'Mobilizing' Community College Libraries: Trends and Solutions

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Community college libraries are accustomed to being flexible when it comes to providing services to students, faculty, and community members. A diverse clientele is part of the strength of community colleges and their libraries, but it can also make selecting services quite challenging, especially with today's thinly stretched resources. The prevalence of mobile devices, however, makes it imperative for these libraries to implement services that reach their patrons through their devices. Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project has found that community colleges' primary constituency, adults ages 18-29, are more likely to use a smartphone if they have already had some college experience. Of those surveyed, 70% of 18- to 29-year-olds had a smartphone if they had attended or graduated from college, as opposed to 63% of those who had a high school diploma or less ("Digital Differences," K. Zickuhr and A. Smith, Pew Internet & American Life Project, April 13, 2012 [http://pewinternet.org/~/media//Files/Re ports/2012/PIP_Digital_differences_041312.pdf]; accessed Aug. 7, 2012).

As a group, community colleges pride themselves on adapting quickly to meet the educational needs of the workforce. Libraries assist colleges by making collection decisions that support the changing curriculum and also by offering services relevant to the people being served. To this end, a survey was conducted in July 2012 to determine what types of mobile services are being offered to community college library patrons across the country. The survey was distributed to the Community and Junior Colleges listserv, a mailing list maintained the by Community and Junior College Libraries Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL). One response per institution was requested; 50 total responses were received. This article will discuss the findings and their implications for community college libraries and their patrons.

Survey Findings

One survey question, "Do you currently offer patrons mobile library services? If so, what do you offer?" elicited assorted interesting responses. More than 73% of those who provided feedback said they currently offer mobile catalog access to their patrons, while nearly 62% said they provide access to vendor database apps. Although none of the institutions that responded currently have a mobile app for their library, two indicated they are in the process of creating one. Only 14.7% of institutions said they had a dedicated mobile library website. However, one library's comment suggests that work on a mobile website at the institutional level will be the impetus for the library's site to become more mobile-friendly. Although the data did not indicate that this is a widespread occurrence, it is not unreasonable to consider that this may happen at other institutions.

To encourage librarians to think outside of their current constraints, the survey posed the question, "If you could wave a magic wand, what one mobile library service would you provide?" Responses varied, but common themes were revealed. The top responses included providing text messaging reference or account information, having a library app, and offering a dedicated mobile website. Other interesting, but uncommon responses included using the mobile device as a form of identification for checkouts through an image of their library barcode, video chatting with a librarian via smartphone, and improved vendor-provided database apps.

Access to library services on a smartphone is especially important when overall internet usage on cellphones is considered. Why would libraries bother developing mobile services and resources, unless there were enough patrons interested in using them? The Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project survey on internet browsing on cellphones recently found that 45% of all 18- to 29-year-olds who access the internet on their phone do most of their browsing through their mobile phone. …