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Conference Review: M-Libraries 2, A Virtual Library in Everyone's Pocket
M-Libraries 2 Edited by Mohamed Ally and Gill Needham, Facet Publishing, 2009. ISBN 978-1-85604-696-1
I have no doubt at all that smart phones are going to cause a revolution in information access. People need location-free access to information, whether they are walking down a corridor in an office, working in a laboratory or sitting in a library. If you doubt that forecast, then just look at the speed with which around 300,000 applications have been developed for the Apple iPhone, a substantial number of which are information-centric rather than entertainment-centric. There is also a lot of interest in providing access to enterprise applications, notably intranets, from a smart phone. For once, libraries have been in the vanguard of mobile technology, using SMS messages for book loan reminders and for other library administrative operations. I was struck by the article in Ariadne Issue 64 on the Library of Birmingham  describing the strategy that has been developed to take advantage of mobile and wireless technologies.
When I saw this book on offer for review I immediately emailed the Editor for the immensely selfish reason that I was preparing both a presentation for the CILIP Digital Information Conference on mobile technologies  and also a paper for Business Information Review . I needed all the research I could lay my hands on.
When Is a Book Not a Book?
My initial reaction on opening the book was how many contributors there seemed to be, and I was planning to start the review by congratulating the editors on getting them all lined up to write a chapter. Then I reached the Acknowledgements and read 'Without the Second International M-Libraries Conference this book would not exist'. The book is in fact the conference proceedings , though this is not mentioned on the front cover of the book. To be fair the situation is made plain on the back cover.
So what am I reviewing? In one respect I am reviewing a conference I did not attend, which since it was in Vancouver was a great pity. But since the conference programme is not included I do not immediately know whether all the papers were included (most are), and if they are, did the authors rewrite their papers to take into account the discussion that no doubt took place following the presentation? In another respect I am reviewing a book, as the presentations are reproduced in text, not in PowerPoint slides, and there is an index. But some of the chapters/papers are very short, in one case just over two pages in length. The bigger issue is that the collection of authors and balance of topics needed to attract delegates to a conference is not necessarily the same as would attract a reader to buy a book. This is most obvious at the beginning, where there is no basic introduction to the technology and to the way in which the technology has been adopted and adapted by libraries around the world.
Some Gentle Juggling
What you do get is set of 27 papers covering developments around the world, technology in m-libraries, applications of m-libraries, m-libraries and learning, and building the case for m-libraries. One of the exciting aspects of mobile technology is the way in which a range of innovative services can be delivered to developing countries where land-line telephone services are very basic and have a limited geographic reach. So it is entirely appropriate to start with this topic, but all the papers pre-suppose a reasonable degree of familiarity with the technology and its limitations.
The sequence of the papers in the conference proceedings is different to the conference programme, and overall I think that the editors have done a good job of providing a useful re-categorisation of the papers. What does become clear is how quickly mobile applications have transformed the information functionality of smart phones. Commercial services using these applications from STM (Scientific, Technical and Medical) publishers and from the business information service providers are hardly given a mention; because in early 2009, when these papers were written, such services hardly existed.
As a set of conference proceedings this volume has value, and certainly having the proceedings in print about a year after the conference itself (June 2009) is an achievement. The papers are all from experienced practitioners and references at the end of each paper do provide a starting point to readers new to the topics covered by the authors/presenters.
However I think that there are two things missing. One is a more prominent announcement on the cover that this is a set of conference proceedings. The second is an introduction that does more than provide a summary of the papers, and sets the scene for readers new to the area when there are few books or reports on the subject. Topics such as the battle between HTML5 and Flash, and WiMax and 4G/LTE are not mentioned at all in the papers and yet will have a major impact on service delivery.
- Gambles, B., "Rewriting the Book: On the Move in the Library of Birmingham", July 2010, Ariadne Issue 64
- CILIP Digital Information Conference 2010, 28 October 2010, Kings Place, London
- White, M., "Information anywhere, any when – the role of the smartphone". Business Information Review. (In press)
- 2nd International M-Libraries Conference, Vancouver, Canada, 23-24 June 2009
- Speight, S., "M-Libraries: Libraries on the move to provide virtual access," October 2009, Ariadne Issue 61
- Mills, K., "The Second International M-Libraries Conference", July 2009, Ariadne Issue 60