Three ways mobile app technology increases community engagement

Scott Livingston

As I’ve pulled together notes for this post, 15 alerts have flashed across my smartphone screen. That’s to be expected since we log 5.4 hours a day on our phones. And most of that time—90 percent to be exact—is spent using apps. That begs an important question: How can we use this app time to promote library goals and engage our communities in ways that put the library in the life of the user?

One important step? Simply get more library apps into the hands of users, a goal that we are pursuing quickly—and globally—now that Capira Technologies has joined the OCLC family.

The evolution of engagement

OCLC’s 2018 From Awareness to Funding report notes that the average number of visits to public libraries per year decreased by 30 percent between 2008 and 2018 and the use of public library websites also decreased by more than 30 percent over the same period. As this shift occurred, libraries found (and continue to find) innovative ways to engage with their communities both in-person and virtually. I heard so many of these stories at this year’s PLA, and am so impressed by how staff flex fast to meet changing needs. I wonder what those numbers would look like now as libraries have pivoted to a more digital focus due to COVID-19.

To support libraries in doing even more of this important work, we introduced OCLC Wise in the US, the first and only holistic community engagement system that brings together a wide range of functions. Wise is robust, integrated, and goes beyond the traditional ILS. And because it’s designed around people and not the MARC record, it provides functionality to better offer resources that resonate with users to improve both in-person and website engagement. As powerful as Wise is, though, we are always asking ourselves, “What more can we do?”

Mobile and app development has been on our radar for some time to support all types of libraries.

Our teams have been working with developers, both OCLC staff and at partner libraries, on mobile apps for years. The very successful Digby app, for example, lets student workers using WorldShare Management Services (WMS) at academic libraries do their jobs out in the stacks. Early this year, checkout was added to Digby, allowing staff and users to reduce the risk of transmitting COVID-19 through public checkout machines. But until now, we haven’t had an app designed specifically for the library user.

Enter Capira.

Three ways apps build engagement for libraries

We recently welcomed Capira to OCLC and we’re very excited about how the intuitive line of Capira products can help libraries engage with their communities beyond the physical presence. More than 500 public libraries currently use Capira products, so this acquisition allows us to better serve the public library market while continuing to provide new and innovative community engagement solutions.

CapiraMobile is the fastest-growing public library mobile app on the market. Because CapiraMobile interoperates with all major ILSs, it provides the opportunity to engage with that 90 percent of time we spend on our smartphones using apps. It’s also highly configurable for individual and consortial libraries. And CapiraMobile’s sibling app, CapiraReady, provides an off-the-shelf version for libraries that want to jump in quickly.

CapiraCurbside makes contactless curbside circulation at a prescheduled time easy—a critical service for many libraries to continue services in the current COVID-19 environment. In just the couple months since we started working with the Capira team, CapiraCurbside has piqued the interest of many OCLC members and has already been rolled out in a number of institutions.

We’re thrilled that the Capira team now brings their deep experience with public library app development to OCLC. And they’re eager to learn from us, too, especially about how to apply what they know to the academic library market and to start taking their technology and talents to other countries.

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I believe smartphone apps are a key element of any library’s strategy for building back some of the engagement that the From Awareness to Funding study says we’ve lost. Why?

Engaged users are frequent users. Apps provide personalized experiences that create social networks and drive an increased use of library resources. Use of library services is one of six key drivers of voter support for library funding, according to the 2008 From Awareness to Funding study.

Engaged users are loyal users. Loyalty means that users will go out of their way to use library services, even when other options are present. A library app makes it easier to be loyal and to choose the library over an alternative. Attitudes toward the library, which can be demonstrated by a preference for library services over commercial alternatives, is another of the six key support drivers identified in the report.

Engaged users are advocates. They tell others about the great experiences that they’ve had with the library. Contextually sensitive services, like contactless curbside pickup during the age of COVID-19, translate into word-of-mouth advocacy that can convert non-users to library users and advocates, shifting the perceived value of the library across its entire community. Perceptions of library staff are yet another driver of voter financial support for libraries.

We need to be where our users are. And today our users—many of whom depend on smartphones for their only internet access at home—connect to content, commerce, entertainment, and each other largely via apps. Libraries can “be where they are” and improve community engagement in all kinds of ways through this technology. I’m excited about all the possibilities and … hang on …

I’ve had another nine alerts on my phone since I started writing. 😉