Daily Herald
Many libraries adapting services to the small screen
By Sarah Long | Daily Herald Columnist
Published: 2/22/2009 12:03 AM

A growing number of Americans are wireless and mobile and are participating in a whole range of digital activities on the go, away from home or work. Specifically, a 2007 survey from the Pew Internet Project reports that 62 percent of us have some experience using a cell phone or similar device for other purposes. These other uses included sending or receiving text messages, taking pictures, playing games, sending or receiving e-mail, accessing the Internet, playing music or watching videos.

The trend is increasing. Back in 2002, the Pew Internet Project asked how difficult it would be to do without a cell phone as compared to the Internet, TV or a landline telephone. Respondents said it would be hardest to give up their landline telephones, followed by their TVs.

Cell phones and Internet were tied for third place with e-mail close behind. Only 6 percent said it would be hard to give up their Blackberries or wireless e-mail device. Five short years later, the story changed dramatically. A whopping 51 percent said their cell phones would be the hardest to give up followed by Internet, TV, landline telephone, e-mail and Blackberry. Thirty-six percent admitted it would be hard to give up the Blackberry or other wireless e-mail device. And this was before the introduction of the Apple iPhone.

The Pew study went further and probed by demographics to see exactly who prized these multi-function phones. English-speaking Hispanics led with 84 percent having cell phones. The study found that on a typical day, more than half of English-speaking Hispanics do something on their cell phone that might involve sending or receiving data. "Under age 30" adults were also heavy users with 60 percent admitting to daily text messaging and e-mailing.

In a "Computerworld" article last November, technology writer Mike Elgan predicted that in the next four years, "People will use netbooks like laptops and cell phones like netbooks. Cell phones will both capture and display high-definition video." Further, "Cell phones will eat more gadgets. Stand-alone media players and GPS devices will go the way of the dodo, as all cell phones handle these jobs brilliantly."

Since libraries are in the information business, among other things, many are already adapting library services to the small screen. As usual in library innovation, academics are leading the way. But our own Fremont Public Library in Mundelein is way out in front, too. Have a look at the library's Web 2.0 Web site by visiting fremontlibrary.org and clicking on "FLPD 2.0." Then scroll down a bit and click on the words, "Mobile Page" (or go directly to fremont.websiteforever.mobi). There are only a few choices: About Us, Location, Hours, Contact Us, and Ask a Librarian. This minimalist approach is good because one cannot deal with copious information on a small screen.

OCLC's WorldCat, the large, multinational catalog of library holdings, also has a mobile site at mobileworldcat.org. It's an experimental site currently featuring 13 searches on general topics. I chose, "cooking" and was treated to listings of cookbooks, including photos of book covers, a link to finding the books in area libraries, and links to related subjects.

Megan Fox, associate director for technology and special projects at Simmons College Library in Boston, is one of the experts in this area. She said that it used to be harder for libraries to slim down their Web sites so that they would be intelligible on a small screen. Apparently, now some of the technologies in the small devices themselves screen out extraneous material. Listen to my podcast interview with Fox atlibrarybeat.org.

I'm betting that in the next survey of how people are using their cell phones, accessing the library Web site will be one of the options.