufficiently, with confidence, ease, and technical proficiency.

  • Facilitate connections, conversation and overall engagement with national collection material.

The work of the Library immediately becomes more visible and relevant to our users if they have the opportunity to engage with it, conveniently, informally and on demand. There are synergies to be found in the work the Library is undertaking with mobile delivery and its efforts in building its social media presence.

5         Tactics

The mobile strategic goals define the Library’s intent while the tactics embody how we will achieve those goals. The success of the overarching strategy relies on a broad range of tactics, each supported by a flexible selection of purpose-driven actions. The following tactics have been identified as fundamental to achieving the aforementioned strategic goals. It is expected that environmental factors and other circumstances will demand that tactics be modified over time.

  • Establish and expand the infrastructure and back-end systems required to support mobile initiatives, products and services.

This includes both existing system infrastructure which requires expansion and new systems yet to be established. This includes both outsourced products and in-house expertise and refers particularly to requisite support for mobile content collection, preservation and access in the DLIR.

  • Build, consolidate and share expertise

Discrete mobile initiatives are emerging throughout the Library and pockets of knowledge are being built in isolation. Mobile development will be identified as a specific area of interest for the Web Committee, who will communicate and advise on mobile activity. Key to this approach will be balancing central governance with divisional autonomy to allow the fostering of innovation while still leveraging from lessons learned. The Committee will support activities such as working towards creation of formal development programs and building an informal in-house repository for mobile development, policy and training.

  • Adopt standards and best practices for interoperable mobile content and cross-platform data management.

An open standards-based approach supports the Library’s move towards opportunistic projects and more agile development processes, optimised by lessons learned and integrated development. Examples are the W3C standards for web applications on mobile, Mobile Web Best Practices, and the Mobile Web Application Best Practices, as well as Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.

  • A focus on strategic, audience-driven activity with a utility function.

It is intended that the Library will continue to develop mobile services with the aim of fulfilling specific user and enterprise needs. For this reason solutions should not necessarily be tied to specific technologies or platforms.  In proposing new activities the project drivers should seek to identify key evaluative measures, such as:

  • What organisational benefits will be delivered?
  • How will these benefits be measured?
  • Does this functionality support core business?
  • How does it support long-term strategy?
  • Seek out and engage new technologies to achieve marketing and communications goals.

The Library will add mobile marketing to the channels it engages with to communicate appropriate messages with users.  This can be achieved by, for example, utilising mobile platforms and channels to push out our message to places where the people are engaging in mobile activity.

6         Recommended activities

These activities provide a means to implement and ground the strategy with specific and measurable tasks. It is not an exhaustive list but rather a sample of those put forward during the consultative process. It is expected that these activities will need to be revisited and revised annually.

6.1      Governance and infrastructure

  • The Library’s IT Strategy Group will determine priorities for mobile development and associated activities.
  • Coordinate mobile activity by formalising the Web Committee’s role as an advisory body with oversight of the Library’s mobile strategy. This will include revising the Web Committee terms of reference to include oversight and review of the Library’s mobile strategy. Mobile specific activities might include:
    • Quarterly review meetings
    • Annual mobile ideas summit
    • Bi-annual mobile project reviews
  • Include requisite support for mobile content collection, preservation and access in the Digital Library Infrastructure Replacement Project (DLIR). Collection development staff to continue to work closely on the DLIR project while also exploring different models for ingesting publications, including hosting content externally.
  • Information Technology Division to examine ongoing resourcing of development work, administrative models, and potential for partial cost-recovery (with Web Committee oversight). In the case of niche development, such as education apps, consider sponsorship or crowd sourcing opportunities (e.g. crowdfunding platforms such as Pozible). As the focus on resourcing for infrastructure development diminishes (at the conclusion of DLIR), the focus may be redirected towards development activity.
  • Adopt emerging Commonwealth requirements and advice pertaining to managing devices and content. This should include a review of Australian Government security requirements pertaining to users of private devices. In the future we expect there will be a need to enable staff with Non-agency owned mobile devices to access NLA systems through their device (e.g. intranet, purchasing).
  • Develop and review policy in support of the use of both enterprise devices and use of personal devices for work-related purposes. Identify key areas for development of processes and guidelines for mobile usage, e.g. Guide to Using a Library Mobile Phone While Travelling Internationally, Approval process for mobile access to Library systems etc.
  • Investigate infrastructure and resourcing requirements for digital recording and distribution to ensure the long-term sustainability of online broadcast activity (podcasting, vodcasting etc). For example, by prioritising the resourcing of conference and building infrastructure to support automated, user focused content creation and delivery, which may be provided by the incorporation of a ‘dumb system’ (National Library of Australia, 2011).
  • Collections Management Division to keep a watching brief on any developments pertaining to the extension of Legal Deposit to include digital (and mobile) content. Continue to monitor and report on growth in electronic publishing and build up a suite of examples that can be used to support the case to extend legal deposit provisions.
  • Work towards developing a statement of collecting intentions for the various categories of ebook titles within the context of revising the collecting policy for Australian electronic publications in general. This may, in part, be shaped by access and preservation consideration highlighted by the DLIR Project.
  • Communications and Marketing Branch to work with the Web Publishing Branch to build on the Library branding strategy to incorporate use of the NLA brand in the online and mobile environments. Further, there should be movement towards integrating online (including mobile) branding with whole-of-Library branding statements.

6.2      Knowledge building

  • Undertake training and awareness raising initiatives for staff (enterprise usage and familiarisation). Web Publishing and Human Resources should collaboratively develop a business case for mobile instruction to be supported by central training in 2012-2013. This business case will articulate the benefits and desired learning outcomes, e.g. service staff familiarity and comfort with the technology, and an ability to share that knowledge effectively. 

The technology associated with mobile development is constantly changing and for that reason it is difficult to find training. Alternatives may include:

  • Hands on workshops (e.g. mobile petting zoo)
  • Internal seminars led by knowledgeable staff
  • Knowledge transfer strategies and mentoring
  • Building informal staff networks
  • Supporting formal networks, for example coordination of a working group for mobile publishing comprised of staff from cultural institutions.
  • Allow time for experimentation and production, and the freedom to investigate and trial new methods.
  • Web Publishing to create and administer a repository of mobile resources, open to all staff involved with mobile service delivery, whether for enterprise purposes or service delivery. This should promote knowledge sharing during this period of experimentation, with a view to eventually mapping strengths and weaknesses and overall lessons learned.
  • Work actively to remove barriers to staff engagement and adoption of mobile technologies, for example, investigate consequences of iTunes becoming part of the Library Standard Operating Environment (for staff). This activity is a necessary extension of the support provided to the increasing number of corporate and private devices and the number of staff that use them.

6.3      Development

  • Improve the quality of the mobile visitor experience online, with a focus on high-use services such as the website, catalogue and Trove. Priorities include:
    • Expansion of the mobile catalogue to include a native Android equivalent.
    • Refinement of the Drupal mobile view of the website, including a custom mobile view of the homepage. This would be with a view to formally launching and promoting it as a mobile website.
    • Examination of the interest and potential use cases that might drive a mobile Trove service (that would have highly targeted functionality).
    • Increased mobile-specific user testing when testing online services, in particular the National Library website and Intranet redevelopment.
    • Increase awareness of the Library’s mobile offerings, in particular apps and mobile websites, and mobile-friendly electronic content. This will include:
      • Exploring and testing tools such as SMS and MMS marketing, use of QR codes, mobile web marketing - advertising on web pages specifically meant for access by mobile devices, in-app advertising, and proximity marketing.
      • Continuing to push ePublishing content beyond existing service delivery platforms out to where the people are engaging in activities that directly relate to our collections. For example by featuring podcast content on YouTube, in app stores (in particular iTunes) and podcast websites.
    • Test opportunities for mobile-friendly publication of ebooks, initially with:
      • The simultaneous print and online (including ebook) release of commercially viable publications. Initial test cases will include simultaneous release of Wolfgang Sievers, Asian Treasures and The Quintessential Bird, via a third party provider. These test cases will be used to appraise the cost-effectiveness and demand for ebooks published by the Library.
      • The publication of Voss in collaboration with the National Film and Sound Archive, as test case for self-publishing an enhanced ebook and an opportunity to gain knowledge and document lessons learned.
    • Review options for developing a sustainable delivery mechanism for showcasing exhibitions online. Resourcing issues for this activity pertain specifically to building the framework. Content generation on the whole need not be resourced as it will be an integral part of planning the exhibition itself. One option may be to harness the mobile tools and themes available through Drupal, the Library’s content management system. It may be possible to create an exhibitions template that would serve as a fixed, mobile-friendly, template which multimedia content could be dropped into.

7         References