Delivering Library Services and Content to Mobile-Savvy Consumers: A Paper Presented at SLA 2016 Revealed That Libraries Can Do Much More to Address the 'Gap' in Providing Information to Mobile Device Users

By Mueller, Britt; Shamel, Cindy | Information Outlook, January-February 2017 | Go to article overview

Delivering Library Services and Content to Mobile-Savvy Consumers: A Paper Presented at SLA 2016 Revealed That Libraries Can Do Much More to Address the 'Gap' in Providing Information to Mobile Device Users


Mueller, Britt, Shamel, Cindy, Information Outlook


Throughout most of their history, librarians have focused primarily on managing paper and hard copy collections. Only during the past four decades have librarians had to make the transition to a digital environment, but they have had far less time to consider the reality that library users now carry powerful, digital online devices in their pockets. In a profession where change has historically taken place incrementally, libraries and librarians are now facing a cosmic shift in how people access information in every aspect of their lives.

In a paper presented at the SLA 2016 Annual Conference, the authors sought to draw attention to how people now access information, how libraries are responding, and the issues libraries face in staying relevant in a world where information is most often accessed and used with mobile devices (Mueller and Shamel 2016).

Mobile in the World

It seems obvious to call the use of mobile technology ubiquitous. Mobile devices are an intrinsic part of everyday life, allowing people to easily communicate, share information, track activity, and more. Worldwide growth in the use of mobile devices has been exponential and is slated to continue advancing, with estimates of 5.6 billion unique subscribers worldwide in 2020, up from 4.7 billion in 2015 (GSMA Intelligence 2016).

In keeping with this growth in devices, access to online content and the Internet are moving rapidly toward a primarily mobile ecosystem. For example, Google prioritizes mobile-optimized content in search results, and advertising drives monetization and profit for companies providing the platforms and services people use to find information and communicate worldwide.

This mobile ecosystem is also where many of the world's fastest growing companies look for revenue growth. Companies that provide services synonymous with sharing information (such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter) regularly note in their SEC filings how critical mobile capabilities are to their success. Delivering content optimized for mobile access enables these companies to customize what people see and facilitates a better understanding of consumers' tastes and needs.

As companies seek increased revenue through mobile delivery, they are prioritizing well-designed and frictionless access to their services and content. Ease of access, exceptional user interface design, and targeted content all combine to create engaging and useful interactions. Users expect (and get) incredibly high standards of product design and low access barriers for their mobile experience.

When we think about library users and patrons, we have to remember that they most likely have a mobile device or smartphone and are actively using mobile social platforms and apps. They are familiar with mobile experiences that are engaging, easily accessed, and targeted to their needs. They come from this mobile world when they enter the library (either physically or electronically) and begin seeking information as a library user as opposed to a consumer.

How do libraries measure up? What can sophisticated mobile consumers expect when they begin to use library services with their mobile devices? And what are libraries doing to provide information access in a truly mobile ecosystem?

Mobile in Libraries

To get a picture of the status of mobile initiatives in libraries, we researched the published literature, visited 40 academic and public library websites, and interviewed several professionals active in this space. We were looking for insights into how libraries are offering mobile access to services and content, the extent to which they are prioritizing mobile access, and how library mobile experts are thinking about the issue. We found that libraries are trying to address mobile access at some level, but it appears that mobile initiatives are not generally a priority; instead, they are somewhat of a single checkbox or one-off offer that is only minimally promoted. …

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