Academic journal article Library Technology Reports

Chapter 3: The Present and Future of the Library Mobile Experience

Academic journal article Library Technology Reports

Chapter 3: The Present and Future of the Library Mobile Experience

Article excerpt


Chapter 3 of Library Technology Reports (vol. 49, no. 6) "The Library Mobile Experience: Practices and User Expectations" takes a look at how the first generation of mobile library websites have changed over the last few years and discusses what mobile experience library patrons want. Several studies and surveys indicate that in spite of the small size of the smartphone screen, library patrons are willing to use mobile library websites for research. More sophisticated features--such as menu customization and personalization, study room reservation, text-message alerts for borrowed library items that are close to the due date, and live chat on the mobile device--appear to be in demand also. In order to provide a satisfactory mobile experience, libraries need to pay more attention to how they can meet the needs of library patrons creatively and efficiently when the patrons are in the mobile mindset of micro-tasking being bored, or being local


Libraries have been an early adopter of the mobile Web. When the feature phone and the PDA were the most common handheld devices, libraries were already trying to expand services and collections to them. Some libraries introduced SMS reference services so that patrons could text a reference question and get a text answer back. (1) Some libraries acquired PDA devices, loaded resources on them, and circulated them to library patrons. (2) Other innovative libraries implemented mobile-optimized websites so that their patrons could access the libraries online using a feature phone; Ball State University Libraries and North Carolina State University Libraries took this step early in 2004 ( and 2007 ( respectively (see figures 3.1 and 3.2).

Since then, the fast adoption of the smartphone prompted more and more libraries to "mobilize" library collections and services and to review how usable their library websites were on mobile devices. As a result, libraries started introducing mobile-friendly databases to patrons; acquired and circulated handheld devices like the iPod and the iPad; incorporated mobile devices into library orientation, instruction, and reference activities; and added mobile-optimized websites and, in some cases, even native library apps. As we have seen in the previous chapter (see "One Web or Walled Gardens: Web App versus Native App"), compared to library web apps, native library apps have more features, such as managing the library account or scanning the barcode of a book to check its availability. However, due to their high development costs, the multitude of mobile platforms, and the staff expertise required for development and maintenance, there are a relatively small number of native library apps. Many libraries chose to create a mobile-optimized website instead.

In this chapter, we will focus on mobile library websites and discuss what mobile experience library patrons want from them and how libraries are meeting such patron expectations. In the previous chapter, we saw the tremendous growth of the mobile Web, accelerated by faster cellular data network speeds and more capable mobile devices. We also observed that today's mobile users are no longer satisfied with simple mobile websites with only a small fraction of the information and features that are available on desktop websites. The small screen size of a mobile device may make performing certain tasks more tedious or cumbersome, but mobile users do expect to perform more and more tasks on their mobile devices. Does this expectation apply to library patrons? How do library patrons want to use their libraries on their mobile devices? What do they find useful, and what do they find lacking? The answers to these questions are of crucial importance in informing libraries so that they can create and develop a satisfactory mobile experience for library patrons. …

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