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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2010, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Libraries and patrons on the move: from bookmobiles to “m” libraries
Article Type: Guest editorial From: Reference Services Review, Volume 38, Issue 2
We’ll admit that we had hoped to receive at least one proposal on bookmobiles for this issue. Bookmobiles are mobile library services after all, aren’t they? Although the term “mobile libraries” or “m-library services” has recently become fashionable and mostly refers to library services delivered via telecommunications and computer technology, as bookmobiles demonstrate, the idea of mobile libraries is not new. Bookmobiles have been around for some time1 and have been one of the mechanisms used to support and carry out the core of the library’s mission – to serve patrons’ information needs. Like the bookmobile, our current incarnation of mobile libraries also helps to support and carry out this mission. However, what has changed from the bookmobile to the present is that now the librarian can assist patrons, regardless of the physical location of the patron or the librarian.
The technological changes that have developed allowing for mobile library services have grown at mind-boggling speed over the last 20 years. Even as we were preparing this issue, the world saw the release of a major new mobile device – the Apple iPad – which is set to have a tremendous impact on peoples’ interaction with information. The iPad is trying to define itself as a new genre of mobile devices, blending some Apple’s most successful products into one. This pace of technological developments of this kind feels especially rapid for the people of Generation Y and older who remember when call waiting was a new feature (does the M Generation even know what a busy signal sounds like?), cell phones were the size of a large brick (it doubled as a self-defense tool), and a time when communicating with someone in another country via video conferencing seemed about as plausible as the flying cars in The Jetsons (we’re from Los Angeles, we really wouldn’t mind that flying car) .
Phones aren’t just for talking anymore
To say that the use of cell phones has become ubiquitous is almost cliché now. Although the term “cell phone” has traditionally referred to one type of mobile phone, this is no longer the case.
We are now seeing a distinction between phones based on their capabilities. How cell phones are referred to not only reflects the technological developments, but also how we use them. As Bridges et al. demonstrate within their article, the general distinction is between “smartphones” (3G connectivity, larger screen, powerful processors, etc), and feature phones (smaller screens, limited web browsing capabilities, etc). Wireless providers also tend to make an even more refined distinction by categorizing phone by their specific capabilities or brand – for example, touch screen (Sprint), iPod (Apple/AT&T), and 3G Multimedia phones (Verizon Wireless)3. Many phones are also referred to by brand name such as Blackberry, iPhone, Palm, and Sidekick. This represents that with our little cell phone, we can check e-mail, access the web, play games, and of course send text messages.
Telephone service is considered essential to day-to-day life – essential to access emergency services, find and maintain employment, and – of course – to the social life of every teenager in America. Because this service is considered essential, the United States Federal Communications Commission provides low-cost telephone service to low-income customers, through the Universal Service program known as Lifeline (FCC, 2010). Many people across the globe now consider cell phones essential for their day-to-day life for a variety of reasons including conducting business or for safety reasons. Internet connections share the same importance as cell phones; they have become essential for day-to-day work and personal activities, especially for students who are expected to access online course materials and library resources. There are some programs across the country to provide low cost access to cell phones and internet to people in need, but nothing comparable to Lifeline4. When will we begin to see Universal Service as a standard across the nation for these services?
This is becoming increasingly important as people forgo landlines for cell phones. Many people dropped their landlines once cable internet and satellite became easily, and cheaply, accessible and use their cell phones as their primary phone. As many of the authors in this issue will report, there are now more cell phone lines in the US than there are landlines. Additionally, because of its low cost we have seen an increase in the usage of Voice Over IP (VoIP, e.g. Skype). In fact, librarians are making use of its value to provide reference services to study abroad students from their campuses (Cohen and Burkhardt).
What the device tells us
The first mobile phone arrived in Sweden in the 1950s weighing a total of 88 lbs. There were no cellular networks and, not surprisingly, there were also fewer than 150 users. Several decades later, Motorola announced the first handheld mobile phone in 1973, although it wasn’t available to the public till ten years later. The iconic DynaTAC 8000X (think Michael Douglas in Wallstreet5) came with a hefty price tag, for those readers who think the iPhone is expensive at $599 (16GB) (and that is without a service plan), the DynaTAC 8000X retailed for $3,995. Factoring in for inflation, the 2009 price would be a staggering $8,657. Finding the right device style seemed to prove itself difficult in the development of mobile phones. The “car phones” or “bag phones” of the 1980s and 1990s, were very popular, costing less than the DynaTAC8000X, but coming with a bulky bag containing the transceiver and battery. This design, for obvious reasons, limited the mobility of the device. Motorola recognized the portability issue and introduced the first “Clamshell” phone in 1996, the StarTAC. This design helped them stay on top of the game. The StarTAC’s style and lightweight (3.1 ounces) changed the future of cell phone design (Edwards, 2009).
“Smartphones,” are often thought of as newer to the cell phone market. In fact, they have been around since the mid 1990s (the IBM Simon/Bell South – 1994 and the Nokia 9000i Communicator – 1997) with the ability to receive faxes, text messages, e-mail and extremely limited web access through 160-character SMS messages with other PDA like tools. From this point the mobile movement picked up.
The external antenna begins to disappear in 1998, and Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) became available in the late 1990s although it was a significantly stripped down version of the web. 2002 was a big year for cell phones with Blackberries, the first camera phones and the Sidekick. Since then, so many types of phones have come to market it is hard to keep track of all of the varieties. Marketing these devices has changed greatly as well. The phones “just for talking,” according to Verizon, are “Simple Feature Phones.” AT&T Wireless groups basic phones in their “Free Phones” category. Sprint focuses primarily on multi-feature phones, even going as far to add categories such as “Touchscreen,” “Messaging,” and “PDA/Smartphones” (Edwards, 2009).
What the numbers tell us
In this issue, readers will encounter recent statistics and trends released by Pew Internet and American Life Project that show that 83 percent of Americans surveyed own cell phones and 35 percent of that group use their mobile phone to access the internet (Pew Internet and American Life Project, 2009). Additionally, the Census Bureau revealed that the number of text messages sent doubled within a year; 48 billion text message were sent in December of 2007 and 110 billion were sent in the same month of 2008 (United States Census Bureau, 2009). However, included in these pages is not just information about the United States; readers will also learn about developments in Canada (Wilson and McCarthy) and Spain (Codina, Gálvez and Campos).
Ahead of the game
The authors in this issue understand that there are changes in the way people are seeking and interacting with information. They also understand that these changes are rapid and as librarians we need to be flexible to meet the changing information needs of our patrons in the coming years. With all of the tools that are now available to access information, there has been a lot of talk over the last decade about the relevancy of libraries. After looking at the experiences of these librarians and information technology (IT) staff, from the US and abroad, it is quite apparent that not only are libraries doing quite well at meeting patron needs in this changing technological environment, but in several cases they are providing leadership both within their libraries and across their institutions as a whole.
As they study the mobile movement it has become clear that the information gathered from qualitative studies is equally as valuable as the data obtained from quantitative studies. While making these changes, these librarians meticulously collected data about their users (Hudson; Whatley, Pearce and Collard; Wilson and McCarthy; Hahn) – how they seek and use information in a mobile environment, how they interact with old and new services, and how they expect to seek information in the future. They collected this information using a variety of methods – iPods, web-based surveys, focus groups, data extraction, and even the old-fashioned paper survey. Valuable information was collected by the authors and, as you will read, resulted in the implementation of a wide-range of services. Some of the services are a small, but valuable, part of the menu of services for patrons. Others are big and reach beyond their library, across their campuses and, in one case, an ocean (Cohen and Burkhardt). Some initiatives were implemented by individuals (Hahn; Hudson, Pearce, and Collard), others took teams of librarians and IT staff coupled with partnerships across their organizations (Bridges, Rempel and Griggs; Codina, Gálvez and Campos; Cohen and Burkhardt; Wilson and McCarthy).
You will read about many successes with mobile services, but you also read about much of the frustration that goes into implementing services, especially those that utilize new technologies. This is a process of trial and error with testing new software and devices, and then deciding what ultimately works for your institution and patrons. This requires not only patience, but also the allowance of failure. The design, development and successful implementation of mobile services must begin with communication, notably with our administrations (Murray, Bridges, Rempel and Griggs). In the case of mobile services we are challenged to communicate using language that includes terms that are still being defined and, in some cases, in a constant state of change. In this issue, we also provide a glossary as a means to help readers develop and understand the language that is associated with the services described. These terms are ever changing and new terms surface on a regular basis; the glossary will help define mobile library services.
The authors who have contributed to this issue can be seen as early adopters of mobile services and are key contributors to the creation of best practices for mobile services. In providing their experiences they offer models of proposing new services, collaboration, leadership, and data collection. Most importantly, they provide new means to understand our patrons and how they are currently seeking and using information. The information contained within these pages can serve as essential tool in moving mobile services into your campus.
For a history of the bookmobile, see http://homepages.nyu.edu/∼mg128/History.htm# Documents (accessed February 13, 2010).
A television cartoon series that began in 1962 and aired (with mostly re-runs) through the late 1980s, The Jetsons are a futuristic family with all manner of technological appliances to help around the house. A combination of animation, sci-fi, comedy and family story, The Jetsons was produced by Hanna-Barbera Productions, United States, Sennett (1989).
For a view of the offerings of mobile devices see Verizon Wireless available at: www.verizonwireless.com/b2c/index.html (accessed 18 February 2010), Sprint available at: www.sprint.com/index.html (accessed 18 February 2010), AT&T available at: www.wireless.att.com/cell-phone-service/welcome/index.jsp (accessed 18 February 2010).
See Assurance Wireless for an example of free cell phone service for low income families, www.assurancewireless.com/Public/Welcome.aspx (accessed 18 February 2010).
Internet Movie Database. Wallstreet available at: www.imdb.com/title/tt0094291/ (accessed 17 February 2010).
Brena SmithCoordinator of Reference, Outreach, and Instruction, California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, California, USA
Michelle JacobsEmerging Technologies and Web Coordinator, College Library, UCLA, Los Angeles, California, USA
Edwards, B. (2009), “Evolution of the cell phone”, PC World, available at: www.pcworld.com/article/173033/evolution_of_;the_cell_phone.html (accessed 18 February 2010)
Federal Communications Commission (2010), Universal Service Homepage, available at: www.fcc.gov/wcb/tapd/universal_service/ (accessed 17 February 2010)
Pew Internet and American Life Project (2009), “Social media and young adults”, available at: www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2010/Social-Media-and-Young-Adults.aspx (accessed 14 February 2010)
Sennett, T. (1989), The Art of Hanna-Barbera: Fifty Years of Creativity, Viking Studio Books, New York, NY
United States Census Bureau (2009), “Text messaging soars”, available at www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/releases/archives/miscellaneous/014498.html (accessed 14 February 2009)
AT&T Wireless (2010), “Browse cell phones by style”, available at www.wireless.att.com/cell-phone-service/cell-phones/index.jsp (accessed 15 February 2010)
Sprint (2010), “Phones”, available at: www.sprint.com/index.html (accessed 15 February 2010)
Verizon Wireless (2010), “Phones and accessories”, available at: www.verizonwireless.com/b2c/store/controller?item=phoneFirstandaction=viewStoreIndexandlid=//global//phones+and+accessories (accessed 15 February 2010)
Wikipedia (2010), “IBM Simon”, Wikipedia, available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IBM_Simon, (accessed 18 February 2010)