Summer of Mobile Library Services

By Tom Peters |

The first decade of this century is groaning under the weight of 40th anniversary remembrances of the major happenings of the Sixties.  2004 was the 40th anniversary of the Beatles invasion of America.  2007 marked the 40 year anniversary of the Summer of Love centered in the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco.  This summer marks the 40-year cerebral sojourn of the reality and myths of Woodstock.

Let’s hope this decade gets remembered as more than just the Sixties Forty Years After.  In LibraryLand, 2009 seems to be shaping up to be the Summer of Mobile Library Services.   We need a catchier name, but you get the idea.  Many projects, services, conferences, and other groovy happenings related to mobile library services seem to be ramping up and rolling out this summer.  Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair – on the side opposite of your mobile phone. 

The book mobile–or perhaps even the pushcarts of books shoved by vendors down city streets–may have been the original mobile library service, but this summer it’s all about delivering library services to mobile phones and other mobile devices.  I know I’m name-challenged, but I prefer the generic name of personal, portable information/communication/entertainment appliances, which can include everything from iPhones to the Kindle DX.  

If you haven’t noticed, a huge majority of people in the developed world carry and use a mobile phone these days.  More amazingly, in the developing world the diffusion of mobile phones has been rapid and robust.  Over half of the people in developing nations now have access to a mobile phone.  A few years ago I took the big leap (hey, it was a big leap for a flat-footed middle-aged man) and canceled my land line.  The times they are a-changin’. 

InfoQuest, a collaborative six-month pilot project to deliver short answer reference services to mobile phone users, will begin in July.  The website is at  Sorry, the number to send text message reference questions to is not yet ready to be announced.  Altarama has generously provided access to their SMSreference service (, training, and tech support for the pilot project.  About three dozen libraries and library-related organizations have agreed to participate in the pilot project.  Even a few solo librarians are participating.  Power to the solo librarians!

There are scads of mobile library services being developed, tested, deployed, and evaluated.  One of the larger pilot projects is the WorldCat Mobile pilot project (  OCLC has partnered with Boopsie to test a system where you can use your mobile phone to look up a book, find a library near you, map a route to a nearby library, or even (gasp!) call the library.

Many smaller-scale projects are underway, as well.  For example, over at my old stomping grounds, Western Illinois University, you can send a text message to your cell phone containing the call number of that interesting book you just found.  It’s part of a larger initiative spearheaded by the CARLI library consortium.  The WIU press release and embedded promotional video are at here.  Dig those boots on the student-actress!  Stubby gold pencils, beware–your days are numbered. 

Librarians don’t tend to congregate in parks and hang out, but maybe we should try doing that in Grant Park in Chicago during the ALA Annual Conference.  Conferences–indoor, online, and in virtual worlds–tend to be our chosen places to hang out.  The growth of the mobile library movement has spawned a host of conferences.  In late June in Vancouver there will be a mobile libraries conference (  This will be the second iteration of this particular conference.  The first was in Nov. 2007.  It will be an international conference, with speakers from Canada, the UK, the US, and elsewhere.  As far as I can tell, you need to be there or be square.  No online or virtual world venues appear to be in the works, but you can be sure there will be lots of texting and twittering. 

On July 30 and 31 the Alliance Library System in Illinois and Learning Times will hold the first Handheld Librarian Conference, using the Adobe Connect webconferencing system.   I recently agreed to serve as one of the two keynote speakers (along with Gerry McKiernan at Iowa State University…I’m not worthy!) for this conference.  Gerry will focus on the present and future of mobile library services, and I’ll provide some historical and, ahem, thoughtful background and perspective. 

Speaking of Gerry, he recently started a Mobile Libraries blog over at  There’s also a Google Group, a Facebook page, and a gaggle of other 2.0 groups.

If you want to read more about this movement (I know you do), check out the July 2008 issue of Library Technology Reports by Elyssa Kroski, On the Move with the Mobile Web:  Libraries and Mobile Technologies.  An open access version of the report is available here. You can also check out Elyssa discussing her work on this blog here. Several books of contributed chapters have started to appear, such as M-Libraries:  Libraries on the Move to Provide Virtual Access [based on the presentations given at the first M-Libraries Conference in Nov. 2007], edited by Gill Needham and Mohamed Ally. 

M is the new E.  The lingo of librarianship is catching up quickly.  We now have m-libraries and MOPACs (mobile OPACs).  An M is just an E turned 90 degrees.  If they give you lined paper, write in the other direction!