Monday, April 02, 2012

Cloudy With a 3% Chance of Mobile Devices

I was catching up on reading some professional literature last week and was shocked by how far behind I was. I came across a photocopy of an article from Library Journal that had been recommended to me by our Reference Librarian. I have been carrying it around with me for what I thought was a month. But upon examination, I discovered it was from the December 7, 2011 issue. It has been four months! That's a long time in the information business. (I think we should start thinking about measuring the evolution of information science in dog years.)

In the LJ article, "Discovering What Works: Librarians Compare Discovery Interface Experiences" four librarians write reviews in first person narratives about their experiences with four new emerging “discovery tools.” This is where library catalogs are headed. They search multiple databases finding books and articles (among other things) with the same search at the same time -- in close to Google time.

The story that interested me most was about Washington State University's adoption of WordCat, which is the public catalog part of WMS, our new library system. (Libraries also use it without WMS.) According to their Web Design, Instruction, and Virtual Reference Librarian, Zinthia C. BriceƱo-Rosales, it has made a dramatic impact on their library.

For one thing, she says that they have had a 73% increase of Interlibrary Loan requests in a year. This is probably because WorldCat search results include books from thousands of other libraries worldwide besides your own. A tempting “Request Interlibrary Loan” button appears prominently on items your library does not own making such requests very easy.

She also mentions a nifty app called RedLaser that can scan a barcode using your smart phone's camera. It is intended for comparison shopping but you can use it to see if a book you've come across is available in your library or another one nearby. And WorldCat's mobile interface integrates nicely with their mobile website. We, and at least one of our professors so far, love that, too. LibAnswers (Ask A Librarian), eCollege (HopeOnline) and some of our databases have mobile versions as well.

So, what is the meaning of this?

With tablet use on the rise she predicts that soon students and faculty "will be strolling into the library with their devices displaying the list of books they are going to pick up."

According to a survey reported in Wired Campus by Nick DeSantis (March 14, 2012), tablet ownership has tripled among college students over last year.

One-fourth of the college students surveyed said they owned a tablet, compared with just 7 percent last year. Sixty-three percent of college students believe tablets will replace textbooks in the next five years—a 15 percent increase over last year’s survey. More than a third said they intended to buy a tablet sometime in the next six months.

But are they using their mobile devices to stay connected to libraries? I just looked at the stats for this blog and found that mobile devices make up 3% of our audience. In the past month, 30 users connected to our blog from smart phones (iPhone and Androids tied with 15 each), 9 from iPads, and 2 from an iPod. Three percent doesn't sound like much, but this was for all time -- six years. I am sure we didn't start seeing traffic from mobile devices until fairly recently. But now I'm curious how many people have discovered our website and WorldCat mobile interfaces.

How will this trend affect the demand on our library? We will be continually looking for evidence of this. If the library is this easy to use, what will people expect? Will we be prepared for the next generation of students?

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