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Friday, March 25, 2011

Cell Phones Are Not the Libraries' Enemy!

Sh! No cell phones in the library! That's what we say now, but for how much longer? In these digital and quick response times we live in, cell phones do a lot more than make the traditional phone call. The capabilities are endless, from texting to surfing the web to responding to emails. How cool is that to do from the palm of one's hand? Could we have envisioned this future on our own? If library patrons are on the move with their devices then libraries will have to find a way to keep pace.

This is he era of communication and technology. Nothing stays the same it seems for even a month, let alone a year. New versions of Blackberry and iPhones seem to come out just when everyone has just gotten over the excitement of the latest version. Mobile devices have changed the information highway into the information speedway. DSL is no longer fast enough, people want their information, whether it's for business or pleasure, faster. Don't look now, but there are mobile devices that have the capabilities of an iPad, iPhone and laptop all rolled into one. What will libraries say to these devices? No you can not use them in OUR library. Instead of saying that, place a sign outside the library stating: "While the rest of the world enjoys living in the 21st Century, we prefer living in the dark ages." If libraries want to be relevant, essential and in the game it's time toss out cell phone rules. Librarians rev up your engines, the race is about to start.

Once libraries have embraced mobile devices of all types, the next step will be to discover ways of offering new services to patrons on the move. A starting point could be as simple as an App to allow access to the library's catalog. This is a huge time saver for someone who is constantly on the go and does not have the time to stop at a library to see if a certain book is available. Not only that, if the library has services such as Overdrive, the desired piece of information could be downloaded straight to their device. Is this a bad thing that the person has not even stepped into the library to retrieve information? Not at all. Giving patrons what they want and in a timely manner, is enough
of an incentive to draw them in on a lazy Saturday or Sunday.

Another step in providing mobile service is using SMS, Short messaging Services, which allows the libraries to communicate to patrons where ever they may wander. These messages could alert patrons that a book is ready for pickup, program registration confirmation or change in the library's hours. Taking it a step further, these messages may also allow reference librarians to answer questions quickly. Recently, a patron left a message on the library's voice mail asking what was the magnitude of the earthquake in Japan. Knowing that he would not be home when the library might be returning his call, he instructed for the information to be emailed to him. This began the process of What ifs in this librarian's mind? What if libraries could provide a link on their website for FAQ about current events? What if libraries used SMS or RSS to inform patrons of latest news development that affect everyone locally and nationally. What if there were an SMS Reference desk dedicated to providing quick answers for the mobile patron? The possibilities are endless!

Finally, librarians are in the people and information business. Perhaps the reason why many librarians try to buck the technology trends is because of the fear of losing the connection with the patrons. There is only one way to squash those fears: Embrace technology. Offering mobile services will not mean the end of the librarian/patron relationship. It's actually the beginning of a beautiful friendship. The once "evil" cell phones who dared to distract the silence of hallowed libraries are now offering a unique opportunity to gain, if not keep, patron loyalty. Let's face it, loyal and devoted patrons are not only desired but needed for the survival of libraries.
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