Thursday, 14 July 2011

Staying on top of mobile technology

Close up of a sculpture on recent trip to Italy
Staying on top of the latest trends can be tough when you're juggling workloads, home, family, friends, study and everything else that takes up time in your day. How do you choose which trends to investigate further? Is the latest trend going to last or will it go the way of Google Wave (i.e. the dodo)? This confusion can lead to a "wait and see" approach which means waiting for others to try, possibly fail and report on things at conferences :-) Of course there are many who jump in with both feet at the sniff of an emerging trend.  I'm sure you can pick which camp you fall into.

Mobile technologies have been on the trend watch list for a while now and are definitely worth investigating further. The "wait and see" period should be over - it's time to jump in! But why should libraries care about mobile devices? They're expected to be the main method of accessing the internet withing the next 18 months and people are now spending more time on apps than the internet! This means the way our clients access, use and share information has changed so we need to rethink how we deliver services. Many libraries are responding to this challenge and librarians are continuing to develop skills and expertise in this area. Hopefully this post will give you some direction if you're still getting your head around it and if you're already an app addict, hopefully it'll hold something for you too.

What can we do?

  • Facebook and Twitter are both increasingly being accessed via mobile apps. Set these up and you automatically have a presence in the mobile world. They provide an opportunity to communicate with clients informally and connect with them via their mobile networks. 
  • Foursquare is a geo-location based game where people checkin to win mayorships and badges which they share with their social networks. Claim your location to start running library promotions for free.
  • QR codes are a square shaped barcode that can be scanned using a smartphone and will connect to online information. Libraries are using them to link to videos, contact information, webpages, competitions, brochures, journal articles - ANYTHING online! Many are now also using them to create games like treasure hunts and scavenger hunts.
  • Many libraries are making a mobile friendly library website with contact details, opening hours and access to their catalogue. When doing this you need to consider who will be accessing the mobile site, what kind of information they're likely to access and what device they're on? You need to design for at least Apple and Android platforms. Some libraries have an app and others have a mobile version of their website.
  • Screencasts and videos are being made to keep up with the demand for more visual delivery of information and training. You can make these accessible on mobile devices by uploading them to YouTube. It's a good idea to think about the small screen and make sure you zoom up on what you're talking about.
  • Trial ebook reader loan schemes. Many libraries are trying this with mixed results results largely due to publisher and device restrictions. Devices are usually intended for single person use. Despite the drawbacks many libraries describe high usage of the service.

How do we find out more?
Conference papers are a great way to find out what others are doing and clarify your own ideas. These are some recent conferences on mobile technologies with links to abstracts and papers. Many of them explain in detail projects that were started to achieve things in the list above.
m libraries 2011, Brisbane
Handheld Librarian conference archive
Handheld Librarian online conference 27-28 July 2011 <-- coming up!
mlibraries 101, online seminar - keynote by Meredith Farkas
IADIS mobile learning conference

There are also some bloggers that are good to follow:

How do I hone my skills?
At the m-libraries conference in May this year Kate Davis and Helen Partridge presented that m-librarians need a combination of skills, knowledge and attributes such as: IT skills, user focus, communication, collaboration, research and development.  Are these any different from what's been expected until now or is the focus slightly different? In my opinion, all these skills have been needed in the past but it's the way we apply them that is constantly changing. So how do we go about applying these skills to the mobile world? The first thing to do is get yourself a smartphone and start playing because there's no better way to understand what all the fuss is about. The next thing would be to read journal articles, conference papers and attend future conferences if possible. Before long you could even be presenting at one yourself! Finally, the key to achieving things in this area is collaboration. Technology changes all the time and it's impossible to know everything so team up with others because there's always strength in numbers.

Sophie is an ALIA Sydney committee member @misssophiemac

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