The Mobile Web Is Not An Alternative
Wednesday’s post on medinfo alerted me to this interesting article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, ”As the Web Goes Mobile, Colleges Fail to Keep Up.” The article states that more and more college students access the web using the mobile devices. From the graph in the article, in 2010 43% of college students use mobile devices daily to access the Internet compared to 10.2% in 2008. That is a huge jump in mobile web usage. Yet according to the article many colleges “treat their mobile web sites as low-stakes experiments.”
Of course right away my mind is thinking, “If colleges are treating the mobile web as a low stake experiment, what are the libraries doing?” Depending on the library’s relationship with the college, it may beholden to the college IT department or it may have its own IT department. That relationship will help drive a lot of the mobile web direction. However, what is also driving the libraries’ mobile web direction are the library resource vendors. How many ILS systems have GOOD mobile web platforms? In the days of shrinking budgets (state and institutional) how affordable is it to add these ILS companies’ mobile platform to the library’s system? How can a library justify that extra cost when it is faced with a flat or shrinking budget and may have to cut journals, books, hours, staff, etc?
How many databases and online books are available/optimized for mobile devices? Let’s ignore the Nook and Kindle like devices, students ARE NOT using them as mobile devices. They aren’t carrying them around all the time like they are their smart phones. They are going to use their smart phones to order Chipotle, text a friend about meeting up or an upcoming test, then they are using it to do research (usually on Google) to find a title/resource and read it. So how many online medical text books are smart phone optimized? Not many.
Libraries are beholden to not only their institution’s response to the mobile web but also to their own profession’s resource vendors’ response. I remember talking to one rather high ranking sales rep for a major medical database/journal/online book provider. I asked him if his company had created an mobile optimized version of their search database and whether there were plans to gradually optimize their many online books and journals. He said that quite frankly that he couldn’t see why anybody would want to search that way or read an article or book chapter that way. He didn’t see as important. That was about a year ago. I was gracious and said that I don’t think that way of searching and reading is for everyone but I see it as a large growth area and I know we would eventually get people asking about it.
Well guess what Mr. Sales rep, the college students of today are my residents and staff physicians of tomorrow. They are also the current users of your products in college libraries NOW. Their mobile web usage has jumped tremendously and you along with the libraries are missing out. If my users don’t usage statistics on your resources drop below a certain line, guess what we drop your resources. If people aren’t accessing your resources that I subscribe to because they aren’t mobile friendly and they are using the mobile devices, your usage statistics will drop. How far? Is it below that magic dropping line? I don’t know but usage won’t grow, and you and I both want usage to grow.
Just to be fair, NLM’s PubMed smart phone app isn’t burning up the 3G networks either. Just today, Wouter Stomp MD and Nick Genes MD, PhD who reviewed the 6 of best PubMed apps for iPhone and iPad for iMedicalApps.com said, “Although Pubmed has a mobile version of its website, it looks outdated and is not the easiest to use.” So just because a library or vendor creates an app or mobile interface doesn’t mean that rest easy. They need to find out how users use it and what other competitors or libraries are doing to improve their product.
Are we starting to feel that we are missing the users? I don’t know, I would guess it depends on your users and your library technology. But I don’t think this mobile web access is a passing fad. I think librarians, libraries, and library resource providers are behind the curve on this.