Creating a Mobile Booklist "App"

By McGrath, Renee | Young Adult Library Services, Winter 2012 | Go to article overview

Creating a Mobile Booklist "App"


McGrath, Renee, Young Adult Library Services


We all know that teens and cell phones are a ubiquitous sight in our libraries and our communities. Usage has grown tremendously and continues to move in an upward direction. In October 2010, Nielsen reported that "94 percent of teen cell phone subscribers self-identify as advanced data users, turning to their cell phones for messaging, Internet, multimedia, gaming and other activities like downloads." Usage by teens has increased fourfold and is the largest jump among all age groups. According to Nielsen, "Teens are not only using more data, but they are also downloading a wider range of applications. Usage of the mobile web has also surpassed activity on preinstalled games, ringtone downloads and instant messaging." (1)

YALSA's first annual Teen Tech Week (TTW) took place in 2007. Since then, YALSA has made an effort to highlight the different ways that librarians are using technology to provide teen programs and services. Over the years, I have read with interest about technology projects and I knew that I wanted to somehow use technology to highlight books and promote reading to teens during the 2010 Summer Reading Program.

So it was with this aim in mind that I created a mobile website that featured booklists for middle school and high school students. We like to call the mobile site an "app" because it was styled to look like an app and utilized some basic graphic effects to make the user feel as if it was more than just an ordinary website.

The mobile site also gives users access to a directory of our 54 member libraries, access to the online catalog, and access to their library account. It works very well on Apple and Android mobile devices.

The Planning

I knew that I wanted to reach teens in a mobile environment. At the time (January 2010), I had personally owned an iPhone for about a year, and loved it. It was easy to use, and frankly, it was a lot of fun. There were many apps available for it and many of them were either free or inexpensive. While Google's Android operating system for smartphones was released in 2007, there were still few phones available to use it and few apps to download. I knew that some teens had iPhones and I also knew that the market would only grow over the next year or two for both Apple and Android products. I wanted to reach out to teens on the devices that they were currently using, and could also be using in the future--an emerging market.

I did a search of the app store for anything related to libraries and pulled up less than five choices, none of which were any fun! I wondered, where was all the fun stuff? I really wanted to create a book-based app for the iPhone. However, that was easier said than done. I knew nothing about how to develop an app and knew that it would be difficult to do and get it approved by the Apple Store, which has a very stringent acceptance policy for apps. It was a daunting project. My colleague, Mike Morea, Manager of Electronic Resources for our library system (who handles our IT projects) was willing to help, although he also had no experience with any of the programs available to create an app. We looked at several tools that were available at that time, some of which were still in beta: Sweb Apps (http://www.swebapps.com), MyAppBuilder (http://myappbuilder.com), BuildAnApp (http.//www.buildanapp. corn), eBookApp (http://ebookapp.com), and GameSalad (http://gamesalad.com). Many of them required a big learning curve and, even though I had allocated funds for this, many of them were beyond my budget.

In June 2010, I attended a webinar with Tutor.com on social media. We talked a lot about how we were using the new 2.0 tools to promote our libraries to teens. They also highlighted a number of libraries who had great teen blogs or websites. After the webinar, some of us stayed on chatting. Mary Hastier, from the Harford County Public Library, talked about her "app" that they had created for the library. …

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