Introduction: background of the pilot project
In the fall of 2008, a small group of librarians at the University of Houston (UH) Libraries embarked on a pilot project to develop, deploy and evaluate mobile services for library users. The overall objective of the project was to discover how mobile devices could be used to enhance the services currently provided by the library and, concurrently, to investigate mobile technology efforts at other libraries.
As demonstrated by the 2009 conference programmes for two major library associations, librarians’ interest in the use of mobile devices is increasing. At the Association of College and Research Libraries 14th National Conference, general presentations on mobile devices were offered, as well as programmes on using mobile devices to provide roving reference and serve the on-the-go mobile learner. Attendees at July's American Library Association Annual Conference in Chicago learned about the WorldCat Mobile pilot project, mobile devices ‘on the road to the future’, and the public policy considerations linked to libraries’ use of mobile devices.
Around the country, librarians are experimenting with providing library services designed for mobile device users, including audio tours, text message alerts, MP3 tutorials, and mobile reference. A good summary of these and other projects can be found in Kroski (2008). The impetus for creating such new services is the clear trend toward ever greater mobile device usage among library patrons. According to the ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2008, ‘One of the most significant trends we report this year is the continuing “mobilization” of the student body’, as internet-enabled mobile phones become more and more common on campus. Likewise, the 2009 Horizon Report put ‘Mobiles’ in the category ‘Time-to-Adoption: One Year or Less’ and noted that ‘[t]he rapid pace of innovation in this arena continues to increase the potential of these little devices, challenging our ideas of how they should be used and presenting additional options with each new generation of mobiles’ (Johnson et al., 2009). Clearly, mobile services must be a priority for librarians who want to meet patrons’ needs in a rapidly changing technological environment.