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Mobile Device Access

San Francisco Public Library
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Problem Statement

In 2010, SFPL’s Service Innovations Task Force studied mobile technology for libraries and recommended urgent service needs be addressed. We found that more Americans (90%) have cell phones than personal computers, that text messages have surpassed voice calls, and that more than half of cell phone users access the internet from their phones. Among Asian/Pacific Islanders and Hispanics, 45% have smart phones. When cost is a barrier, a growing segment of the population chooses cell phones as their only internet subscription, often their only access to internet resources. In addition, website metrics reveal that 75% of mobile devices accessing SFPL.org are Apple iOS (iPhone, iPod, iPad), a platform which limits access to rich media on the Library’s website. Because SFPL serves a community of diverse backgrounds, native languages and socioeconomic levels, we determined that the Library needed to provide access to all SFPL web content via mobile devices.


SFPL developed a mobile optimized website in English, Chinese, and Spanish that allows for flexible, iterative development, and device-neutral mobile access to the catalog, reserves, “my account,” and library information. Just as SFPL.org is a trilingual website to serve our diverse community, the mobile web site must do the same. While library native applications (apps) for smart phones provide great benefits, they are generally limited to a single language (English), are unique to each phone operating system (requiring multiple apps), and require downloads to update. Our solution is unencumbered by these limits and can therefore meet the needs of our diverse communities. For non-flash users (e.g. iPhone), we converted flash video and web features to MPEG4 and html. To serve text message users, we launched text notices for reserves, due soon, and overdue items, and are enhancing our current web chat reference to include text messaging.


SFPL’s tri-lingual mobile home page is now the 7th most viewed webpage on SFPL.org, the mobile site was viewed 80,000 times in the first three months, and the Library sent more than 900 text notifications to more than 100 text message users in the first month of that service. User comments bear out the quality of these interactions, “I love the new SFPL mobile site,” “amazing,” “iPhone is my main Internet connection,” ”seamless,” “popped me into my iphone's map with the library address. I'm so proud of my SF libraries.”