University of Northampton
Book Review: Using Mobile Technology to Deliver Library Services
Using Mobile Technology to Deliver Library Services: A Handbook. By Andrew Walsh, London: Facet Publishing, 2012, paperback, ISBN 978-1-85604-809-5, 134 pages.
My initial thought upon seeing Using Mobile Technology to Deliver Library Services was available for review was that it was a topic of which I have limited knowledge – but part of its appeal was that I could learn about a new subject. After I registered to review the book I then had second thoughts. I began to worry that the book would be too advanced for me. Part of the reason I know little about the topic relates to the fact that I have a simple mobile phone which only supports calls, texting and media messages. Thankfully this minor worry was banished when I received the book and started reading. I am pleased to say the book explained anything that required knowledge or experience of using mobile technology above ‘basic’.
Contents and Structure
The book consists of eight chapters, plus introductory and concluding chapters. The introduction provides the context of the book as well as giving an outline so that readers could skip to the chapter that is most relevant to them at the time of reading. Each chapter covers a different area of mobile technology and what this might mean for library services. Whilst the layout and structure of each chapter is necessarily different, Walsh removes some of the uncertainty for readers by including a chapter introduction and summary along with references and an annotated ‘further reading’ section.
The first chapter, introduction aside, covers what mobile services students actually want, rather than what we as library services professionals either think they want or are able to provide. The chapter focuses on a study carried out by Walsh in his own institution during 2009. He sets the context for his research and then discusses the findings, offering practical suggestions that may be transferable to other institutions. He also recognises the danger of assuming the findings from his institution are relevant to all other institutions; throughout the book he recommends that users are consulted before implementation of any new projects.
Chapter two focuses on existing models in mobile information literacy and goes on to comment on the differences between mobile and fixed information literacies. Understanding the difference between the two, according to Walsh, is the key to ensuring that we are providing services that are relevant to users’ needs. Again Walsh urges readers to reflect on what mobile services are relevant to their own users and will make the best impact on their own library service.
Chapter three looks at the idea of the mobile librarian both in terms of moving from the library to where our users are in order to support them as well as using mobile technology in order to maximise our own productivity. The overall message of this chapter is a positive one: using mobile technology will enhance our services or the work of our users, and enable us to function more efficiently as information professionals.
Chapter four concentrates on one aspect of mobile technology, that of texting in a library context. Walsh sets this chapter out from the standpoint that, even if users are not advanced mobile users, they are familiar with text or SMS services. The chapter begins with library services sending out messages to users’ mobile devices and includes a case study showcasing one library’s experience with using mobile technology to communicate with its students. The chapter then looks at the use of texting within teaching, again using a case study to provide useful examples and discussion. The chapter ends with a brief look at some other ideas that could make use of text messaging within libraries.
Chapter five enters the debate of mobile sites versus mobile apps. Walsh reiterates the need to work with what your users want and are most likely to use. He then explains the advantages and disadvantages of apps and mobile sites, again using case studies to give weight to the discussion.
Chapter six suggests different ways in which mobile technology may be able to help connecting the physical and virtual aspects of library services in order to provide the best services for our users. Walsh focuses on three specific technologies that assist with this connection: QR codes, Near Field Communications (and RFID), and Augmented Reality. For two of these technologies (QR codes and Augmented Reality) he provides case studies, while he suggests how all three can be used. He follows up by then debating the pros and cons of each technology. The chapter provides a practical way of linking the digital world with the physical space commonly known as ‘the library’, thereby offering us the opportunity to engage users in our space with the extra wealth of information available in the virtual world.
Chapter seven looks at the use of mobiles in teaching, expanding considerably on the use of text messages mentioned in chapter four. The chapter starts from the (all-too-common) situation where students are expected to turn their mobile phones off when entering places of education. Throughout the chapter, Walsh challenges this with different ways of ensuring students engage via the mobile devices rather than cutting them off from what could be viewed as an important educational tool. What Walsh advocates here and throughout the book is a step change in attitudes to mobile usage the better to fit the experience of our students. Again he makes use of appropriate case study material to add real life experience to the discussion. The rest of this chapter looks at a selection of ways in which mobiles can be used, including use of text messages, polls, recording activities and, one that I personally found quite inspiring, using mobile devices to run library scavenger hunts or inductions. Walsh ends the chapter with a warning ‘Remember, however, that they [mobile devices] are just a tool. A fun, flexible, valuable tool, but a mindless tool none the less.’ 
Chapter eight discusses the use of e-books with mobile devices beginning with the issue of different formats of e-book; Walsh then discusses licence issues before deploying a case study which deals with training needs of staff and e-book provision in a library in Australia. The rest of the chapter focuses on the different ways of providing e-books for mobile devices, concentrating on the issues of lending that will particularly affect libraries. Walsh does well in this chapter not to become distracted by the many debates in this area, managing instead to inform readers of the basic facts.
Both the introductory and final ‘so what now?’ chapters accomplish the tasks assigned to them. The concluding chapter recaps on the areas which recur throughout the book, such as considering what students, or users, actually want alongside that which it is possible for staff to deliver. Walsh also emphasises the need to ensure that review and continuous assessment of the suitability and necessity of any implementation is undertaken.
The part of the book that has impressed me most, aside from learning about new ways I could use mobile devices within my institution, is the annotated bibliography section Walsh has included as part of each chapter. I found this useful as a means of expanding my knowledge of different areas of research on the topics in this work, but without the main text turning into a literature review, which I feel would have been inappropriate for this particular book. The only slight concern I have with the addition of the annotated bibliographies is that it makes the end of each chapter seem a little confused. Most of the chapters have footnotes, providing extra bits of information or Web site links, a reference list. As a result, with the annotated bibliography having all of these extra bits of information, it means the end of each chapter risks looking a little crammed. However I do feel that the annotated bibliography is very important and putting this separately at the end of the book would have removed some of the impact of its information.
Walsh has written a book that I feel is valuable as a starting point for anyone interested in finding out about mobile devices in libraries. He offers some great ideas and the advice he gives is clear, concise and well thought out. The book benefits from the extra content Walsh has included, such as the case studies which provide context and real life examples. The annotated bibliographies offer more information than the book would otherwise be able to contain. Using Mobile Technology to Deliver Library Services aims to be a ‘practical guide’ and ‘jargon-free’, and I feel Walsh did an admirable job of achieving this. The book is filled with practical applications for mobile services in libraries and any jargon that is used is clearly explained.
I would recommend the book to anyone interested in developing mobile services within their own service, or who is interested to see what applications mobile technology can have. The format and style of the book make it easy to read and even easier to dip into specific segments of interest when required. I will certainly be passing the title onto colleagues with responsibility for services of this nature within my own institution.
Fiona MacLellan is an Academic Librarian for the University of Northampton, with responsibility for the Schools of The Arts and Science and Technology. She has research interests in Reading Groups in a HE setting and referencing systems affecting reading comprehension and fluency.
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