Interview with Scott La Counte

Scott La Counte is the head librarian for the Southern California Institute of Technology. He has given presentations on mobile application development at several different conferences, and is the author of Going Mobile: Developing Apps for Your Library Using Basic HTML Programming (ALA Editions Special Reports, 2011), and Build Your Own App for Fun and Profit (Huron Street Press, 2012). Scott will be teaching a course for Library Juice Academy next month called Bringing Library Services to Mobile Devices. He has graciously agreed to do an interview here, to give people a better idea of what will be covered in the class.

Scott, thanks for agreeing to do this interview. I’d like to start by asking what is the range of mobile application development now being pursued by libraries? What kinds of apps are we talking about?

Libraries are still playing catch up; recent estimates say 2 out of 3 Americans own a Smartphone, but it’s still very new technology and most libraries are still trying to figure out what content their users want–and how to teach their users how to use them. Most libraries now offer some kind of ebook subscription (such as Overdrive). One of the biggest challenges is “mobile” encompasses so many platforms (i.e. Windows, Android, iOS) and devices (iPhone, Nexus, Kindle Fire, Windows Mobile, etc); to try and reach as many devices as possible for as cheap as possible, libraries are looking more to third parties who can push content onto multiple platforms; LibraryThing is one popular app that helps libraries get their catalog onto multiple mobile devices. Few have had the budget or staff to allow for mobile redevelopment of their website; the good news is their is a growing number of cheap solutions to help libraries go mobile.

So what are those cheap solutions, if you could summarize? And what is the extent of the possibilities of home-grown library apps?

Ideally, every library should invest in home-grown type apps; third party solutions are not bad, but there needs to be one library portal that groups everything together. PhoneGap is one of the best solutions turning HTML and Java code into iOS and Android apps. Some libraries have had success in the more costly Boopies app; those on a budget and with zero development skill can look into the literally hundreds of WYSIWYG mobile editors (such as AppMakr and AppBreeder). Libraries with more budget who want an app that’s more customized, can go to outsourcing websites like Elance and oDesk where their are hundreds of skilled developers willing to take on the project.

So what will you cover in your class?

The four week class is a crash course in mobile development; learning how to develop an app takes more than four weeks, but by the end of the class students will have all the resources needed to get their library mobile. The first two weeks, students will learn about terminology and discuss what their library and other libraries are doing to meet the mobile needs of their user. The last two weeks will focus on how to develop an app and what services to offer.

Sounds like a very interesting course. I’d like to turn to your background as an instructor. You’ve written a couple of books about mobile apps. What exactly is your experience with mobile app development, and what is your background prior to that?

I’ve always been a computer nerd, and my passion has always been teaching users how to use new technology; I was a public librarian for the Anaheim Public Library for over 10 years and taught 100s of beginning and intermediate computer classes to patrons and staff alike. When the iPhone / iPod Touch came out, I was, like most people, addicted to the apps. I love knowing how things work, so I checked out a few books on development from the library. There are lots of methods for building apps, and one of the most practical methods (especially for someone like me who isn’t an expert coder) I found is PhoneGap. I approached ALA Editions about writing a book on the subject because there were no books on mobile development for librarians that discussed the actual coding side of development. “Going Mobile: Developing Apps for Your Library Using Basic HTML Programming” was published in 2011 and was followed the next year by “Build Your Own App for Fun and Profit” (which was marketed towards a broader audience).

Sounds great. We’re privileged to have you as an instructor. As a final question, I’d like to ask, if there were one other class you could teach for Library Juice Academy, what would it be?

At some point, I’d love to teach a more advance course in development, but one step at a time! With more and more libraries on shoestring budgets, libraries have to rely more on librarians (not venders) to create mobile apps and websites; unfortunately, there’s very few places that offer any kind of training just for librarians. There’s an entire generation of librarians entering the workforce who were raised using mobile device, and if they have the right training, they can make a huge impact on the services libraries offer in the future.

Sounds great! There may be room for such a course down the road.

Thanks for taking the time to do the interview.

Thanks for taking the time to interview me. I’m looking forward to not just teaching the class, but learning how other librarians are already incorporating mobile services into their libraries.

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