Mobile Libraries (m-libraries) for Academic Institutions


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A paper presented during the International Conference of Libraries (ICOL2012) at Kota Bharu, Kelantan, Malaysia on 02-04 July 2012.

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Mobile Libraries (m-libraries) for Academic Institutions

  1. 1. MOBILE LIBRARIES (M-LIBRARIES) FOR ACADEMIC INSTITUTIONS 1 Shahril Effendi Ibrahim and 2Ahmad Munawar Mohmad Anuar 1 Senior Librarian Tan Sri Dr Abdullah Sanusi Digital Library Open University Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur 2 Librarian Tan Sri Dr Abdullah Sanusi Digital Library Open University Malaysia, Kuala LumpurABSTRACTThis paper highlights academic libraries’ opportunity to extend new type of service topatrons using mobile devices, which is Mobile Libraries (m-libraries). Concepts andservices provided in m-libraries are discussed. Needs of generation of users who areusing this type of service are also determined. Stages of the development in providinglibrary services using mobile devices are discussed. Usage of Quick Response Code(QR-Code) in m-libraries environment is also discussed. Examples of libraries inMalaysia and abroad which providing this type of service will be highlighted. Findings onusability testing of m-libraries usage among Open University Malaysia (OUM) communitywill be presented. Finally, achievement and future of m-libraries will be discussed.KEYWORDS: Mobile libraries (m-libraries), Academic libraries, Mobile learning, QR CodesINTRODUCTIONWhen we talk about mobile phones and libraries, these two entities cannot complementeach other. Mobile phones are not allowed to be heard ‘ringing’ in library. ‘Silent mode’or ‘Flight mode’ is a must to every patron who wants to bring his mobile phone into thelibrary. Conversation through mobile phone in library is obviously a ‘big no’ to patrons.However, this scenario is changing. These institutions now find themselves at acrossroad because this once disdained instrument may now be very important tools bywhich libraries expand their reach to existing patron base and increase their appeal tosegments that were previously unreachable (Krishnan, 2011). Searching books throughOnline Public Access Catalogue (OPAC), notifications or alerts of overdue items,reference services or even accessing e-books and e-journals from mobile phones haveshifted perception of mobile phones in libraries environment.
  2. 2. Mobile Libraries (m-libraries) for Academic InstitutionsUSAGE OF MOBILE PHONESAccording to ‘Hand Phone Users Survey 2009’ (2010), in year 2009 there were 28.194millions of mobile phone subscriptions to a population of 28.163 millions. This can beassumed that each Malaysian adult subscribed at least one mobile phone. According toNor Shahriza, Siti Hawa and Ramlah (2006), ‘... the penetration of the mobile phoneuses seems to move across the lower and the minority class boundaries’. Usage ofmobile phones among Malaysians clearly seen across all walks of life in the Malaysiansociety. In academic institutions, mobile phone have been used not only as a medium ofcommunication, but also as a device to retrieve exam result, study loan account balance,class schedule and exam timetable (Nor Shahriza, Siti Hawa and Ramlah, 2006).In teaching and learning environment, there is university, such as Open UniversityMalaysia (OUM,) has implemented mobile technologies. Teaching and learning throughmobile devices or known as ‘Mobile Learning’ has been implemented by the universitysince May 2009. 1,863 first-semester learners were enrolled in a course titled, LearningSkills for Open and Distance Learners. (Zoraini Wati, Lim dan Woo, 2009). ThroughMobile Learning, Short Message Service (SMS) are sent to learners as a complement ofthe three primary learning modes, which are, reading the module, interacting during face-to-face tutorials and discussing in online forums. The use of Facebook enabled thecommunity of learners to interact with each other as well as with the mobile learningteam members while Twitter was used to archive the SMSes sent (Open UniversityMalaysia, 2010).MOBILE LIBRARIES (M-LIBRARIES)M-libraries are libraries that deliver information and learning materials on mobile devicessuch as cell phones, PDAs, palm top computers and smart phones to allow access byanyone from anywhere and at any time (Needham and Ally, 2008). This will result thatthe library services and information in the library are able to be accessed anywhere andanytime using these mobile devices. M-libraries have make libraries become moreubiquitous to users. The services can be as simple as sending text message alerts aboutreservations of available books, or as complex as the Athabasca University Library’sDigital Reading room, which allows readers to access eBooks and journal articlesthrough their library’s subscriptions on any mobile devices (Needham and Ally, 2008).
  3. 3. Mobile Libraries (m-libraries) for Academic InstitutionsTechnically, developing a mobile interface for Open University Malaysia (OUM) DigitalLibrary involves programming schematics and several libraries. Notably the WURFL APIand Drupal Module, the Mobile Tools. Using WURFL API is a smarter solution fordetecting any mobile devices and devices capabilities. Since there are hundreds ofdevices and each devices may have hundreds of properties, using generic template formobile devices may not be enough. This is where WURFL API plays its role:  Browsers are different, but they also have many features in common with one another.  Browsers/devices coming from the same manufacturer are most often an evolution of the same hardware/software. In other words, differences between, say, a iPhone 3 and a iPhone 3S are minimal.  Devices from different manufacturers may run the same software. For example, the Android OS runs on devices from Motorola, HTC, Samsung, ZTE, Huawei and others.WURFL allows any device to load any web page based on its capabilities. For example,Nokia shipped several subversion of the 7110 model. Some of those did not supportWML tables and some did. It is not safe to assume all devices support WML tables bydefault, as the content will not be displayed as expected (ScientiaMobile, 2012).Having different devices with different capabilities in mind, OUM Digital Library makesuse of WURFL API, Drupal Mobile Tools Module and conditional CSS to cater eachdevice with different capabilities. More powerful device will have extended display suchas better button and dialog boxes and the less powerful devices will have lighter themeto reduce CPU load. All in all, these Mobile Web Toolkits make OUM Digital Librarymobile friendly.According Vollmer (2010), libraries can provide the following mobile services through m-libraries:  Mobile online public access catalog (OPAC)  Mobile library instruction  Mobile library databases  Library Short Message Service (SMS) notifications  SMS reference  A webcan so users can check on congestion in the library 3
  4. 4. Mobile Libraries (m-libraries) for Academic InstitutionsWith all or almost all of the services available via patrons’ mobile devices, information onlibraries will be always in their accessed. Information on library physically, such asavailability of discussion rooms and PC terminals in the libraries, which can be knowninstantly in their mobile devices, will indirectly increase the number of usage and visit tolibrary.PATRON PROFILEThe invention of mobile technologies applications should allowed and encourageslibrarians to use mobile devices as a tool to reach students or users especially whomstay outside or far from campus. Nowadays, library users’ information needs aredifferent. Most of library users now have mobile phone on their table while study or doingtheir works. They require information quickly and preferably within easy reach. MichelleJacobs (Jacobs, 2009), labels this type of users as Information New Generations (ING).The 3 elements that must be considered in fulfilling information needs of this type ofusers are:  The service must be easy to implement, staff and use.  It must be served on a platform that is already commonplace  It must be relevant and meet the current needs of the INGIn short, ING users, who are the most number of users of m-libraries, need m-librarieswhich are easy to be used without complicated platforms and software to be installed.Information in m-libraries interface should be well-organised and simple.STAGES OF M-LIBRARIES APPLICATIONTechnological development for m-libraries must be implemented in phases or stages inaccordance to organisational capabilities and users’ readiness in order to give impact ofthe technology. According to Krishnan (2011), there are 3 stages in application of m-libraries in academic institutions. The first stage is when academic institutions providechoice to users to receive notice from library. Notices such as on overdue books andreserved books through interlibraryloan will be delivered via SMS. The notices aredelivered automatically through Library Management System (LMS). Perpustakaan TunSer Lanang, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), is one of academic institutionswhich practice this stage of m-libraries.
  5. 5. Mobile Libraries (m-libraries) for Academic InstitutionsStage two of m-libraries is when a library initiated reference services via SMS. Thisservice is useful for libraries that receive a high volume of simple inquiries, such asopening hour, location of books and dictionary definitions. Other form of referenceservices which can be sent through mobile phone are chat, instant messaging and e-mail. There are also many cases that users use mobile phone reference services evenwhen they are physically within the library. List of libraries which offer SMS referenceservice can be accessed at: stage of m-libraries is when the library provides OPAC through mobile devices(mobile OPAC). Users can determine whether a particular book is available in the libraryor otherwise by using their mobile phones. Among libraries which applied OPAC that canbe accessed via mobile devices are Ball State University (BSU), National Library Board(NLB) of Singapore and North Corilina State University (NCSU). Libraries have also triedto offer value-added services so that a mobile OPAC can offer more than just an itemsearch service. NLB, for instance, has an iPhone app called Library in Your Pocket,which allowed users to search for a title and send a sms with the book details tothemselves. The system also allowed users to find out which branch in its network hadthe title and enabled them to place a reservation for the item (Krishnan, 2011).However, many libraries have gone even further by implementing not only mobile OPACinterface, but also electronic databases through m-libraries. Electronic databases nowcan be accessed and viewed on the small screens of mobile devices such as smartphones and other handheld devices. One of the libraries which allows electronicdatabase to be accessed via mobile devices is Open University Malaysia Digital Library.The library portal not only providing OPAC via mobile devices, but also article journal canbe accessed through mobile devices such as in Figure 1 and Figure 2. 5
  6. 6. Mobile Libraries (m-libraries) for Academic Institutions Figure 1 Figure 2 OUM’s mobile for article journalHowever, the number of databases which are mobile enabled is still limited. Amongdatabases which are mobile enabled are SciVerse mobile apps, CINAHL Plus,EBSCHOhost Mobile, Lexis-Nexis with free i-Phone app and currently released, EmeraldManagement Plus.QR-CODEQR-Code is one of the factors in attracting patrons to use m-libraries. This printed two-dimensional bar code is readable by the cameras on most of mobile devices includingsmart phones. These mobile devices, then, will translate and display the information inthe QR-Code. This information is normally a URL that the mobile devices then use to pullup a library’s web page or portal. In short, in m-libraries environment and application,QR-Code acts as an authentication entry before one can enter the library portal viamobile devices. Figure 3 is an example of QR-Code.
  7. 7. Mobile Libraries (m-libraries) for Academic Institutions Figure 3: Example of QR-CodeBesides as authentication entry, QR-Code also being used in libraries on librarycatalogue. QR-Codes are attached to library catalogue records, thereby allowingstudents to capture bibliographic and location information on their mobiles (Robinson,2010). QR-Codes are also can be applied during literacy lessons, where links to othermedia such as YouTube videos placed on handouts.USABILITY TESTINGIn January 2012, the OUM Library has conducted usability testing of mobile version of itswebsite. The respondents indicated that the main areas of the website which they wouldlike to access via their mobile devices are the library’s Contact Information (86.5%), LoanDetails (79%) and Search the Library (OPAC) (68.6%). Hence, the OUM Library hasevolved and changed the layout of the mobile version of the library website according theabove findings as in Figure 4 and Figure 5. 7
  8. 8. Mobile Libraries (m-libraries) for Academic Institutions Figure 4: Before Figure 5: NowLinks for ‘Contact’ and ‘My Library Card’ (Loan details) have been moved to main pageas these links are 2 main links visited by most patrons via mobile libraries.MEASURES OF SUCCESSHow many hits on the mobile sites before you consider a success? As to whatconstitutes success, there are many ways to determine and measure the use m-libraries.According to Griffey, it’s probably best to think about the number in terms of percentageof total visitors to mobile sites. For a centre of a wired and connected community such asthe public libraries and academic libraries, something between 2 to 5 percentages mightconsider as success (Griffey, 2010).On reference service via mobile such as chat, instant messaging and e-mail, todetermine the level of success is similar to judging the success of any reference service.Number of users in using the service and percentage of questions answered are some ofthe indicators to determine the success of the services.Usage of libraries via mobile may also increase one visit to library portal via PCs orlaptops. According to Usability Testing conducted by OUM Library, 92% of the
  9. 9. Mobile Libraries (m-libraries) for Academic Institutionsrespondents said that their visit to library portal via PCs or laptops increase after theystarted accessing libraries via mobile. Hence, in general, the implementation of m-libraries will enhance the usage of library portal.THE FUTUREIn next five to ten years, as mobile technology become more powerful and lessexpensive, location-based services and ubiquitous connectivity are two main areas thatshould be focused. As every mobile device is going to be GPS enabled, m-libraries willbe able to provide services based on location of their patrons. Availability of a particularbook, for instance, will be based on the nearest branch library and not based on MainLibrary. This will result a personalised mobile libraries to patrons. On ubiquitousconnectivity, the core services of most libraries, reference and circulation, have thepotential to be distributed to point-of-need services that are no longer attached to aphysical space (Griffey, 2010). More and more reference queries will be via mobiledevices as patrons need information instantly even when they are mobile. Mobilecheckout also is a possible in the future. Patrons can check items out to themselvesusing their mobiles while standing between the book shelves.CONCLUSIONIn line with advancement of mobile technologies, libraries must fully utilise this m-libraries technologies in order to provide a wider and more ubiquitous access to libraries.The sharp increase in the use of Wi-Fi enabled phones, for example, has reduced thecost of accessing m-libraries to virtually zero. Increasing number of patrons whichconsist of new generations such as Gen-Y and ING users will increase the demand ofaccessing libraries via mobile. The increasing size and connectivity of social networkthrough mobile also provide opportunity for libraries to promote and increase the usageof m-libraries. Libraries will be losing out on a significant portion of future patron base ifthey do not dive in to mobile world now. 9
  10. 10. Mobile Libraries (m-libraries) for Academic InstitutionsREFERENCESGriffey, J. (2010). Mobile technology and libraries 2. London: Facet Publishing.Jacobs, M. L. (2009). Libraries and the mobile revolutions : remediation=relevance. Reference Services Review, 37 (3), 286-290. doi : 10.1108/00907320910982776Krishnan, Y. (2011). Libraries and the mobile revolution. Computers in Libraries, 31 (3),6-9 & 40. doi : 10.1108/00907320910982776Libsuccess. (2010). Retrieved from :, J.K. (2010). A mobile future for academic libraries. Reference Services Review, 38 (2), 205-213. doi : 10.1108/00907321011044981Needham, G. & Ally, M., (Eds.), (2008). M-libraries: libraries on the move to provide virtual access. London: Facet Publishing.Nor Shahriza Abdul Karim, Siti Hawa Darus & Ramlah Hussin (2006). Mobile phone applications in academic library services : a students’ feedback survey. Campus-Wide Information Systems 23 (1), 35-51. doi : 10.1108/10650740610639723Open University Malaysia. Mobile Learning@OUM (2010). Retrieved from:, K. (2010). M-libraries 2: a virtual library in everyone’s pocket. In G. Needham, G. & M. Ally (Eds.), QR codes and their applications for libraries – a case study from the University of bath Library. (pp. 81-83). London: Facet Publishing.ScientiaMobile. How does WURFL work? (2012). Retrieved from:, H. & Tin, T. (2010). M-libraries 2: a virtual library in everyone’s pocket. In G. Needham, G. & M. Ally (Eds.), A tale of two institutions: collaborative approach to support and develop mobile library services and resources. (pp. 85-95). London: Facet Publishing.Suruhanjaya Komunikasi dan Multimedia (SKMM) (2010). Hand Phone Users Survey 2009. Retrieved from :, T. (2010) There’s an App for That! Libraries and Mobile Technology:An Introduction to Public Policy Considerations. Washington, D.C. : American LibraryAssociation. Retrieved from : Wati Abas, Lim, T. & Woo, T. K. (2009). Mobile learning initiative through SMS : aformative evaluation. ASEAN Journal of Open and Distance Learning (1) 1, 49-58.