Why libraries should care about mobile phones


What do your library users use more often, their PC connected to broadband or their mobile phone? What do more of them own? What do more young people have exclusively for their own use – a mobile phone or a PC?

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in March 2007, 67% of Australian household internet subscribers had broadband, up from 59% in September 2006. (8153.0 – Internet Activity, Australia, Mar 2007 )

Mobile phones? The Impact of the Mobile Phone on Work/Life Balance Preliminary Report June 2007 conducted by the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association and the Australian National University looked at how mobile phones have been integrated into Australian lives. It looks like most of the 1000 respondents were recruited online, so this may skew the sample a bit, however the study found that:

More than 88% of individuals own at least one mobile phone, 10% have two phones, while few (1.4%) have more than two. Moreover, two-thirds have owned a mobile phone for more than 5 years.

Among 14 to 17 year olds, only 12% do not regularly use a mobile. Mobile phone use peaks in the age range 18 to 39 years, where 94% regularly use a phone, and falls to a lower level among mid-aged adults (85%). The lowest number of regular users (73%) of mobile phones is found among those aged 60 years or more.

I was initially surprised by the lower uptake of mobile broadband services:

There is a very high awareness of mobile broadband (3G), with 86% of males and 73% of females saying that they are aware of the technology. A topic for further investigation is why the take-up of the new functionalities of the mobile phone has lagged so far behind the availability of the technology. Obvious candidate factors for exploration are consumer tastes, the age of handsets in use and pricing regimes, relative to other modes of accessing similar services.

I don’t know about you, but in the last 6 weeks or so, Web2.0 seems to have hit the mainstream in a rather big way – with people who once ignored it, or claimed not to care, suddenly asking me the types of questions I’ve been waiting for them to ask for over a year. It think libraries need to be prepared for a rapid upswing of users who want to get information from our sites via their mobile.

So – how shouldn’t we do it? Well, Nick Cowie, who is a fellow library worker in Western Australia, took a hilarious three minute look at what a mobile user sees when they access websites created by a few local web developers and some bigger fish who should know better – including the makers of his own mobile phone.

The clip, Why You Should Build Mobile Specific Websites for Mobile Devices, was created by Sue Waters, using Nick’s original slides and audio recorded by the Co-Pilot at Webjam.

By the way, what are we saying about our understanding of our users’ lives when we plaster our libraries with “please switch off your mobile phones” signs? Yes, if people talk loudly and obnoxiously on mobile phones they will annoy other people – but surely we can file it under “manners” – like we do with face to face conversations – and get on with our lives ?

10 thoughts on “Why libraries should care about mobile phones

  1. My classroom now has the policy that I encourage my students to leave their phones on – as you said people are mature enough to move away and not disrupt others. Will be interested to hear thoughts from Nick on how libraries will design their sites for mobile phones.

    Based on attending a PD session by Kate at a local library, users are becoming very techno savy – so impressed with those that turned up with their laptops especially the guy in his 70s who had travelled the world with it. So cool.

    Would love to know the sales figures this year for phones based on types – interested to see how much increase in sales of smartphones and PDAs.

    PS great post


  2. teddleruss. Yes, and for people with vowels at the start of their domains to check for strange spelling when that “m” is added.

    Sue. I wish I was in your class. And I bet some of the uni students in my library do also. I think libraries need to work out how to serve those tech savvy users, as what is tech savvy now will be the norm very quickly.

    Alexander. Thanks for the invite and I’d love to contribute, but this post is about the extent of my expertise on m-learning :).

  3. Imagine my reaction when I did a little session for librarians about our new mobile catalog interface (about 2 years ago) and the only comment I got from the crowd was:

    “Well, we don’t want to use this. We’ve spent a lot of time and energy trying to get our patrons to stop using their phones in the library.”

    I about hit the roof. Out of touch is right.

  4. Emily – Smile, smile, smile, nod, nod nod and marvel at just how big is the bridge you’ll need to build. So- did you end up using the interface? Do they feel differently about it now? Would they respond the same way today ?

What do you think? Let us know.