December 8, 2022

Power to the Patron Q&A: BYU’s Michael Whitchurch on Mobile Trends in Libraries


As part of the preparation for the upcoming LJ Virtual Tech Summit on December 8, The Digital Shift is featuring interviews with some of the panelists.

First up is Michael Whitchurch, chair of the Learning Commons Department in the Harold B. Lee Library at Brigham Young University, Provo, UT, who will take part in a panel on “Mobile Apps: What Do Users Need?” LJ asked Whitchurch a few questions about QR codes and other mobile trends in libraries:

LJ: You have written [PDF] about trying out QR codes in conjunction with BYU’s library audio tour. What did you learn from the experience? Do you foresee using QR codes for other purposes?

Whitchurch: The idea for the library audio tour grew out of a desire to provide a more independent, less structured way to obtain the information necessary to complete the tour quiz required for the first year writing class. Forcing students to check out an audio player to complete the tour seemed to be an unnecessary step for those who have technology allowing for a more independent and flexible experience.

The development experience itself, using a focus group first and then a test group of students, was invaluable for future implementations of using QR codes. Through this first experience I discovered some issues with using the codes in our library (e.g., Wi-Fi dead zones), as well as reasons that students would/would not use the codes (convenience was mentioned the most.)

It turns out that the QR codes for the audio tour have not been used as much as anticipated (though that could be because of minimal marketing). Despite the lack of use, the codes will remain for those who prefer this method of taking the tour. The most important consideration for implementing QR codes is to find uses of codes that simplify point-of-need services for the users, not just use them because they are currently trendy.

We have implemented the use of QR codes for our mobile Group Study Room (GSR) system (which I have also written about [PDF]). This implementation has been used a lot more than the audio tour. I suspect that is due to how consistent and present the codes are (right next to the GSR room numbers). Again, this is an on-demand use of the codes, which meets an immediate need, rather than something that is accomplished easier by finding a desktop or laptop computer.

What library services do you think are particularly improved by using mobile technologies?

The mobile landscape should focus on services that have some added value for the user.  For the most part, mobile device users prefer to use services that are simpler to use on a mobile device, rather than relying on tethered computers.

Using QR codes as a means of transferring important information (e.g., event information on a poster, call number for a book, contact information for a librarian, etc.) is an excellent use. Customizing a web app to provide search, video viewing, circulation, and location services for mobile devices are also excellent implementations.

What mobile trends do you think are gaining momentum in libraries?

The ability to use the Wi-Fi hubs for location services is a trend that is gaining more ground. This has campus-wide potential, as many buildings have little or no cell phone or GPS service. Some institutions are currently developing, testing and refining the technology for this use (e.g., Durham University, UK; University of Oulu, Finland; University of California at Berkeley; and University of the Aegean, Mytilene, Greece).

Another trend is the development of more interactive and fun tours of the library that engage students to help them learn more about the library and its resources (as they do at Boston University). This could include a location-based video tour that explains a specific area of the library.

Cooperation and collaboration with other campus services is important, as many technologies can be implemented in multiple environments. Partnering with campus IT departments is essential for the services to become broadly known and used.

As already stated, the trend in using mobile devices in libraries is leaning toward the ability to simplify library use and research. Mobile users want technology to make their lives easier, with fewer steps to accomplish their tasks. This was and is the intent of the QR code implementations in our library, as well as other mobile applications.

David Rapp About David Rapp

Associate editor David Rapp previously covered technology for Library Journal.


  1. I love this response, Michael:
    “The mobile landscape should focus on services that have some added value for the user. For the most part, mobile device users prefer to use services that are simpler to use on a mobile device, rather than relying on tethered computers.”

    I think the QR code audio tour is a super creative idea as well. With interactivity and “game theory” elements applied using mobile apps, it seems there are a lot of things libraries can do to excite patrons about services, events and overall usefullness.