OCLC: Digby mobile app


Executive management hand-selected a team of individuals, including myself, across OCLC to identify a mobile app opportunity. I had just wrapped up a contextual inquiry initiative with product management, which identified library staff spent more time monitoring and correcting student worker tasks than on their own assignments. A technical manager colleague had just wrapped up a similar initiative leveraging API-to-Problem Statement mapping. With our findings, we identified library circulation staff workflows that could be solved by mobile apps uniquely.

Armed with this information, our team convinced executive management that the mobile app project should pivot focus from library patrons to library staff; specifically, student workers.

The Solution

Design Mantra

Empower student workers to be productive with their first shift in the library.

The Problem

Student workers are seasonal in the library space, often assigned by the academic institution regardless of interest. Since assignments rarely last more than a year, there is a constant “brain drain” from a training perspective.

Student workers assigned to the Circulation desk need to retrieve requested materials from the library stacks. They track this list on paper by manually comparing titles, authors, and call numbers to the items on the shelf. Library staff spend hours teaching the call number system to students and how it maps to the stacks. The pull list becomes a snapshot in time because it has to be printed out and taken into the stacks. Whether items are found or not, the student returns to the desk to manually enter lost items or to mark the item as retrieved and ready for pick up.

This manual processing requires many training hours, long retrieval times for patrons, inaccuracies if the wrong barcode is pulled, and time library staff don’t have to correct mistakes.

The Process

We mapped our APIs to the contextual inquiry problem statements, allowing us to identify data available to support user workflows. We took advantage of the smart phone camera to scan barcodes so students could confirm they were grabbing the right item for a pull list or inventory management. We also took advantage of the device’s vibration and chimes to signal to the student whether they found the right item or found an item that had a notification requiring it be returned to the librarian for additional processing. As we didn’t have a visual designer available for the project, I worked closely with the marketing design manager to interpret the OCLC brand into the app.

Each month, we reported to executive management as we identified user workflows, how to best take advantage of smart phone functionality, design specs, development demos, and finally the pilot with partner libraries.

What we learned

We paired off to perform contextual inquiries across small libraries in Ohio to learn patterns of opportunity, including the developers in the research so everyone had full ownership of what we learned and the project direction. We learned for some libraries, working with paper was a mere inconvenience, for others with large requesting numbers, it was barely manageable.

The vision leads for the project (myself, the project manager, and the technical manager) traveled to Indiana to work with the PALNI group of libraries. We discussed pain points and project opportunities in a day-long workshop, ultimately agreeing that we would build a survey into the alpha version so student workers could give direct feedback at the end of their shift. At the end of each week of the pilot, our project manager shared survey results, allowing us to tweak the experience. In parallel, we ran an in-person usability study at a local university with student workers. We simulated the workflow with a stack of books matching the data in an interactive Axure prototype that used Javascript to chime in the browser when the proper item was “scanned.” We confirmed labeling and workflows, identifying when language was confusing or when emphasized data didn’t make sense.

During our pilot, Overdrive released the Libby app. Prior to this, our app had a serious tone, as we were heavily influenced by library staff needs and preferences. Once we saw the bright openness of the Libby brand, we realized our intended student audience wouldn’t find much appeal in our library staff-focused app.

We worked with the corporate marketing and legal teams to rename the app and pivot the brand. The name suggested by our technical manager, Digby, became the final concept. Our UI designer ran with the Digby name, creating a fun yet professional theme based on the corporate brand.

The mobile app was adopted by 20% of the customer base within the first year.


Information architecture, user flows, wireframes, design lead.

Team (May 2016 – February 2017)

Binaebi Akah CalkinsLead UX Design
Doug LoynesSenior Technical Manager
Mark KeslerProject Manager
Doug DaviesDeveloper
George CampbellDeveloper
Matt CarlsonUI Design


Confluence, Axure, Powerpoint.

Drop a Line

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.