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Seattle Public Library’s mobile app replacement, the online BiblioCommons catalog.

If you’ve been using Seattle Public Library’s SPL Mobile app, be prepared to move on by the end of next month. Because it will no longer be supported.

The Library has notified its patrons that its mobile app for both Android and iOS will be sunset at the end of January 2018. The reason? A better website.

“The primary driver for the change is that our website is about to become fully responsive, so the functionality that we needed when we acquired the app is now available through the website,” said Gage Andrews, the library’s technology officer.

However, there are two Seattle Public Library websites: the new, re-sizable online catalog website at seattle.bibliocommons.com, and the old, definitely not-smartphone-friendly main library website at spl.org (which even the Library itself warns is “not formatted for mobile”).

It’s the BiblioCommons site that replaces the SPL Mobile app; it’s now up and running and suitable for laptops, tablets, and phones. The Library says a fully responsive redesign of the main SPL.org site is coming in the first quarter of 2018.

The BiblioCommons site replicates the mobile app’s ability to search the Seattle Public Library catalog, place holds, and view due dates of borrowed items.

The old SPL Mobile app and the new BiblioCommons responsive site on a Samsung smartphone.

Based on a quick comparison, library patrons are gaining some new functionality, but losing a few features, too. The newer BiblioCommons catalog site definitely has a more modern look and smoother operation than the app, resizes easily, and adds sharing capabilities plus a “For Later Shelf” for books, audio, and video media that patrons may want to borrow at another time.

But missing will be the ability in the SPL Mobile app to store the library patron barcode, basically allowing the app to replace a physical library card. To keep that convenience, the Library advises, “take a photo of the barcode and store it on your phone to scan at checkout kiosks.”

Patrons may also get more stability. The Library has been working with Boopsie, the SPL Mobile app’s developer, since 2010, and there have been challenges.

“Even though the app provided mobile access to the library catalog and resources for many patrons, the mobile app was also a point of frustration for them,” said Becky Yoose, the library’s applications and systems manager. Yoose cited an example of an unannounced major upgrade to the app earlier in 2017 that broke the holds management function for weeks. “Staff are hoping that we will now be able to provide a more consistent experience for patrons accessing the library catalog,” she said.

Seattle Public Library has long been considered a leader nationally in adopting tech, from WiFi hotspots that can be checked out to “borrowable” streaming media, like the recently added independent and classic film service Kanopy. The killing of the Library’s mobile app in a major tech hub may seem like a retreat, but it’s not alone: some school districts and other organizations are doing the same, as website technology itself has advanced.

“Library technology vendors are now increasingly focusing on fully responsive website design, which gives libraries the option to shift away from mobile apps as the primary way of interacting with the library online through a mobile device,” Yoose said. And for those who do keep apps, Yoose said the trend is to approach them “as a companion to the library website and catalog.”

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