Students no longer need to worry about going to the Sciences Library to find all the computers already taken — they can now use their smartphones to check the computer availability in any campus library before they go.
The University Library recently launched a mobile application that provides easy access to library services. Soon after, the Brown Alumni Association joined the iPhone world with a new application that keeps alums aware of news and events.
Books on the go
The library's application, MoBUL — short for Mobile Brown University Library — was released on May 21. In addition to computer availability, the application's features include catalog search, hours and contact information, according to Jean Rainwater, co-leader of integrated technology services at the University Library.
Users will probably find different features valuable, said Sarah Bordac, head of outreach and instructional design for the University Library's integrated technology services. The location feature that connects to GPS on certain smartphones will be especially helpful for incoming students, who might find the campus disorienting, she said. For those who are working on big research projects and have a lot of books checked out, the application gives users access to their Josiah accounts, enabling them to keep track of their records more easily, she said.
The mobile search feature connects users to mobile databases such as EBSCO or Google Books and allows authorized users to download journal articles, Rainwater said. "We don't expect people to do serious research with this," she said, "but when you are in a waiting room, it would be nice to just get started" with researching.
A new way to search books stands out among the features offered by MoBUL. Users can type in the first words of the book title and see the search in action as they type.
The application does not offer an "advanced search" feature, which is available on the library website, but it is not necessary for general searching purposes, Bordac said. "The search is that good that you don't miss it," she said.
Bordac added that the search device offered by the application is meant to be a supplement to, not a replacement for, the website.
The discussion of developing a mobile application for the library started late in the fall 2009 semester, Rainwater said. As students spend more time on mobile devices such as iPhones, Androids and BlackBerrys, the University Library wants "to be where students are," she said.
In recent years, people have been using the library in new ways, Bordac said. For example, with the "Ask A Librarian" service available online, researchers no longer have to come to a library to ask questions. Increasingly, research can be done online, physically away from the library, she said. By offering more options through MoBUL, the library wants to "extend the service that we already have," Bordac said.
The University Library chose to team up with a company named Boopsie, co-founded by Tim Kay '83, which offered an attractive model with the "smart search" feature and a good price, Rainwater said. The company has plenty of experience developing mobile applications for conferences and public libraries, but this is its first project with a university library, she said.
The mobile application is one of the many projects aimed at improving research experience at the library, Rainwater said. Searching in Josiah requires adherence to rigid formats, and it does not provide information about digitized articles. The library is working on finding a way to simplify the search process, while keeping the existing infrastructure, she said.
Other recent efforts to make the research process more convenient include the book locator launched last fall — which maps out thetarget book's position in the stacks — and a service that enables users to text the title and location of an item to their mobile phones, Rainwater said.
Bordac said the department is collecting feedback from students who spent the summer on campus in order to make minor improvements to the application. The department expects to get more feedback in the fall, with the rest of the student body back on campus, she said.
"This is a work in progress, as is everything else in the mobile world," Bordac said.
Brown Alumni Association officially released its iPhone application, called Brown Alumni Connect, on May 28, said Todd Andrews '83, vice president for alumni relations.
The application — whose launch date was timed with the beginning of Commencement and Reunion Weekend — keeps users updated on alumni events and campus news from various sources, including Brown Alumni Magazine, The Herald and University press releases.
Brown is the first Ivy League school to have a mobile application for alumni, Andrews said. Since its release, more than 1,500 people have downloaded the application, he said, with many positive responses so far.
The application is part of the association's consistent effort to "engage more young alumni" by delivering useful information, Andrews said. It was developed by start-up company EverTrue, founded by Brent Grinna '04 during his last year at Harvard Business School.
The goal of the iPhone application is to "enhance the connectivity of alumni with each other" so that the Brown diploma is valuable even after graduation, Andrews said.
Grinna developed the application because he felt the need for universities and high schools to find better ways to engage their young alums, Andrews said.
Because the application is the first of its kind, and because Grinna is a Brown alum, the application deal is "an advantageous arrangement" for the University, Andrews said.
Though the developers of the application expected its users to be exclusively young alums, it has been embraced by older generations as well, Andrews said. "There are people from classes of the '50s and '70s" logging on, he said.
Andrews said the developers are currently working on two major new features — an alumni directory that they plan to launch in the next six months and a feature that provides full accessibility to BRUnet, the alumni career network. They are also trying to make the application available on other smartphones, with an anticipated launch date for Androids set for this fall, according to Andrews. The application will be "always evolving," he said.
The iPhone application is not the first new media object that connects alums. According to Andrews, there are 36,500 Facebook users who list the University as an affiliation and 30,000 LinkedIn users who do the same. The association also has helped establish Facebook groups centering on specific topics, such as environmental sustainability, journalism and multiculturalism, Andrews said.