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Ok so it’s not a bus full of books
I must admit that whenever someone talks about mobile libraries my first thought is still about a library on wheels.  In my defence for much of my library career it has been a bus full of books.  And a lot of my time has been spent on trying to find ways of getting technology onto the bus – from psion organisers to mobile networks to satellite systems to finally almost reliable mobile phone signals… if you can just move your mobile library a little way down the road (of course it’s easy to get approval to do that…).

But mobile libraries is now about providing library services through mobile devices and is now a big deal, with a lot of effort into developing mobile services for libraries and it’s own international conference series, m-libraries .  Mobile is big business and increasingly ubiquitous, (Pew Internet recently reported that 85% of american have a cell phone) (and the BBC recently reported on the surge of mobile use in Africa)

But in the last few months I’ve become less convinced that ‘m’ or mobile is really the most appropriate term for this whole area, and looking through Google’s recent ‘Navigating the new multi-screen world’ report, (and blog) started to crystalise it for me.  Their survey had the comments that 60% of smartphone use and 79% of tablet use was in the home, not out-and-about.  And it makes me wonder whether ‘mobile’ is really the right word to use.  Looking at Google’s survey they report quite distinct contexts between mobile phones and tablets – one short-focus and short bursts, the other more leisurely use.  Yet we categorise these devices into  a single set and call it ‘mobile’ when how people use them, what they are doing, and when and where, are quite distinct.

What I think we are wanting to do is to make our services available to whoever needs them, wherever they are, whatever part of our service they want to use, whenever the want to use them and on whatever device they choose to use.   In reality our users might not actually be ‘mobile’ or using a phone, to benefit from the tools and technologies that the ‘mobile’ developments need to offer.

I’m starting to think that ‘mobile’ actually breaks down into several distinct areas, some of which aren’t actually ‘mobile’ at all:

  1. Services for users who are ‘on the move’ e.g. location based – where’s my nearest library, where’s the nearest library to me with a free PC/this book/SCONUL access etc
  2. Services to users who want to do something quickly – and mobility isn’t especially relevant but might be a context – e.g. find some resources and bookmark them for later, book or reserve something, look something up/quick reference – and that might equally be look something up quickly on a mobile while sitting in front of a PC
  3. Services for users with more time to engage in activities -regardless of device – but that might be a tablet or an ebook reader or a smart TV
  4. Designing for multiple screen sizes – from small phones through to 60″ flat panel smart TVs and beyond – mainly with responsive web design rather than with autodetect systems
  5. User experience, usability and accessibility, which has to underpin all user interactions, whether on desktop or tablet or phone, but needs to adhere to the same basic principles.

It seems to me though, that while you might characterise these areas as somehow distinct, that there are connections and relationships between them, a workflow almost, where you might start something on one device and follow up on another, and where your personalised environment remembers where you are and what you are doing and meshes them all together.

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