The library in the mobile device environment

“It’s never a mistake to get an idea.”

Jan Holmquist (2013)


It isn’t enough for libraries to have mobile versions of their regular websites. There should obviously be mobile-accessible versions of the library. But the library needs to offer things on mobile devices that take advantage of the special features of mobile devices, rather than simply delivering the existing library to mobile devices. Things like GPS-based services, QR codes, live translations of images or text, or “download only on WiFi” are all important to the mobile library.

The 23 Mobile Things course is valuable because it encourages library staff to explore what is available on mobile devices, expanding what they believe is possible and sparking creativity that can lead to new innovations or programs. There is a lot of complex information involved in understanding the breadth of the online environment, and for someone trained in English but not computer programming, this can seem daunting. Courses like 23 Mobile Things help people get more comfortable with the kinds of uses of information that are possible with mobile interfaces.


In several of my other blog posts I have been trying to think about the ways that the library can serve and support people who, in our current society, are too busy working, commuting, and supporting their families to have time to stop at a library. Because smart phones have become so integrated into modern life, despite the high cost of the devices, it is worth addressing the idea that low-income people might have a smart phone but not have internet access at home.

I’ve talked multiple times about my interest in making wireless internet accessible at places like public transit and grocery stores. This would be a benefit to people who use mobile devices but can’t afford the extra costs of data plans. If we also advertise free library apps, courses, and other information in these places, we can capture an audience that doesn’t often get access to the library. These services can be even further tailored to this type of audience, who may not have the time or understanding to discover these services on their own. Allowing for scheduled downloads (when on an internet connection rather than data plan) can dramatically help people who are worried about going over data limits.

The library could make educational courses about using mobile devices safely and effectively, and make these courses easily accessible on mobile devices. The course would presume that the user is using a mobile device, so the delivery of the course could as well. If the courses are downloadable (rather than only streaming online), the users can download them when internet access is available, and then watch them when it is convenient.

This same kind of delivery system could be used for other library content. Imagine that the user can reserve items from a virtual catalog offline, and then when they have a wireless internet connection, available materials are downloaded automatically to be viewed later (without the user having to remember to click a button). For mobile phone users, managing mobile data plans can be a lot of work, so anything that can reduce that load should be welcome.

The library could also offer specific apps or services within their app that help with daily activities outside of the library, such as managing schedules, shopping lists, or other kinds of things.


My biggest takeaway from this portion of the course is that the future (which is to say, technology) offers a lot of ways for the library to connect with its community that may not be initially evident. It is important for librarians (and all library staff) to spend time learning about new trends, new apps, and new technologies, so that they can be prepared. Library staff need to be prepared not just to assist users with new technologies, but to embrace them wholeheartedly and use them to engage with their community. 23 Mobile Things shows us that there are at least 23 things we could all stand to learn more about if we want to be able to engage with our modern communities.

Live-streaming at the Library

“You can learn anything if you make it playful.”

Pam Sandlian (2013)


Listening to the stories of new types of technology that are being adapted at libraries, I wanted to focus on the way stories are told at libraries, and to whom they are told. As the Tea Tree Gully library asked, “Why is story time just for children?” I think that we can combine modern ideas of library engagement with modern technologies to create something at libraries that is of interest to younger adults who may not otherwise find libraries very interesting. Not all stories told to adults need to be author readings.

Author Mark Bittner reading from his own work at the San Francisco Public Library

In my personal experience, libraries seem the most adept at engaging users who are either young children (and parents of young children) or older adults. Modern younger adults have a wide variety of interests and can benefit greatly from free library programs. What things are interesting to younger adults? If they are like me and the people I see online, they are interested in storytelling. Modern online storytelling has two dimensions: stories being told by single authors or narrators, or stories being told collectively through games. As Professor Stephens says in his lecture: “Spot trends and make them opportunities.”

One of my favorite podcasts in recent years has been LeVar Burton Reads, an audio experience where renowned film & TV actor LeVar Burton reads short stories to his audience. Burton’s personal interest is in speculative fiction, but he reads a variety of stories with his own signature flair. Many younger adults remember him from his role as the host of Reading Rainbow, and find it comforting to hear him telling them stories again in their adulthood.

Another online trend in the last several years has been the live-streaming or recording of “actual play” of games, often role-playing games (RPGs), the game type made famous by Dungeons & Dragons. Whether in video or audio form, people from all walks of life are playing different RPGs online and sharing their game experiences and stories with their audiences. These experiences range from the semi-professional (e.g. Critical Role) to the frequent-but-less-formal (e.g. ActualPlay).

A recent Critical Role episode. Spoiler and language warnings!

Whether the stories are written and edited beforehand or created on the spot through play, stories are engaging and younger adults enjoy both listening, watching, and creating their own artistic responses to the stories they hear. Communities spring up online, particularly for collaborative storytelling through games, where audience members feel inspired to create art based on the characters and situations they hear described to them through stories.

Fan art for the podcast Friends at the Table, from Twitter

My idea and plan is to use the library’s recording spaces to allow people to create and share storytelling through live-streaming and recording in mediums such as YouTube and Twitch. The library can have scheduled performers who read short stories or play storytelling games, while also allowing library users to record and share their own stories and games.

To use the format shared in the participatory service module:
We want to convince adults ages 18-38 that by watching library live-streams they will be entertained and sparked creatively which will get people more interested in creating because the library wants you to make things. We also want to convince library staff that by participating in library live-streams and recordings they will be entertained and sparked creatively which will get people more interested in creating because the library lets you to make things.

The tools required to make such live-streams or recordings possible are computer-based: computers, internet connections, microphones, and if desired, web cameras. These would need to be available in a space designed for recording, or at least a space where other library users would not be disturbed. The library would need at least a YouTube page and a person who manages the videos that are uploaded or live-streamed there. Ideally, there would also be a Twitter account to share updates about the videos and live-streams, since many people browse Twitter who do not regularly check YouTube. There may be a need for further staff to manage any storytellers who are hosted by the library, either as paid guests or as volunteers, if the library intends to create its own content. Otherwise, staff are only needed to manage the user-created content. If the library plans to live-stream their stories, at least one person will be required to be available as a monitor of what is being broadcast.

The library would need a clear policy about what kinds of content are going to be shared through the library’s accounts, and whether or not certain behaviors (such as profanity) or topics (such as discussions of death, violence, sexual violence, etc) will be allowed in content published by the library. Several modern RPGs emphasize the importance of making sure the players are comfortable by controlling what themes or scenes are allowed to be discussed during the game. Determining what is appropriate for the game is as appropriate as determining what is appropriate for publishing by the library.

Promoting videos and live-streams of storytelling is often best done through Twitter, because users of platforms like Instagram expect to be able to see everything on that platform, while Twitter users are more accustomed to seeing promotional links to activities elsewhere on the web. Twitter is also a great platform for sharing things that fans of the stories create, further encouraging users to create.

Getting library users engaged with the library, whether they are telling stories, playing stories, or creating art in response to stories, engages their minds and keeps them interested in what the library has to offer. The library has books full of stories, but users can tell or create their own stories as well. By making the library more than just the written stories engages the creativity of its community and taps into the current trend of “niche fandom.”

Hyperlinking our environments

“The purpose of a library is to fulfill its mission, which is lifelong learning and cultural literacy and bringing the community together. And we’ll chase whatever practical and economical means we can to do that, which is part of why libraries are so strongly associated with books – because books are an extraordinarily effective way to do those things.

But they have never been the only way, and more and more we are finding other ways and more creative ways – and really strange ways, sometimes – to really chase down the possibilities.”

Scott Bonner


This quote from Scott Bonner (Hemphill, 2019) really appealed to me. It summed up fairly succinctly why we should, can, and are exploring the different ways that libraries can connect people and connect to people. I work in a public library and see myself continuing to work in public libraries, even when the work feels difficult or boring, because I have come to appreciate the importance of what the public library brings to the community.

In my last post, I brainstormed a few hypothetical examples of how we can bring the library and library services to people who aren’t able to go to the library, focusing on the under-served community of people who are simply too busy to be able to make time for the library. Zuckuhr and Purcell (2014) describe another group that I hadn’t thought about at the time: people with low mobility who also can’t go to the library. I want to explore that group further at some point, but right now I’m still thinking about how to bring the library to places where busy people are already gathering out of necessity, like grocery stores, public transit, etc.

The busy people I imagine who don’t have time to go to the library are those who are typically low income and have to strictly manage their time spent doing jobs, childcare, eldercare, grocery shopping, and other tasks. While I had considered that people in this position may not have internet access at home, I hadn’t really considered that they may still have at least one internet-ready device, such as a smart phone. Zickuhr (2014) says that “patrons … rely on the library’s internet access—even when the library itself is closed”. Hemphill (2019) mentions that “In some towns, after all, the public library is the only place to … connect to Wi-Fi”. The idea of bringing internet access to people is an interesting direction for the library to go. As Zickuhr (2014) mentions, many people use the library’s wireless internet from outside the library when the library is closed. I once spoke with a homeless patron of my library, who said he would use the library’s wireless in the middle of the night, to chat with his mother on the other side of the US.

Extending the range of a library’s wireless internet could be a place to start. Letting people access the internet without having to sit right outside the library’s walls, especially if the library is near a park or other public area, could benefit people when the library isn’t open, or even those who just prefer to enjoy the weather. But this still doesn’t address providing access to people who aren’t near the library.

The library could be a driving force into making public wireless internet more accessible in a city or town. Of all the city services, the library seems to be in the best position to champion increasing public wireless internet access. Public wireless internet can be a risky thing to connect to but if it is part of the library’s services, security can be managed and people will be more likely to trust it.

Buses and trains could be fitted with wireless internet transceivers to allow commuters to use their internet devices without having to have a data plan. Public parks could become wireless hot spots that increase access in public spaces. Rainie (2014) suggested that some people would be interested in “Redbox-style kiosks to check out library books or movies if they were placed around their towns.” If implemented, these kiosks could also provide wireless internet access. Even removing the book exchange function, wireless transceivers could be put near places like grocery stores or transit stops. Signage on transit or kiosks could even provide QR codes (or similar technology) to quickly link users to library services or even to specific book titles.

The “Redbox-style kiosks” were an interesting idea to me. Having such things available at grocery stores, laundromats, and corner stores could increase the reach of the library to the busy people I mentioned before. Those people could get more value out of each necessary trip. Libraries often use bookmobiles or other such devices to extend their reach, but those can only be in one place at a time; having small dedicated stations in key places could help to extend the library’s reach. The kiosks would need to be serviced, which would be more difficult, but if managed well they could prove useful.

I’m still brainstorming ideas, but I like this idea of using wireless internet access as a way to spread the library across a larger area of a city.

References
Hemphill, E. (2019). A look at the evolving role – and shifting spaces – of today’s public libraries. Retrieved from https://news.stlpublicradio.org/post/look-evolving-role-and-shifting-spaces-todays-public-libraries#stream/0
Rainie, L. (2014). 10 facts about Americans and public libraries. Retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/01/24/10-facts-about-americans-and-public-libraries/
Zickuhr, K. (2014). Public libraries and technology: From “houses of knowledge” to “houses of access”. Retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2014/07/09/public-libraries-and-technology-from-houses-of-knowledge-to-houses-of-access/
Zickuhr, K. & Purcell, (2014). From distant admirers to library lovers–and beyond: A typology of public library engagement in America. Retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2014/03/13/library-engagement-typology/