Magazine article Online

Mobiles in Libraries

Magazine article Online

Mobiles in Libraries

Article excerpt

Mobile technology is changing the way people work and play. Mobile devices are immediate to the user; they provide a channel for information and a way of interacting with others. They are superb at delivering different kinds of resources--streamed video and music, written and spoken literature, travel directions, games, sports scores, photos, and thousands more. Powerful mobile devices are becoming widespread--libraries cannot afford to ignore this medium if they are to keep in step with their patrons. There has never been a more relevant user-driven technology for libraries to adopt.

For a library user, the applications are many: search and retrieval, loan renewal, and document viewing, to name but a few. But how do we get library content onto mobile devices?

I am defining mobile devices as any battery-powered, portable device with a small screen that can connect to the internet using wireless protocols. You might add nontraditional interface to the list in order to exclude notepad computers and to highlight the smaller, prototypical smartphone devices such as iPhones, Android handsets, BlackBerries, Nokia Nseries, and, potentially, the next-generation ebook readers and devices such as Apple's iPad.

Although the idea of the ultramobile, palmtop computer has been around for a while, the original "unconnected" palmtops were useful only within specific domains--for example, business and management--where having meeting times readily at hand was worth paying the price of the unit, as well as the tedium of synchronization. The success of modern mobile devices and subsequent take-up by a wider audience only came about with the advent of wireless networking in these devices. A mobile device with access to the internet is clearly an attractive concept for users.

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ENTER THE LIBRARY

In many parts of Libraryland, we're into mobile in a big way; lots of attention and funding is devoted to putting different resources onto the mobile platform. Often, these offerings are part of a project with a scope limited to mobile devices. I believe that this is a bad way of working, limiting the success of any initiative toward mobile technology. Because of the way the market is growing, it is most relevant to look at future-oriented technologies available in modern smartphones, such as the iPhone and Android handsets. These devices support both native applications and proper web browsing. I will focus on the latter in this article. A single legacy technology that has a limited, but nevertheless relevant, future within libraries is short message service (SMS). Libraries can and do already use SMS to push loan and catalog information to mobile devices and to support texting. This is likely to continue for some time. There are many ways of delivering content to mobile devices--probably as many as there are devices--but which of these should libraries choose?

STAND-ALONE APPLICATIONS

One of the first things libraries did to provide content to mobile devices was to create stand-alone applications. Such applications are directly analogous with applications on your desktop computer--they use interface elements and programming techniques that are unique to the device platform. Examples include iPhone applications downloaded from Apple's App Store.

This way of doing things is attractive because the results often look very good. This kind of software can use a built-in Global Positioning System (GPS), imaging, and motion sensing that cannot, for security reasons, be used over the web. A high level of control over the appearance and functionality of what is presented to the user makes this a particularly attractive way of delivering content to mobile devices.

The problem with this approach is that the software will typically work on a limited number of devices. That means extra development costs with every new version of the mobile device's operating system. …

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