M-libraries Conference – From margin to mainstream

On 24th-26th September 2012, The Open University hosted a group of 163 delegates from 19 different countries for the Fourth International M-libraries Conference. It was the first of the m-libraries conferences I have been able to attend in person, though I have followed others from afar. The theme of the conference, From margin to mainstream: mobile technologies transforming lives and libraries, demonstrates the progress made in the area of m-libraries, and this was evident from many of the keynotes and parallel sessions.

M-libraries conference

M-libraries conference

The keynote sessions were all recorded and are now available online, and I created an Eventifier archive which has some of the presentations from both the keynotes and parallel sessions, as well as photos, videos and tweets. Rather than recreate notes from each session, I wanted to highlight some of the key themes emerging from the conference.

Mobile technologies are global – supporting developing world as well as developed

Some of the most interesting presentations highlighted some of the innovative ways mobile technologies are being used in different countries. Steve Vosloo talked about projects UNESCO have been working on including Worldreader: books for all (which brings reading material to the developing world via Kindles or through their mobile phones via biNu), and literacy promotion via mobile phones (including educational information). We also heard about projects in India involving m-learning applications on the cheapest tablets in the world – less than $2 each! It was also interesting to note different challenges and benefits in different countries. For example, SMS messaging services aren’t widely used in UK due to cost, but in India this is not an issue. Kindles are robust enough for use in most countries and climates, but don’t deal well with the dust in Africa. Just a couple of examples of many things I previously hadn’t considered which were raised by delegates and speakers from across the world.

M-library initiatives don’t have to cost a lot – some just need staff time

There were some really innovative projects discussed at the conference, and many of these were from libraries that didn’t have funding for equipment or development. I attended some fantastic parallel sessions on innovations that utilised existing services to support delivery of library services. Georgina Parsons (Brunel University) spoke about their use of freely available services like Facebook, Twitter, QR Codes, and services they already subscribed to which offer mobile support like Summon, BookMyne and Library Elf. Neil Ford (Bournemouth University) shared their project on using QR codes to highlight electronic resources to students when they are browsing the physical library. The process incorporates checking reading lists to understand more about the courses, preparing relevant searches on electronic resources, and delivering those via QR codes and custom URLs on bookmarks near the key books for that area. The majority of this exercise is staff time and will also be useful even if the QR code uptake is low (i.e. better understanding of content of courses).

M-library developments are reliant on key technology companies

One of the presentations was from a representative at Microsoft, and other key players in the technology field were also mentioned throughout presentations. Martin White’s keynote focused entirely on developments of commercial companies such as Microsoft, Google, Apple and Amazon. The clear message coming through these presentations and the general discussions during the event was the reliance on developments from these companies. For example, some technologies which could enable additional functionality of mobile devices (e.g. contactless payments) will only become more popular if they are incorporated to the majority of devices.

Users are expecting delivery of content and service via mobile devices

There were a number of presentations which started with statistics based on user surveys/interviews or other anecdotal observations from discussions with users. Many of these demonstrated a shift in user expectations – more now seem to be expecting libraries to be delivering content and services via mobile devices. Mobile as a major trend and a key concern for libraries and other related organisations – see for example the UCISA 2012 Survey of Technology Enhanced Learning for higher education in the UK, the ACRL 2012 top ten trends in academic librarianship, and LITA’s Top Tech Trends at ALA Annual Conference. It seems, as with the theme of the conference, that mobile is becoming mainstream and is now expected, rather than being an additional bonus.

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