Sunday, November 18, 2012

Going Mobile

This week's question is what mobile services should a library offer?

For me, that answer is contingent upon price.  If you'll allow a brief reason I'm back in school after slogging through 10 years of post-graduate work on a PhD in English is that the mission of the library is to serve everyone.  Not to get too political, but (especially here in California) our public universities are becoming prohibitively expensive while at the same time relying more and more on the relatively inexpensive labor of lecture faculty, adjunct faculty, and graduate students.  These people can be wonderful instructors but are often overworked and underpaid, so students are paying more but getting less.  And, because of the costs, universities are only able to serve a select group of the populace.  Unlike the university, one can enter a library and access information and professionals for free.

While more and more people have mobile devices, a large population still does not.  I think we should do all we can to meet people on their mobile devices, but we must balance this against the services we offer to people who rely on the brick and mortar library.  If we become entirely virtual, we become accessible only to those elite enough to connect to the Internet from their home or phone.  Especially in times of economic trouble then, I believe libraries should be going mobile as cheaply as possible.

Having said all of this, it turns out not to be that difficult to go mobile on the cheap.  Sarah Houghton's 2012 article "Mobile Services for Broke Libraries" has 10 suggestions.

Here are a couple of highlights.

1) Houghton suggests making your website mobile-friendly.  But first you should check to see if it already is.  She notes that you can check at  Validator will give you a breakdown of just how mobile-friendly your webpage is.  An ideal solution would be to make your standard webpage mobile-friendly instead of having separate versions that require updating and upkeep. 

A screen shot of results

2) Houghton suggests offering a mobile Online Public Access Catalog.  Since the OPAC is one of the most commonly used features of a library website, making it mobile makes a lot of sense.  And making the OPAC mobile isn't as hard as you might think.  Houghton points to a couple of open source OPACs that are mobile friendly: SOPAC, Evergreen, and Koha.

3) While e-books and audio books seem like obvious arenas for taking your library mobile, Houghton does offer some words of warning.  She notes that 

Most e-audiobooks are provided as WMA files, with a smaller selection available as MP3 files. Text e-books are provided in a plethora of formats—the three most popular being PDF, EPUB, and Mobi.  (317)
It's useful to be aware of the formats of your e- and audio books.  WMA files will only work on a computer running Windows Media Player, while the more universal MP3 will run on most audio devices.  The producers of E-Readers are not in the business of open-source DRM-free altruism.  There are a plethora of e-book file types -- many are device specific.  Apple has iBook, Amazon has AZW and KF8 and currently doesn't support EPUB.  Libraries should offer e-books and audio books, but it's important to keep in mind that offering e-books isn't as simple as offering corporeal books.  If the real thing is in English, all readers of English can read it.  If the e- thing is offered in AZW, only Kindle owners can.  So be aware and be smart about format.

The rest of Houghton's essay is equally worthwhile.  Track down a copy if you're thinking about going mobile or reexamining your library's mobility.


Houghton, S. (2012). Mobile Services for Broke Libraries: 10 Steps to Mobile
Success. The Reference Librarian. 53(3), 313-321.

1 comment:

  1. I really liked Houghton's article, too. It provided good advice on where a library should start when offering mobile services and on where a library should proceed after that.

    Also, given today's financial circumstances, it's important that the advice can be implemented without breaking a library's budget