OU launches mobile app, simplifies library, landmark and exhibit navigation.
GUEST COLUMN | by Matthew Cook
The University of Oklahoma (OU) is home to the largest research library in the state of Oklahoma, the OU Libraries system. Renowned for its rich portfolio of historical books and special history of science collections, the OU Libraries has been recognized as one of the most beautiful, historic campus libraries in the country.
With 17,000 linear feet of manuscripts and archives, more than one million photographs and a million plus maps, as well as the unique Peggy V. Helmerich Collaborative Learning Center, the OU Libraries is a popular destination for students, faculty and visitors. In fact, the library system has an average of 3,300 visitors – student and non-students alike – per day, which translates to over one million visits a year. While the incredible resources the libraries possess are a powerful draw for visitors, its sheer scope and size can be quite intimidating and complicated to navigate, especially for first-time users.
Seeing the confusion that some of our visitors were experiencing upon entering this rather complex environment, we wanted to find a way to simplify it, to help our visitors more easily get around our seven-floor, 400,000 square feet of facilities and more quickly locate the resources they need. We thought that a good approach would be to use the technology that is in virtually all of our visitors’ pockets – their smartphones – to unite our vast digital and physical services, combine the online and offline library experience, and guide users between resources.
We selected Aruba Networks’ Beacons to aid navigation within Bizzell Library and a handful of other landmark locations and selected Aruba’s Meridian App Platform to develop our content-rich, interactive OU NavApp mobile app, which is free and available for Android and Apple devices.
With NavApp, visitors can use their mobile devices to find their way through the OU Libraries and to other Norman Campus landmarks, such as the National Weather Center, the Fred Jones Museum and the Sam Noble Natural History Museum.
The new app provides a map for every publicly accessible area in Bizzell Library. It features a “blue dot” that indicate a user’s current location and provides turn-by-turn directions to the research materials of interest, as well as to gallery exhibits and necessities such as restrooms, elevators and exits. Because NavApp is organized by type of user – student, faculty or visitor – users can quickly find the information and resources that are most relevant to them.
NavApp has been a valuable addition to our safety and security processes as well. The accessibility features that are built into the Meridian Mobile App platform allows us to provide users with disabilities the easiest route to their points of interest using elevators. In addition, we have added watermarks to the floors on our maps to show visitors where they should go to be in the safest location when storms hit.
In addition to aiding with navigation, NavApp also provides location-based educational content to enrich the visitor’s library experience. For example, we are currently housing an exhibit called “Galileo’s World”. Our Bizzell Library was chosen to host this exhibit in part because we have a complete and rare set of first edition Galileo publications from 16th century Italy, some of which contain Galileo’s own handwriting in the margins. With NavApp, visitors to Galileo’s World can access detailed information about different aspects of the exhibit, enriching their understanding of the topic at hand. When passing by an exhibit concerning “Galileo and China”, for example, users will be given notifications that link to high resolution scans of rare manuscripts that they can then examine in detail on their mobile devices.
The feedback we have received on NavApp since its launch has been overwhelmingly positive, and app uptake is tracking steadily as our marketing campaign gears up to expose more users (and user groups) to this innovative tool. In the future, we envision deploying it across the entire campus, so users can travel between and within any building on campus, but for now, we are focusing on getting the app into people’s hands, so they can more easily navigate to and engage with our diverse campus resources.