In the heart of Silicon Valley in 2006, two entrepreneurs—Greg Carpenter and Tim Kay—developed a platform for building scalable, device-agnostic mobile apps that could integrate large amounts of data. They assembled a team for their budding company, which they called Boopsie, to begin marketing their new mobile solution to public libraries. It was profitable from the start, and in 2014 increased its customer base by more than 30% over the previous year. Now Boopsie for Libraries’ platform-as-a-service model is in use by more than 4,000 libraries around the world (with a 96% renewal rate).
“[T]hey foresaw the need to find things quickly on mobile devices,” says CEO Tony Medrano, who joined the company in 2013. “And libraries were the perfect customer.” In addition to serving public libraries, Boopsie now caters to academic, special (e.g., law school), K–12, corporate, and government and military libraries. Some companies have difficulty implementing their solutions in, for example, corporate libraries, because they have completely different sales and project management cycles, Medrano says. Despite its lean staff, Boopsie can leverage its IT knowledge and skills to do corporate enterprise sales. “We really get a lot of pressure to innovate, and certainly mobile apps are part of the culture here [in Silicon Valley], so we took a natural position of thought leader and innovator in the library space. We’re really a mobile app company serving libraries.”
Boopsie’s goal is to help libraries “make more services more accessible to more members”—thereby acquiring new users and increasing circulation—through the use of a custom-branded, native mobile app, which gives patrons 24/7 remote access to the library from a variety of devices (Android, iOS, Windows Phone 8, Windows Mobile, Windows 8, Kindle Fire, and BlackBerry). “Our mission as a company is to support a particular library’s mission of serving their community by making their databases, their content, whatever they have in their library more easily accessible via mobile devices,” says Medrano.
A Wide Range of Functionality
Boopsie claims it’s easy for library staffers to deploy and maintain a library’s own app; all they need to do is give Boopsie its images, a list of databases to which it subscribes, and a description of the information it would like to include in the app, such as a link to its Facebook page and hours of operation. Boopsie has a template it uses to create the app, and the finished product is customized to the library’s specifications and put into channels (e.g., Google Play) for patrons to download.
Because Boopsie is partnered with all of the major ILS vendors, the app gives patrons access to web portals such as the library’s catalog—including to its ebooks and e-audiobooks via partnerships with providers. Here is a sampling of the activities available to patrons from within a Boopsie library app:
- Searching the library’s catalog (getting results in real time)
- Finding branch locations, hours of operation, and contact information
- Checking out ebooks, e-audiobooks, and other econtent
- Managing their accounts by placing holds, renewing items, and so on
- Connecting to the Ask a Librarian service via text, email, or phone
- Viewing the library’s calendar of events, classes, and computer lab schedules
- Linking to the library’s Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube pages, as well as to other social networks
When searching the library’s catalog in the app, Boopsie’s Smart Prefix feature kicks in to deliver a quick response. (For example, searching ma gl will bring up titles by Malcolm Gladwell.) A self-checkout feature is also available, as well as catalog search using an in-app bar code scanner and the option to deliver the app in multiple languages.
Mutually Beneficial Partnerships
Teaming up with major players in the library space has been important to the success of Boopsie’s library apps. “[O]ur real value is deep integration with partners,” says Medrano, because “everybody knows the library; they don’t necessarily know EBSCO or need to know EBSCO, or Boopsie, or OverDrive. They just want books for their classes, or they want books from their local library. … They don’t really care whether it’s an EBSCO or a ProQuest database. So we partner with EBSCO and ProQuest to send them the users.”
According to its Star Partners program, “The easier it is for your patrons and students to find what they’re looking for, the more engaged they’ll be.” Companies that partner with Boopsie increase their mobile solution’s visibility because it appears on the library app’s home screen, where patrons can click to access it from the menu.
Some of these partners are digital media distributors such as Axis 360, hoopla, OverDrive, Zinio, and 3M Library Systems. Others are services such as Mango Languages and Credo’s Literati, or databases from EBSCO Information Services, ProQuest, and LexisNexis. “We work really closely with a lot of the big folks because they know they need a mobile app partner, and that’s something we want to develop,” says Medrano. “So we partner with all of those players—most of them have apps, and what we do is, simply put, we plug their app into the library’s app” by integrating with their APIs.
Recently introduced services are designed to expand the functionality of Boopsie’s platform. These include the Comics Plus: Library Edition catalog of 10,000 digital comics and graphic novels and the CoverCake in-app discovery tool. Boopsie Analytics, modeled on Google Analytics, gives libraries the option to track their app downloads, unique users, queries, and channel visits from a web-based dashboard. “We sit across a lot of library systems and devices and partners, so we actually can track usage of their subscription services. A lot of times, they don’t know what’s being used or what’s not being used. So we launched Boopsie Analytics to tell them how many app downloads they’re getting, how many users they’re getting per day, how many clicks they’re getting, or searches,” says Medrano. Libraries can deliver this quantitative data to their boards to show how much Boopsie costs on a per-user basis. He says that for some large library systems, the app brings in users at 5 or 6 cents per month. Since the app enables 24/7 access to the library without it having to pay its staff members or increase hours at the physical building, Medrano sees this as a great ROI for the library.
Another feature that sets Boopsie apart is the addition of marketing services. “There’s a great example of traditionally, maybe, in a lot of businesses, people would look at marketing services dollars and say, ‘Let me spend it on a PR firm and I’ll do some radio ads’ or something that’s just not trackable,” says Medrano. “And maybe there’s a couple billboards up, but the way we approach things is we want to track [the advertising] and give measurable results to the library on a per-user and per-dollar basis.” He notes that the marketing services have taken off for Boopsie because there is a need in the library industry for internet marketing that is done in a professional, metrics-driven way, not in a traditional way that can’t be easily tracked.
A Strategic Approach to the Future
“We try to do things in Silicon Valley fashion where we figure out exactly what the problem is and see if we can automate it and build a process around it that’s repeatable as opposed to just hiring bodies and throwing maybe less-skilled people at a problem,” says Medrano. Boopsie’s recent focus on serving new types of libraries demanded that the company refine its strategy; for example, more emphasis was placed on its ability to deliver resources such as EBSCOhost in academic library apps, which would benefit research-minded patrons.
Boopsie’s foray into the law school market was facilitated by its partnership with LexisNexis for law students’ legal research. “[L]aw schools are a great example of a defined market with specific needs, and we found that when we address the real needs of the users, without just trying to be an app for everybody, we really solved the users’ problems. And the law schools love us, because we’re able to deliver to them specific things that their specific users want,” Medrano says.
Further international expansion is in the works, evidenced in part by Boopsie’s partnership with iGroup, a reseller of digital services to 2,000-plus academic libraries in the Asia-Pacific region. Medrano prefers these partnerships to hiring employees in other countries. “[W]hat we’ve found is having a team of smart and flexible entrepreneurs, if they’re working hard to solve users’ problems, gets us like 90% of the way there—as opposed to hiring a person for a specific need, we hire smart people who want to win.”