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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Mobile Technologies to Push Library Limits

According to mobile industry analysts, global mobile data traffic is projected to double every year through 2013, increasing 66 times between 2008 and 2013.[1] As the mobile industry continues to grow, libraries will be faced with the decision of whether or not to support the information needs of their distant patrons by including services available to mobile devices.

The technology currently exists for a user with a simple 3G connection to access e-books and multimedia content via their local public library. Additionally, potential users can continually stream available content to their Smartphones on demand as long their devices have access to networks.

However, while these technological capabilities exist, it is questionable whether this trend will catch on in libraries. In a recent policy brief, There’s an App for That! Libraries and Mobile Technology: An Introduction to Public Policy Considerations, Timothy Vollmer, a consultant to the American Library Association’s Office for Information Technology Policy, discusses the relationship of mobile technologies between libraries and their patrons.

In the brief, Vollmer explains the challenges libraries may encounter in the mobile merge:
  • Overly restrictive Digital Rights Management policies and licensing will narrow the rights of patrons to access and manipulate legally acquired content.
  • The privacy of patrons could be compromised; unsecure networks may leak lending information to marketing firms and law enforcement officials.
  • Personalized services may be lost in translation. Mobile devices lack the capabilities for librarians to physically show patrons useful material.
Regardless of these roadblocks, Vollmer says, many libraries are already starting to embrace mobile technology and its growing potential for increased services:
  • Mobile online public access catalogs that allow users to browse and search library databases for books, movies, and music available for lending. With this, patrons are also able to view their holds, fines, and checkouts.
  • Mobile collections that offer streaming music, films, images, and other multimedia through partnerships with third-party content providers such as Overdrive.
  • Mobile databases that give patrons on-the-go access to various scholarly web portals like PubMed for Handhelds.
  • Mobile applications that provide information on hours and locations of libraries. Additionally, patrons are able to place items on hold via their mobile device.
  • Text messages that notify patrons of upcoming due dates and material availability. Some libraries even offer, “text-a-librarian” services for patrons with simple questions.
What do you think about libraries incorporating mobile technologies into their services? Does your library support mobile technologies? If so, what services does your library offer?



  1. I find the mobile trend very exciting! We offer many mobile services - text messaging of holds/overdues, free wifi, and the PAC services (place holds, check account balance, browse the collections, etc). We will be offering e-books and downloadable audiobooks this fall through Overdrive. I've also looked into getting our libraries noticed through location-based services like Foursquare. These things don't take a lot of work and they keep our services relevant.

    Is Midwest Tapes thinking of getting into the downloadable content marketplace? You know, Recorded Books and Ingram have their own products :)

  2. It’s great that your library is so enthusiastic about embracing new technologies. It will be interesting to see what other capabilities are to come in the future as technology is constantly advancing. What are others doing to support mobile technology?

    In response to your question about Midwest Tape and downloadable content, we are closely monitoring the download market but have no immediate plans to launch our own offer.


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