Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Mobile Academic Libraries: A Snapshot

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Mobile Academic Libraries: A Snapshot

Article excerpt

At this point in our technological world, it seems trite to start a paper by talking about the enormous changes taking place in libraries. They are endemic, they are everlasting, and they keep one continually wondering what new things are on the horizon. Every now and then, however, it is important to step back and take a snapshot of the present, just to get some perspective. This paper takes such a snapshot of mobile applications (such as mobile websites and mobile applications for databases) found on academic libraries' websites. This writer discusses libraries with mobile websites, whether or not those websites display automatically when using a mobile device such as a smartphone, what functions are included on those websites, whether database lists on regular websites link to or indicate mobile applications for the appropriate databases, as well as issues related to libraries' use or nonuse of mobile applications.

Librarians everywhere express concern about the future role of the library in this era of e-books and e-journals and even e-reference resources. Even more, librarians wonder what they themselves can do to maintain their relevance when no one has to come into the library to do their research, and when students who are technologically savvy express confidence in their own research skills. In one study, "eight out of ten (80%) students considered themselves expert or very skilled in searching the internet effectively and efficiently." (1)

Add to these concerns the ubiquity of mobile technology. As librarians debate how far to go to make their collections available online, now there are concerns about making all of their resources usable on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. These are totally different venues compared to traditional computer screens because of their sizes and interface functionalities. In fact, one author maintained that "mobile is not a small PC. This fascinating media needs to be considered as a whole ecosystem with its own set of rules." (2) In a short EDUCAUSE article, the author stated, "the challenge of creating a consistent, reliable experience for all users, not to mention maintaining that experience as the tools evolve, might make any institution feel like it is trying to catch a train that has left the station." (3) Given the differing requirements for mobile applications, librarians need to become more aware of what the demand for mobile is on their campuses. Are students and faculty using these devices for their research? If so, how are they using them? And how can libraries and librarians adapt to this new interface? A snapshot of what is happening in ARL academic libraries may help put some of these questions and concerns into perspective for planning.

In 2010, Joan Lippincott wrote an article in which she discussed the "mobile future for academic libraries," (4) focusing on smartphones and e-book readers. She used Wikipedia's definition of smartphones, which still today includes functions such as "portable media players, low-end compact digital cameras, pocket video cameras, and GPS navigation units. Modern smartphones typically also include high-resolution touchscreens, web browsers that can access and properly display standard web pages rather than just mobile-optimized sites, and high-speed data access via Wi-Fi and mobile broadband." (5) This is the definition that will be used in this article, and this is the type of device, along with tablets, that will be explored. This paper also will review how these devices are used.

There are a few studies that recommend features that libraries should incorporate into mobile websites. For instance, in a 2011 study done at Kent State University, students expressed great interest in being able to connect with the library's databases from their mobile phone, but they were more interested in having access to a few major databases (such as EBSCO), to course reserves, to a reference librarian (through chat or texting), to their library accounts, and to alerts, such as when a requested resource is available for pickup or when materials are due back to the library. …

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