It used to be easy. A mobile library was a lorry or van that came by occasionally. The lorry had a selection of books on board together with a librarian and the patron could borrow and return books. As a child I remember the excitement of climbing into the back of the pantechnicon and there were all these books.
Mobile devices changed this. Expensive, highly customised, handhelds became available. A librarian could move about and issue and return books. The machine could also be used to do inventories, locate wrongly shelved books and a whole range of other library things. The first time I saw a library RFID handheld I was amazed and my immediate reaction was ‘set the phasers on stun’. Ironically other industries had used much smaller machines, often because libraries have been very early adopters of RFID technology.
Meanwhile the internet was marching on and phones and the like started to accumulate browsers and other useful things. For a while WAP and the sheer difficulty of installing 3rd party software kept these machines at bay. Once normal browsers arrived on phones people started to use their phone for OPAC use – made much easier as mobile friendly OPACs became available.
Then the smart phones started to happen. As well as browsers these machines made it easy to build and deploy ‘apps’. For a while apps and iPhones were the combination to target and it was easy. Useful apps could be built which people could easily use. Civica, for example, rolled out iSpydus and Sorcer Mobile for librarians and patrons respectively. These apps do most of what the large handheld device does, but are much smaller, lighter and cheaper and with their inbuilt cameras work just fine with bar codes. I like the idea of providing the borrower the tools to do their own issuing on their own self service device they happen to be carrying around with them.
Now it was easy for a mobile library to be anywhere there is network coverage – WiFi or 3G.
More to follow