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Mobilizing in Juneau

I’m off today to the annual conference for the Alaska Library Association which is in sunny Juneau this year.  I will presenting a session call “Mobilizing your Website”.  You can  download the presentation slides as well as some coding examples:

Camping in Our New Yurt

Yurt on my in-laws property in the Valley

My wife and I just bought the Hilleberg Altai UL, a lightweight yurt that is ideal for winter camping. Years ago I bought a Black Diamond Megamid, a floorless pyramid tent often used by groups as a cook tent or shelter. We added a small, portable wood burning stove from Kifaru by sewing a fireproof jack for the stove pipe into the tent canopy.

The stove (3-4lbs) and Megamid (4-5lbs) combination is lightweight, but the set up is too cramped. The Megamid measures 9′ on each side for 81 sf of area, but the sloping walls really cut into the usable space. Add a small, intensely hot stove (nicknamed “the beast”) in the middle of it  and you can barely sleep two people much less hang out comfortably.

So a few weeks ago, we started searching for an upgrade.  There are a number of manufacturers of ultralight teepee-like shelters that can accept a wood stove,  but they still have the problem of the sloping walls.  Wall tents are great in terms of livable space, but weight too much.  And thus we finally stumbled on the yurt.

Checking out the stove insert

The Altai is an octagon that measures 11′ across, provides about 100 sf of area, and is 6.5′ tall in the center.  But the real difference is the side walls, which are 3.5′ tall.  You can comfortably sleep 4 people with gear and the stove.  And a lot of people can sit inside to hang out, this thing is a palace.  The Altai weighs 6-9lbs depending on the number of poles you bring (its designed so you can use ski poles in place of the side poles and a pair of skis in place of the center pole).  It takes about 30 minutes to set up but the Altai is actually easier to pitch than the Megamid, despite all the poles and guylines.

More Mobile (and text)

Last week we debuted a mobile version of the library website using the techniques we developed for the mobile library catalog.  We automatically redirect to the mobile site for a selection of mobile browsers  (iPhone/iTouch, Android, Palm WebOS, Blackberry, Mobile Opera, Mobile Firefox, and Symbian s60) that covers a broad segment of the smartphone and high-end feature phones.  In addition, we have a link to the mobile site on the front page so users of mobile browsers we may have missed can make their own choice.  Also, low bandwidth users might prefer the mobile site.

The mobile home page is laid out with a set of icons to selected resources on the library website with an emphasis on those that might be more useful for mobile users.  However, we took a different approach than some web developers which only make a selection of pages available via the mobile version.  Instead we make every page on the main website available in the mobile version.  Mobile users also have the ability to toggle to the full website if needed.

Another nice feature is that we link to the mobile version of  library resources when possible.  For example, we link to the mobile version of the Ebsco databases like Academic Search Premier.  We will keep our eye on other vendors and link to their mobile versions when they become available.

Finally, the work we did to make a mobile version of the website allowed us to easily add a text version for screen readers and non-graphical browsers.  We had  text version before but only for the home page, now the entire website is available in a text version.  A link to the text version displays at the top of the page for screen readers and non-graphical browsers but is hidden from regular web browsers.

Mobile version of Library Catalog

We just debuted a mobile version of our library catalog optimized for display on the iPhone.  Our library system vendor is working on an iPhone application which we are investigating.  But developing html pages optimized for a mobile browser has a number of advantages over a dedicated application:

  • Catalog displays automatically when mobile users visit the web site, no need to download and set up an application.
  • Mobile html pages can be easily tweaked to display on other devices like Android, BlackBerry, etc.  No need to develop applications on multiple platforms.
  • Techniques learned to make the catalog mobile-friendly can be used for other library web services.
  • It’s free in terms of no additional licensing fees.  Its not clear what library vendors plan to charge their customers for applications they develop for the iPhone and other devices.

Our library catalog runs on SirsiDynix Web2 (not to be confused with Web 2.0) but the customization could probably be made to most web-based catalogs. We borrowed design ideas  from the great folks at NCSU Libraries. They’ve done some great work on providing library content to mobile devices. Thanks guys!