TRY 2013: RULA Bookfinder: Getting People to Their Books Fast!

I’ve done a write up of the 5-minute version of this talk when I presented it at Code4lib 2013 National. This version at TRY 2013 is the full overview that I did with two coworkers.


Why Develop This App?

A lot of students don’t understand (Library of Congress) call numbers. There was a need and motivation to resolve or at least mitigate this problem.

The Development

Work/study students began developing the program. Based on the students’ work, new team members worked on it and pushed it into production. It took two years, because it was mostly a side project for a long time.


  • good user experience
  • natural language to search, not having to enter call number
  • cross-device compatibility, particularly mobile & kiosk
  • bridge the physical and digital world

Other similar in-house and propriety solutions existed, but it just didn’t seem to fully fit our needs. But in general, didn’t do too much research into other implementations, but looked more at the library’ requirements.

What’s Different

One of the issues with some of the existing implementations was the size of the map. Most of the time, they were quite small. In Bookfinder, the map takes up almost the entire screen.

We have also added some custom related content, namely:

  • links to video tutorials (using fancybox)
  • sharing: via email, or copy/paste link

For usability purposes, I took a lot of time thinking about what and how to display multiple locations depending, namely, on type of location and availability. Whenever an item exists in more than one location, it will always prioritize availability first, then the collection type (e.g. regular stack vs. reserve) as specified in the admin panel.

Since cross compatibility for devices was one of the primary goals, the frontend is responsive, and an integrated search was built-in primarily for mobile use, but which obviously works on larger screens as well.

Shelf Signage

Although I have at this point seen another library that has had the same idea, in order to bridge the physical environment to the information available digitally, we installed signage and provided the shelf number in Bookfinder.

How Does It Work?

Backend Technology

  • LAMP Stack
  • CodeIgniter Framework (PHP based)
  • Summon API

Finding Locations

Grabs key fields from Library Catalogue (by screen scraping)

  • Location
  • Call Number
  • Availability (on frontend is green, unavailable is red)

Compares this to known locations of resources as entered in Bookfinder.

Managing Stack Data

Admin panel allows any authorized user to simply draw rectangles and enter appropriate data. For stack type i.e. physical items, enter the shelf name, stack/collection type, and the call number range.

You can manager the types of collections through stack type, providing a pattern used in the location field of the OPAC, and then prioritizing them.

Item types allows us to enter other data, such as computer labs or staff offices.

Managing the floors allow the administrator to upload the floor plan images.

Finally, in the backend, multiple buildings can be added though right now, since we only have one building, it’s not integrated into the frontend.

User account management and statistics are also available through the admin panel.

Are People Using It?

Over the past term, we have seen a fair number of locations mapped, obviously with more during paper writing time and less during exam time. We don’t have specific statistics right now on the number of users using Bookfinder, but my rough estimate right now is about 13% of desktop users. For mobile, you can only get the full information through Bookfinder.

Of those using Bookfinder, desktop is ~2/3, and mobile is ~1/3 of the usage.

What Do Users Think?

Before launching Bookfinder, with the help of an iSchool student, we did a small usability study where we got students to do a couple of example searches, find the physical books using the information provided, and asked them to fill out a brief questionnaire.

Most agreed or strongly agreed that Bookfinder is easy to understand, and easy to follow, and that they prefer having shelf number as opposed to not. A couple didn’t like the look/colours of the floor plans, but most still liked it. Most importantly though, students (on a scale of 10) rated their level of frustration lower when using Bookfinder. It’s not a statistically significant number (the sample wasn’t large enough for that), but it’s a good indication that it’s helping students.

I’m hoping that in the future we will be able to do further usability.

We also demo’ed Bookfinder at Learning Commons Open House just before the launch and received a lot of positive feedback.

Just an extra note on how we promoted it, we also posted about it on our front page, on our blog, which goes to Twitter and Facebook, and through the university wide TV announcements.

What’s Next?

There are still a number of features we’d like to put in, such as:

  • more ways to share
  • put in directory information, build interface for it
  • implement multiple buildings on frontend

On Github

Author: Cynthia

Technologist, Librarian, Metadata and Technical Services expert, Educator, Mentor, Web Developer, UXer, Accessibility Advocate, Documentarian

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