in Libraries/Info Sci, Tech, UNC

UNC Libraries’ mobile site

The summer is often my most productive time of year, especially when it comes to special projects. This summer I put my time into developing a mobile version of our website. I’m excited to announce that it went live last week, and I’m extremely happy with the results.

The mobile site is at

First, please note that it may or may not work quite right on standard desktop browsers. But take a look at it on an iPhone/iPod touch, Android phone, or Palm Pre. Any of those should work just fine, though some bits & pieces are optimized for apple’s devices. There’s also a plain text version at, which any mobile device anywhere should be able to process in some fashion.

The fancier version was built with the iUI framework I mentioned previously. I’m amazed by how easy it was to develop with the framework – it really did all the heavy lifting of formatting and animation, leaving me to merely write the content.

But it wasn’t quite so easy to get what I consider the centerpiece of our mobile effort up and running: our mobile catalog. That was actually the whole reason I started a mobile site plan in the first place – I (and a number of users I informally talked to) wanted to be able to look up books while wandering the stacks. Our non-mobile catalog functions on a small mobile screen, but it was very much less than ideal and a bit tough to navigate. After exploring a few dead end avenues, I got lucky and discovered that our Endeca-based catalog has a built-in method for returning search results in XML. Using php I recrafted that XML into a mobile-appropriate page.

I’d like to particularly note that a mobile catalog would be impossible if we didn’t have Endeca as our catalog front end. III/Millennium, our underlying ILS, locks up our catalog and provides no easy way to get at the underlying data. And on a related note, while compiling a list of mobile-friendly database/article interfaces from vendors themselves I was appalled at how few exist. Ingenta, IEEE, and Refworks were the only three major ones I found. This is a plea for openness to ILS providers and other library vendors – if you’re not going to build these things yourself, please give us data-level or API access to the sources we’re paying you for. We can build some pretty cool stuff, if only you’ll let us.