Mobile-izing the Library

Edward Vielmetti gave a preliminary presentation on the potential use of mobile devices and cell phones for providing library services and resources. Here are my notes from his presentation.


worst possible interface
– screen is too small
– poor user interface
– keyboarding

Assumption that it is a waste of time to try to adapt because of barriers
Challenges fitting archaic systems into mobile footprint and tech

Bookstore side of the world driving this more than libraries
– Kindle
– revival of Star Trek franchise

Wind back to late 1940s
Vannevar Bush, Memex
production workstation
scientific production
would have taken a whole desk > physical size

What if the Memex was your mobile device?
What would it look like?

Collecting things, not just passively absorbing/reading
– pictures
– record audio
– communicating with others, the authors,
– public production
– with you everywhere
– your access to the World Brain is not just behind yr desk, but everywhere you are

What portions of a library fit in a mobile world?
– source of handbooks, manuals and field books
– ready reference
– ePocrates (drug info and PDR type of tool) (lots of info, frequently updated)
– ie World Radio Television Handbook >> embed this in your radio
– ie Star Trek tricorder (“I’m a doctor, not a librarian, Jim”) device with sensors being informed by books, embedded in the device
– embedded / embodied knowledge “baked into” the device
– fiction becomes interactive fiction
– notion of traditional library activities meshing with mobile devices (ship’s computer)
– upload, download, query
– Hamlet as the right size device > pocketbook
– Google model? will you get back the right answer?
– is it a perfect memory? logging items, will they be there forever and not disappear
– can this advocate on your behalf with others?
– if the first question doesn’t get useful answer, can the device continue searching without your direction?

OK, fictional landscape covered.

To design good user interfaces, we have to think beyond what they can do right now.
Tech is moving fast enough that you can’t catch up, you need to lead
You’d be dissatisfied everytime
Tap into people’s imagination of what it could be

EG. Reading Kafka’s “The Trial” while waiting for jury duty.
– locate
– download
– reader software
– read
– does it fit on this screen?
– has it been digitized?
– rights to it? public domain? licenses negotiated on my behalf

“Any book ever written could fit HERE.”

What if my vision is bad?
– Audio
– text to speech
– ask someone for help to find and they will queue it for me

Planning and decisions developed by REAL patterns of use

How wonderful could it have been, could it be?

From the LIBRARY point of view:

– patron
– support library through taxes, donations
– subscribers
– friends of the library

Similar to Bookstores, but not always equivalent
– “buy NOW”

– circulations, not sales
– measures of success?
– “renew all my books now” button >> on phone? why not?
– authentication barriers
– no real API
– would need undocumented system access

patron innovation frustrated by library system complexity

how to empower your patrons to solve your problems?
crowdsourcing yr endusers

customer relationship gives you clear success metrics
libraries lack clearcut success measure with mobile systems

maybe just “we got good press”

Library relations with their communities?
– who cares enough about you to try this out?

Mashup Power
– top ten most circulated books
– what’s hot this week
– mosaic of cover images
– outsider visions of potential

Is the book too big to fit inside the screen? Well, the cover pic will fit.
Browsing the stacks with your mobile device
iTouch interface for browsing

browse the cover art or table of contents for books on the 6th floor via your mobile device
NOTE: words are hard to read on the small screen

navigation tools get you into the building, but not through the building

VIDEO: Harlan Hatcher Graduate Labyrinth

Useful things a library could do:
– wayfinding information
– convert full page maps to handheld application
– race to the location > scavenger hunts in lib
– library as game

Keep it light, or you’ll be frustrated by the device
exit the practical every once in a while

ways people have built systems for mobile use
A. good behavior > some one else has already built reference info for device
– Library (Brown?) menu of relevant items for mobile menu
– discovery and sharing of tools created by your users
– risk: people sometimes remove apps they’ve made
– systems that are well adapted to mobile access
– Buses >> system down for 6 weeks at coldest time of year, politics
– parking spaces >> was not launched properly , system use resulted in access cut off access to the data
– partnerships, data sharing, who owns/supports data?
– intellectual property murky for much of this
B. Beyond technical issues of squeezing things onto small screen
– Kindle > does it fit in your pocket?
– small enough to carry
– large enough to see and type
– Memex
– reserve items via device >> texting (Like TrialX for CTs)
– reading something, want to fetch other item, “Buy Now” button as “Reserve Now”
– capture trail of what I’ve already read
– Reference collections
– what sorts of materials
– miserable user interface to e-ref sources
– logins, permissions, interfaces
– accessible formats
– Using SMS or Twitter for query/access
– How much paper would we save by putting bus schedules onto mobile devices?
C. Private wiki
– personal library
– papers
– articles
– chapters from books
– quotations
– snippets
– commonplace book

Devices: size comparison
contrast mobile devices with comptuers

What sort of things are in libraries that could be used on mobile devices?
(What are books?)
what happens to the newspaper when it isn’t paper anymore?
reading on the bus

what can you fit on a 3×5 card?
mobile device as business card
writing changing to fit in small spaces
– postcard poems
– twitter novels

How libraries interact with people who are not their typical patrons?
– children’s rooms, how to find all libraries with nice children’s rooms in geographic area
– locations/hours of local libraries while traveling
– have our patrons shifted with mobile population?

using library catalog on mobile device really tells you how bad your search itnerface is

Wish I had examples of wonderful interfaces, but I don’t right now. They are coming.

Different information needs, different information access

Questions that can be reframed if you assume that people have no computers


NYT article: mobile device to identify plants along a park path

device add-ons
– pedometer
– GPS maps

– people
– good set of friends to ask good questions
– chacha
– trialx
(take people who are too helpful with a grain of salt – they might have a hidden agenda)

Match making service: news stories sources match up with reporters writing on topic

4 responses to “Mobile-izing the Library

  1. Thanks for the detailed notes, and the chance to give this talk before it was fully baked. I appreciate the feedback I got and the additional thoughts on what needs to get polished up before the next time it gets presented.


  2. Will this become a reality any time soon? I know I’d find it useful to be able to access the library through my cell phone.


    • Portions of this are already available, and much of it is very do-able in the near future. That is what was so exciting about Ed’s vision. Some libraries are doing some very exciting work with mobile technologies, and mobile library tools have expanded dramatically even in the few months since Ed’s presentation.


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