Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Don't panic! Or, further thoughts on the mobile challenge

Two weeks ago, I posted some notes on the CILIP executive briefing on 'the mobile challenge', where I presented the effort of my library, the quick-wins 'UBA Mobiel' project. Those notes concentrated on the talks on the day. Now that it's had time to simmer (and a quick autumn holiday), I want to add some reflection on the general theme.

Which basically boils down to Don't Panic (preferably in large, friendly letters on the cover).

Is there really such a thing as a 'mobile challenge' for libraries? Well, yes and no. Yes, the use of internet on mobile devices is growing fast, and is adding a new way of searching and using information for everyone, including library patrons. The potential of 'always on' is staggering. And it is a challenge.

However, it is also just another challenge. After twenty years of continuous disruption, starting with on-line databases, then web 1.0 and web 2.0, change is not new any more. Libraries are still gateways to information, rare and/or expensive (the definition of expensive and rare depending and varying on the context, also changing of course). And the potential of the paperless office may finally come to fruit with the advent of the iPad, but meanwhile printer makers are having a boon selling ever more ink at ridiculous prices.

So, what to do?

There are three ways to adapt. On one side are the forerunners, with full focus on the new and shiny. Forerunners get the spotlights, and tend to be extroverts that make good presentations. However, not everyone can be in front - it would get pretty crowded. It takes resources, both money and a special kind of staff. Two prominent examples given at several of the Cilip talks were NCSU and DOK Delft. Kudos to them, they're each doing exciting stuff, but they are also the usual suspects, and that's no coincidence.

On the other extreme, there's not changing at all. For the institution, a certain road to obsolescence. For a number of library staff the easy way to retirement. Fortunately, their number seems to be rapidly dwindling, but nevertheless, finding the right staff to fulfil the jobs at libraries or publishers when the descriptions of these jobs are in flux was a much talked about topic, both in the talks and in the breaks.

In practice, most libraries are performing a balancing act in between. And it is perfectly acceptable to be in the middle. Keep an eye on things. Stay informed. Make sure your staff gets some time to play with the toys that the customers are walking around with, and if they find out what's on offer in the library is out of sync, do something about it.

[from tuesday tech]
Which is pretty much what we did with UBA Mobiel. Nothing worlds hattering, not breaking the bank. We're certainly not running in front, but we're making sure our most important content (according to the customers) is usable. This way, when the chance comes along to do Something Utterly Terrific (Birmingham) or merely a Next Step Forward (upgrading our CMS) we know what to focus on.

The response on our humble little project has been very positive. We may have hit a nerve, and I'm really glad to hear that it is inspiring others to get going. Go-Go Gadget Libraries!