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.

One Response

  1. I so appreciate your ideas about integrating the library into people’s lives from all sorts of social-economic backgrounds. many of the outreach methods are at play now in our current situation. A 23 Things style program for all the folks sheltered in place would be interesting…what topics count it cover?

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