Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Mobile Services at the Library - Status Update

City skyline, from the Boston Convention Center on Summer Street
(I happened to be in town for ALA Midwinter & went to the exhibits)

Earlier in December I was preparing to contact hand-picked faculty to see what they thought of EBSCO's mobile interface. Since then, I've been ... thinking more about it.

First, what is our library trying to offer here? (With a budget of zero, bear in mind.)

-Are we trying to offer a mobile interface for our web pages? Lacking a content management system, who should be in charge of making sure these pages are updated and current?

-Are we trying to offer an app that would allow a person to search our collections? Is it worth developing one that would only be compatible with a certain phone or plan? Our integrated library system has a mobile app for sale, for example, but it only works with an iPhone or a Blackberry.

-Are we trying to offer the opportunity to send a text message to a reference librarian? Ruling out purchasing a cell phone for the reference desk, and adding the fact that I haven't found a reliable and free way to funnel a text message into an email or a chat session (to use Google Voice we would need a google account for the library; also we'd have to be invited), I'm not sure how to accomplish that right now. I'm always looking, however, and it's always changing...

We do have the immediate capability of offering a mobile interface for our EBSCO databases. This allows patrons to search for articles, and then to email those articles from their mobile devices. Most patrons would not be able to read the articles that are in PDF format from their mobile devices -- at last glance Adobe wasn't offering something compatible with all mobile devices -- nor would they probably want to.

This begs the question, which mobile services are relevant to our user population? EBSCO Mobile might be most useful for select groups, such as nursing students frequently using CINAHL. Other options, such as Naxos's free iPhone app, are limited to patrons with certain phones, and I'm not sure how we could identify those patrons, never mind selectively target them in light of which classes they are taking.

If it does become possible for us to offer SMS reference for free, it would be a neat addition to our suite of ways to connect with the library. But as things stand right now, I'm not confident it would get enough traffic to justify paying much for it.

Ultimately, if the purpose of providing mobile services at the library in some form or other is to have a 'look-at-me' moment where the library seems really hip and technologically up-to-date, we should do implement them pronto. If, on the other hand, we are trying to provide viable, robust, dare-I-say useful services, the current picture doesn't look as rosy.

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