I attended the Handheld Librarian conference for the first time this year. Though the conference title initially made me think of my own little librarian golem—resembling, perhaps, the Nancy Pearl action figure—it of course refers to mobile devices and related topics, including library games, QR code-linked tours, library apps, and emerging online services such as Pinterest, as well as subjects of perennial interest such as underserved communities and the digital divide. Though I rarely attend virtual conferences or webinars because I am easily distracted and have trouble paying attention, the conference organizers did a good job of keeping things moving, and the presenters were on the whole very engaging. I’ll attend this conference again.
The keynote from Pew Internet’s Lee Rainie started things off with a look at just how much mobile devices have penetrated everyday life. While this summary looks at mobile device adoption in America, I think it’s safe to say that the trend is equally or even more pronounced elsewhere; I was in China earlier this year and smartphones were everywhere, and during a visit to Cambodia five years ago I noticed that people had eschewed landlines entirely (sensible when the country’s infrastructure is in terrible shape outside major cities) and simply opted for far more reliable mobile phones.
Some of Pew’s recent findings include:
- 88% of Americans have a cell phone
- 53% of those cell phones are smartphones
- 55% of cell phone owners use the Internet on their phones, and 31% of those use their phone as their primary Internet access device
- Young adults are more likely to own smartphones
- Primary mobile phone activities are texting, taking photos (73% for each), sending photos or videos to others (54%), and Internet access (44%)
Much of the information-lookup activities on mobile phones is described as “just-in-time”—answering an immediate need, such as to find out whether a restaurant is good or look up a fact as part of a discussion or argument.
What does all this mean for libraries?
Much of the information-seeking activity being described is what we used to call Ready Reference in the biz: calling up the librarian to ask the capital of Assyria, for instance. I don’t think anyone expects students or anyone else to start doing in-depth research on their mobile phones. But Wikipedia has a mobile app, and subscription online encyclopedias that libraries use should as well.
Other kinds of quick-access or fast-lookup services that libraries can and do provide via mobile sites or apps could include:
- Hours, driving directions, and contact information
- Services such as room reservations and item hold requests
- Interactive games for fun or educational purposes
- QR-coded wayfinders, maps or tours
- Specialized mobile-optimized collections
- E-reader apps
Is your library providing content and services for mobile devices? What sorts of things are you doing?