Mobile devices have become commonplace, and are increasingly capable of accessing multi-media resources such as audio and video. Many libraries maintain multi-media digital collections that could be accessed on mobile devices. Mobile devices, however, offer unique display and technical challenges that need to be addressed. The benefits of mobile access to library collections include the promise of increased use and an enhanced user experience. In this article we provide a detailed discussion of the issues related to mobile delivery of digital media, including a literature review, an overview of significant technical issues, and three case studies.
mobile computing; streaming media; audio; video; libraries; library collections
"The mobile revolution can be a critical method in promoting library use and value, dramatically impacting how libraries deliver services to their users" (Murray 245).
The increasing presence of mobile devices is striking, and there is good reason to believe the trend will continue. In 2010 there were over five billion cell phone subscriptions globally (Whitney). Dr. Hamadoun Toure, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union, says, "I am confident that we will continue to see a rapid uptake in mobile cellular services in particular in 2010, with many more people using their phones to access the Internet" (Bailey). The 2009 Horizon Report, published jointly by Educause and The New Media Consortium, says, "for many users, broadband mobile devices like the iPhone have already begun to assume many tasks that were once the exclusive province of portable computers" (Johnston, Levine, and Smith 4). Both the 2009 and 2010 Horizon Report list mobile computing as one of the top trends to watch, defining it as "use of the network-capable devices students are already carrying" (Johnston et al. 5). The Pew Report further illustrates the changing role of mobile devices in our lives, and their ability to provide mobile access to multimedia content. They found that in 2010, for example, 38% of cell phone users were accessing the Internet, as compared to 25% in 2009 (Smith 1).
As we have seen on the web, the streaming of media content boasts seemingly limitless potential. The ability to extend this to mobile devices is also possible (Sauer 21), creating significant opportunities for responsive institutions. Libraries have adapted web technologies to deliver content, and promote online access to their services (Buczynski 2008 262). Furthermore, libraries are beginning to engage their users via mobile phones. Examples include audio tours, text message reference services, text message alerts, and mobile-friendly search engines (Buczynski 2008 262). Museums are responding as well, and have recently started offering audio tours that are accessible by mobile phone (Buczynski 2008 263).
With the addition of full-featured web browsers to mobile devices, there is a real opportunity to provide improved access to media collections (Buczynski 2008 266). These opportunities will just increase with developments in related technologies. The introduction of Apple's iPad into Canada in April 2010, for example, further demonstrates the variety of devices that will be developed as both computer and mobile technology continues to progress. There are a wide variety of possible candidates: libraries' oral history, folklore or special collections; mobile audio course reserves (e.g., Concordia University); mobile film and video collections (e.g., The National Film Board of Canada/NFB); mobile videos of past music concerts or programming events (e.g., the Orange County Library System); mobile access to proprietary music and video databases (e.g., Naxos and Alexander Street Press); mobile access to audiobooks (e.g., OverDrive and NetLibrary); and many other audio or video collections held within libraries. Audio collections have special potential for mobile access, as Buczyski says, because: "Audio, unlike watching video, or reading, can be enjoyed while engaged in a wide range of activities" (2006 103). …