The world of mobile technology has changed a great deal during the last few years, but mobile phones and mobile computing are not new. If we compare their uptake within libraries with, for example, uptake of internet use, it can be somewhat puzzling how little these technologies are utilized. Text messaging (SMS) was introduced on early mobile phones in 1993, at roughly the same time as browsers such as Mosaic enabled the emergence of the world wide web from the largely text-based pre-1990s internet. PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants) predated this, and Psion started to release these devices (which eventually merged with mobile telephony to create the smartphones that so many of us use today) from the mid-1980s onwards.
Libraries seem to have engaged enthusiastically with the early web, with many of us having webpages by 1995. Try looking on the Internet Archive Wayback Machine (www.archive.org/web/web.php) to find your library's early pages! However, most of us seem only recently to have started to think about engaging with mobile phones or mobile computing, despite the technology's having been around and available for a similar length of time. Now, increasing numbers of mobile devices are smartphones capable of accessing the internet and combining the capabilities of telephone and PDA. After this slow start, and as their capabilities grow, now is the time to give more serious consideration to taking advantage of these nearubiquitous devices.
So, what can we do with these mobile devices that most – or all – of our users own? This chapter describes the context that we need to be aware of when considering how we can use mobile devices to deliver library services. With a clear idea as to how much this technology has become part of our everyday lives, we can then move on to the chapters that follow, which illustrate ways in which we can use the technology.
Mobile phones now seem to be a near-ubiquitous technology. For example, there are more mobile phone contracts than people in the United Kingdom (130 contracts for every 100 people) and 92% of adults own and use one (Mintel, 2011a). Worldwide, in 2011 there were 5.9 billion mobile phone subscriptions and 79% of the population in the developing world owned mobile phones (International Telecommunication Union, 2011).