Houston Public Library: A Case of Modern Mobility

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BEST PRACTICES SERIES

Article ImageCompany: Houston Public Library

Houston Public Library serves one of the largest customer bases-in terms of both population and area-in the country. More than 2 million residents in Houston are served by the library. Its flagship facility is Central Library, located in downtown Houston.

houstonlibrary.org

Business Challenge

With smartphones--and, more specifically, mobile apps--becoming more and more ubiquitous, Houston Public Library wanted to offer an engaging experience to compete with the non-library digital resources that mobile users frequently rely on for their information needs. Simply put, the library needed an app.

Vendor of Choice: Boopsie for Libraries

Boopsie for Libraries was founded in 2006. It is the mobile platform-as-a-service (PaaS) for more than 4,000 library locations worldwide. Boopsie's mission is to enable libraries to make more services more accessible to more members of their communities-and to support libraries' individual missions by providing scalable, reliable, and easy-to-use mobile apps that users of library resources increasingly demand.

boopsie.com


 THE PROBLEM IN-DEPTH

For libraries, the physical card catalog had long ago gone the way of the dinosaur, replaced by a search engine. That was a boon for patrons, who learned they could comfortably browse for books or movies from the comfort of their own home. But with the explosion of smartphones, people increasingly access the internet from the comfort of the road, office, grocery store, or just about anywhere. By 2011, it seemed companies were launching apps every day-and Houston Public Library decided it wanted in.

"Basically, we were looking for an app-type solution," says Saima Kadir, virtual library services manager of Houston Public Library. "We try to be as tech savvy as we can. We wanted to have an app that offered a lot of functionality and a lot of features-and basically be available in the palm of our users' hands."

Kadir says the library wanted the app to give users more than just a searchable catalog and a way to review what books they checked out. Among other things, it needed, to let users know about events going on at any one of the library's more than 40 locations across the city. An app, she adds, would also serve "an audience that often gets neglected"-the virtual user who "never comes to the library, but uses the library's online resources all the time."

THE SOLUTION

Enter Boopsie. Kadir says that the library found "a lot of libraries that are similar to ours-large, urban, public library systems-were using Boopsie's app." Also, it turns out the American Library Association (ALA) was using it as well. "When the largest library association-your professional association-uses a product, to me, that's a valid recommendation," Kadir says.

Houston Public Library opted for Boopsie as well. It signed a contract with the company in January 2012; the app was launched in July of that year. As Kadir learned through her research, Boopsie was no stranger to libraries. "We're exclusively in this space. [It's] what we focus all of our R&D efforts on. It's what we're passionate about," says Megan Vizzini, EVP of sales and marketing for Boopsie.

Mike Grasee, president of Boopsie, adds that there are two things that make Boopsie so appealing to libraries: One is that it provides a "great user experience" for the patron, and the second is that it makes the launch and management of the app an easy experience for the individual library.

As an example of the former, Grasee points to ebooks. He says that with some other apps, once you search for an ebook, you sometimes have to enter in another set of login credentials-or perhaps go to another app altogether-in order to consume that content. But, he says, "one thing that makes Boopsie special" is that, when you're using the app, you can search for an ebook. When you find it, you don't need to re-input your login credentials-you can read the ebook right on the Boopsie app.

As an example of the latter, Grasee points to the fact that the app lets library customers easily customize it. This includes not just adding colors or the library logo, but also which channels-which content sources-libraries want to be part of the app. "Libraries are constantly adding services and new content, especially digital, that their patrons want," he says, and by making it easy for libraries to plug these new content sources into the app, it makes for a better patron user experience.

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