A Resurgence in Our Relevance: By Meeting Clients' Demands for Mobile Access, Libraries and Information Centers Can Position Themselves in the Forefront of Innovation and Value

Article excerpt

Innovation is a key feature of today's information professionals and of our information centers and libraries. The ability to provide new and innovative services to our customers, when and where they want or need them, is one of our most significant contributions to our organizations. Much of this innovation and change is being driven by technology, especially by tools and applications embedded in mobile devices.

The smartphone is the leading mobile device, with research firms such as Nielsen predicting that smartphone usage will overtake regular cellphone usage this year (Nielsenwire 2010). Following closely behind smartphones are iPads and other tablet devices, with their larger screens and easier-to-use keyboards. Laptops continue to be popular, though the iPad and other tablets are already beginning to cannibalize laptop sales--an indicator of how mobility and functionality are becoming so important in both our professional and personal lives.

The proliferation of mobile technology has driven a demand for--and indeed an expectation of--being able to do whatever we want to do, wherever we happen to be. The library as a place, particularly in the special library environment, has possibly now been overtaken by the library as a service, and this is probably a positive trend given the uncertainties within the print publishing industry.

The mobile technology trend may actually be one of the most important factors behind a resurgence in the relevance of information professionals and their libraries and information centers. It is common today to see information centers and/or their IT staff developing applications (apps) for mobile access to their services. Vendors, sometimes a bit slow to respond, are also recognizing the importance of developing mobile browser versions of their services or specifically developing apps. The important thing for us to remember is that innovation is our game, and we must be seen to be in the forefront for our customers.

Special libraries, more so than traditional libraries, have often been able to piggyback on their organization's ability to develop (or purchase) technology solutions. Being in such close relationship with our clients means we can see the technology they use, from laptops with access to VPNs to, more recently, iPads and smartphones. A browser enabled for mobile devices is a must, but it alone isn't enough to satisfy our customers any more--we need specific device-level apps. Functionality is now the key differentiator in service.

Browsing through the literature and sites related to library mobile technology, it is clear that there are a number of areas where mobile access has become ubiquitous. These include an information center's Website (or intranet) and catalog, including direct access to full text resources, databases, and images. Location services or online tours are also a common function for library apps now, particularly in larger libraries, such as in academic environments. Other important uses are communication, marketing, and social networking. …