The increased adoption of mobile computing has created a new niche in the library technology industry. Vendors are now motivated to produce products that enable patrons with smartphones, tablets, and other Internet-enabled, smaller form devices to access library collections and services. We continue to see dramatic increases in the number of individuals using these devices and in the amount network trabffic that they consume. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project report on Smartphone Adoption and Usage, published in June 2011, 83% of all Americans own a cell phone and about one third of these are smart phones. Of these smartphone users, about a quarter depend on them as their primary access to the Internet. (See: http://www.pewinternet.org/~/media// Files/Reports/2011/PIP_Smartphones.pdf) According to Cisco, mobile network traffic almost tripled in 2010 for the third year in a row, with video, not surprisingly, representing an ever-increasing proportion of this traffic. In 2011, video traffic first consumed more than half of all mobile bandwidth (http://www.cisco.com/en/US/solutions/ collateral/ns341/ns525/ns537/ns705/ns827/ white_paper_c11-520862.html). Given the upward trend toward increased adoption of mobile devices, we can reasonably expect similar patterns in access to library resources. This is a trend that libraries need to monitor carefully and strategically. As mobile access continues to rise, library software developers see a potential new market emerging. Libraries increasingly show interest in exploring these new products. At this time, almost any vendor involved in producing library automation products has announced or delivered at least an initial offering that supports mobile users. Most are taking tentative steps, testing the waters to both measure the market demand and to gain experience that will help inform future strategies regarding the types of products and the features and functionality best suited for mobile delivery.
Mobile-oriented library products currently come from a few different angles. Almost all the companies offering library automation products with a patron-facing interface have come out with at least a basic mobile version. This group includes those offering integrated library systems and discovery interfaces, as well as those like Springshare that provide products to support subject guides and other reference- oriented library services.
Some vendors come in from other directions. LibraryThing, the popular book-oriented social network that also offers LibraryThing for Libraries, has developed a cross-vendor mobile product, LibraryAnywhere, which works with most of the ILS catalogs. Others, like Boopsie, specialize in development of mobile technologies, but have not previously been involved in library automation. These companies leverage that expertise to produce mobile library products. Many of the publishers and providers of content products that are popular among libraries are now offering mobile versions.
This means that the variety of technology products that libraries need to support their services is, as always, on the rise. At one time, we considered the integrated library system to be the core system that covered the automation needs of most libraries. In recent years, discovery systems have become an expected addon, responding to the need to provide a better environment for library patrons to explore and interact with library collections. Today, with the rise of mobile technology, there's yet another genre of products that libraries need to add to their repertoire. Even within the mobile sphere, libraries may be faced with the need for multiple products to extend their Web site, online search or discovery service, and their many different content offerings to smaller platforms.
Given the wide variety of software that now competing for thinly-stretched library resources, the need to purchase yet another major set of technology products will not necessarily be welcome news. After investing in discovery products that were supposed to revamp the way that libraries deliver their services to patrons on the Web, are we now to start over again to address those that make use of mobile devices instead of desktop or laptop computers? How much of what we gained in new-generation discovery systems can be applied to mobile? In general, it seems to me that support of mobile should be an incremental step, both in financial investments and in the conceptual and functional advancements seen in the discovery arena. My feeling is that that mobile technology must become an organic part of a library's technology strategy and not just another add-on. It's important that libraries offer the appropriate subset of functionality for their mobile interfaces relative to what is available on their full-form Web sites. While the interface needs to be simplified to accommodate the constraints of mobile platforms, it's important to maximize the services and content available, especially given that an increasing number of individuals rely on mobile devices as their primary means to access the Internet. I'm also concerned about the fragmented approach that results as libraries deploy separate apps or mobile-optimized Web sites for each of their major products or services. Will library patrons really be interested in downloading two, three, or more apps just to use library resources? I'm hoping for a more cohesive and organic approach where the library delivers its mobile presence in a unified way. I'd like to see a scenario where a library may invoke specialized apps as needed, but in a way transparent to library users. This kind of unification is a goal that libraries are increasingly following on their Web sites, and it should carry over to their mobile presence.