Magazine article Computers in Libraries

What's in Their Pockets? Mobile Electronics

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

What's in Their Pockets? Mobile Electronics

Article excerpt

We've all heard the commercials touting various credit cards and how absolutely indispensable they are in today's world. The title of this article is an allusion to the commercial that ends with the question "What's in your wallet?" Another similar advertising slogan from a competing company urges customers "Don't leave home without it." While these ads seem to imply that the only thing a person needs to have with them at all times is a particular credit card, the reality is that we all carry lots of things with us in our daily lives. Cell phones, PDAs, and iPods are in evidence everywhere, because their small sizes make them easy to slip into pockets and purses. I have to admit that I rarely leave the house without my cell phone and iPod. With the ability to store audiobooks, podcasts, music, and now video all in one small device, if I have my iPod with me, I am never without a way to amuse myself when faced with an unexpected wait for an appointment. My cell phone has Internet capabilities, allowing me to satisfy my curiosity about news headlines or to check my e-mail even when I am out and about without my laptop.

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It is evident, often annoyingly so, that people are bringing these devices into libraries. I frequently see patrons wearing headphones while working on public access computers or reading printed materials. Cell phone usage is frequently seen and, unfortunately, heard, with patrons needing constant reminders that loud phone conversations in the library annoy others. This is obviously a problem, because as I was researching this column I ran a Google search on "cell phones libraries" and found many links to policies, signs, etc., prohibiting cell phone usage in quiet areas of libraries.

As librarians implement technologies to make their catalogs, electronic resources, and reference services available outside both the library building and library hours, it seems that most of these initiatives are aimed at patrons using an Internet-capable computer at home, at work, or even on the road. However, to reach mobile patrons who don't carry a laptop with them at all times but who do carry smaller electronic devices, librarians need to consider if offering services through these devices would be of sufficient quality to be popular with library patrons.

Texting Library Services?

Since the cell phone seems to be the most ubiquitous personal electronic device, it makes sense to examine its potential as a delivery mechanism for library services. The text messaging capability of many cell phones is popular with younger users. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project report "Teens and Technology," 45 percent of teens own a cell phone and 33 percent have sent a text message. Recognizing the popularity of text messaging among young people, Dot Mobile, a mobile phone company marketed specifically to students in the U.K., has announced plans to offer condensed versions of classic literature as text message downloads. The service, briefly described in an article for School Library Journal, offers the titles as, to borrow a popular descriptive phrase, "extreme condensed versions" with a length of no more than 120 characters. Additional examples of these texts can be found in an article from Guardian Unlimited Books or in a press release on the Dot Mobile Web site.

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While I am not at all sure that converting text materials to brief text messages is the type of service that libraries will want to offer, there are other ways to use text messaging via cell phones. One use is to inform patrons of the availability of requested materials or to remind them of overdue items. The libraries of Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council in the U.K. announced their use of Short Message Service (SMS) messaging for reserve notification on their Web site, touting the benefits to busy individuals. Patrons can receive messages from the library while out and about and then simply swing by to pick up their requested items. …

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