The Open University is the biggest university in the UK with more than 260,000 students. We are a distance learning university, so very few of our students ever visit the library building in person. Only our ~1200 full time research students are based on campus. Around 70 per cent of our students remain in work while studying, so their study time is tightly squeezed between work and family life. Up to 44% of our UK student population starts undergraduate study without the entry qualifications they would need at a conventional university, and others start study with us after a long break from formal education. For these reasons our library services are focused on off campus access to e-resources and support.

The aim of this project was to increase the availability of quality academic content for mobile users in a way that fits with their requirements. As libraries cannot alter the format of third party content the project also aimed to produce a ‘good practice’ toolkit for content providers.

OU Library Services has had a mobile website since 2007 and were already using EBSCO Discovery Service to provide a single search across most of our third party and local content. The local content does not include catalogue data because the majority of OU students don’t have access to our print stock. EBSCO agreed to work with us to improve the search tool incorporated in our mobile site.

Outcomes achieved

  1. MACON increased the availability of quality academic content for mobile users. An interface was developed using the EBSCO Discovery Service (EDS) API to allow the search and display of search results within the OU library’s mobile website. This reduces the need for them to visit and learn to use multiple publisher interfaces. In addition users have access to a list of mobile-friendly databases.
  2. The project explored user requirements for the mobile delivery of academic content from both third party and local collections. We found that user requirements vary by user group (e.g. level 1 and 2 students, level 3 or higher students, researchers and librarians). While the project did add to the understanding of user requirements engagement from users in requirements gathering activities was low.
  3. MACON identified and documented the risks and barriers involved in making academic content accessible to mobile devices. With the help of the project board and internal stakeholders the project was able to identify technical, legal and policy-related risks and barriers.
  4. The project produced a ‘good practice’ toolkit for content providers, based on the experience of the project. It will be distributed to publishers as a document on a project branded USB memory stick through library staff contacts and through conferences publishers are known to attend.
  5. The experience of the project has been disseminated through conference papers and this blog:
    1. The project has been disseminated to library staff through 3 project spotlight presentations.
    2. The user requirements work was disseminated to the Computer-Aided Learning Research Group (CALRG) conference.
    3. The project outcomes will be presented at the 4th International M-Libraries conference in September 2012 and the Internet Librarian International conference in October 2012.
    4. The progress of the project has been shared regularly through the project blog.

Objectives not met

  1. The project was not able to produce a mobile bookmarklet tool to significantly reduce the authentication barriers for mobile users. After investigation by the project team into different approaches to improving the mobile authentication experience it was found that it was not possible to develop a secure bookmarklet that did not compromise password security or contravene our licence agreements.  See the post on Approaches to improving mobile authentication for more details.
  2. The project was not able to include open access Open University audio-visual collections in this system and identify and document the issues in accessing this type of content on mobile devices. Once the project team had identified how OU audio-visual collections could be included it became apparent that it would not be possible to meet this objective within the time frame of the project due to resource availability within EBSCO. This has been included in recommendations for future work. We have been able to develop a partial proof of concept in order to identify the issues in accessing this type of content on mobile devices.
  3. The project team did not succeed in recruiting a broadly representative sample of users for evaluation of the prototype system to ascertain the usability and quality of the user experience. See Lessons Learnt for more details.

About Keren Mills

Macon project manager (@mirya on Twitter)
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