Citing the move from library mobiles, the bus and van services that delivered books to remote users in the past, the University of Cambridge Arcadia Programme explains the challenges facing the development of “m-libraries,” library access via mobile phone.
Author Keren Mills reports that her surveys of university library users discovered that many user experience and cultural barriers remain to universal use of of library collections on mobile devices. Despite having new and advanced multimedia mobile handsets, the vast majority of library users surveyed have never read an e-book, listened to an audio book or played music or video on their handsets.
The survey also found that fewer than 16 percent of Cambridge students use their phones to access Web sites more than once a week. Mills writes: “one obvious inference to be drawn from this is that it is not worth libraries putting time and effort into developing dedicated mobile websites. Rather, if they want their sites to be mobile-friendly they are better advised to use either (Cascading Style Sheets) CSS or Auto-Detect and Reformat software (ADR).” Moreover, she also reports that libraries should not invest in creating iPhone applications, as only 21 percent of survey respondents have downloaded applications to their phone and would choose to do it again.
A good deal of the report focuses on the touchscreen and Web presentation features of the iPhone and how they will facilitate new library services. This, however, does not make the problem of educating people about and acclimating them to the use of mobile handsets when confronted with a research problem for a class or work. But the real meat of the findings is that, at this point, students are still primarily interested in finding out if the library is open or whether it will be open and the information they are seeking accessible when they need it.
My thought is that the libraries may need to rethink their engagement with mobile phone users completely. If the emphasis of a library Web site is to provide information about hours and the availability of a text, the logical next step is to find a way to provide the text without requiring a visit to the library. Then, it becomes a relatively short step from inquiry to fulfillment of the need for information.