ICT and Information

Library Services through Mobile Technology

John Paul Anbu K. (2016)


In the information age, Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) has been the catalyst in driving enormous change and development in academic institutions. Libraries being the sanctum sanctorum of any institution of higher learning, have always grabbed the opportunity to provide unparalleled initiative and support to the growth of academic institutions. If the invention of Gutenberg’s moveable printing press brought changes to the library by bringing more and more books into the realms of libraries, it is the invention of microprocessors that revolutionized a sea change in libraries. Yang and Li (2016) observe that the prosperity of the Internet and access to the World Wide Web (WWW) especially from the late of 1990s have “completely changed ways of accessing, collecting, organizing, and searching multi-format information in library settings”. They further ascertain that “in this modern information society, the academic library has been an indispensable academic department in the promotion of excellence in teaching and learning in the networked academic learning environment” (Yang and Li, 2016, p. 2).

Keeping the importance of ICT in educational institutions in general and academic libraries in particular, the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) in the United States, through its Research Planning and Review Committee, strives to provide guidelines, standards, and frameworks for many library activities which involve ICT. Fallows and Bhanot (2005) in their book “Quality Issues in ICT-based Higher Education” define ICT as “Information and Communications Technologies represent the coming together of Computers (information technology (IT)) with telecommunications technology”. The convergence of these technologies is what has resulted in the enormous influence which the modern libraries face today. ACRL Research Planning and Review Committee in its 2012 review meeting named Information Technology and Mobile Environment as two of the top ten trends that have been affecting academic libraries and higher education (ACRL Research Planning and Review Committee Report, 2012).

Information and Communication Technologies (ICT):

The word Information which was first referred to in the late Middle English was derived from the Latin noun information. The verb informare means “formation of the mind, teaching”. Information is poly-semantic term which can mean many things. The French mathematician Rene Thom’s (1975) assertion that information as semantic chameleon proves very vital as in any context the word information transforms itself into a catalyst and further enumerate its importance. Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines information as “the communication or reception of knowledge or intelligence”. Knowledge which is widely described as the structured and more organized information which has evolved and developed within the cognitive system of an individual has to pass through the stages of information. Thus information plays an important role in the development of human knowledge.

History shows how humankind developed this unique knowledge from simple data culminating them into information then synthesized them into knowledge. To achieve this process there were several Information Technology tools that human beings used. A quick glance at the availability of Information Technology tools and its progression anyone will agree that its history is as old as the history of human beings. Since most of these technologies were aimed at communicating with either other individuals or to preserve and communicate to the future generation these tools formed an integral part of human endeavor.

The available human records can go as far as 3000BC to show that humanity has used ICTs to its full extent depending on the technology which was available during that specific time. Archaeologists and scientists go further beyond that point to provide illustrations and evidences of the use of similar ICT. The pre-mechanical age which is considered from 3000BC until 1400 AD can be called as the first stage where humanity tried to communicate using their most powerful tool known as language. It started with petroglyphs (drawing with pictures) and culminated to Phoenician alphabets.

Caves and rocks became the first libraries where these information technologies were widely used to preserve the information of those years. The development of alphabets raised the stakes high for the invention of new ICT namely, clay tablets, sheepskin, palm leaves, papyrus, paper, quills, pens, and ink. The pre-mechanical age saw the invention of the numbering system around 100 AD from India. The numbering system was perfected after 750 years with the invention of 0 (Zero) which paved way for the binary after almost 1000 years later.

The pre-mechanical age was superseded by the mechanical age which reigned from 1400 AD to 1800 AD. This age produced a number of mechanical devices which were used as ICT. Machines like slide rule (the analogue computer used for multiplying and dividing, Pascaline (mechanical computer) to name a few. One of the biggest drawbacks of this time was the hugeness of these machines to do simple calculations which prevented people from experimenting with further advancements.

The 150 years from 1800AD to 1950 can be called as the age of Electro-mechanical age which saw the advent of telecommunication technologies. The Telegraph machine (1800), Morse code (1835), Telephone (1876) and the Radio (1894) were some of the important ICTs of this era. The first large-scale digital computer Mark 1 was created at this time which weighed around 5 tons. The Electronic Age started with the invention of ENIAC which used vacuum tubes followed by transistors and by integrated circuits and finally the Central Processing unit with a Graphical User Interface.

Parallel to the growth of the machines the allied technologies also grew at the perpendicular level. The storage technology, the telecommunication technology, the internet technology and the portability of these machines all grew together. These new and advanced technologies resulted in an unprecedented change throughout the world. There is no doubt that we are living at a time when communication technologies are at a radically advanced stage and it has been used extensively to disseminate information. The internet technologies and its use in every facet of human life have triggered a sea change in all the other related technologies. The developments in internet technologies and the user-friendly nature of digital content have created new and exciting opportunities in the field of publishing and information world.

ICT and Educational System:

While these advancements have triggered a wave of change and optimism in the entire digital ecosystem, it has also spurred an enormous change in educational institutions. These institutions of higher learning had always spurred the innovation and support and in the invention of newer ideas and with the availability of ICT tools and readily accepted these tools in their institutions. The growth of telecommunication medium is one among the support systems of ICT which has seen a sea change. This growth is ascribed to the desire for users to use a number of different communication mediums to access the internet. From desktop computers, the mode of computing shifted to laptops and further into tablets.

The proliferation of mobile technology especially the 3G hype and the subsequent WiFi innovations have triggered an unprecedented change in the access tools to the internet. Song and Lee (2012) observe that the users have “widely adopted mobile devices, such as smart phones, tablet PCs, and e-readers as their primary tool to access information”. It is also worth noticing that, in this rapidly changing environment, people are becoming “more dependent on wireless communication systems” (Olatokun, 2006,p. 530). This proliferation of technology has captured the imagination of educational institutions and have triggered provided the much-needed support in terms of research and development.

Mobile Communication System:

The growth of mobile communication system is a fascinating tale of man’s quest to conquer the communication medium. The history of telecommunication starts with the innovative smoke, fire and drum sounds of prehistoric time. The basic electrical signaling system was first introduced in 1838 when the first telegraph signals were successfully tested. The seed for the mobile telecommunication was sown in 1973 although the first successful testing of INMARSAT, ship to shore satellite telecommunication is the precursor of all the satellite based communication systems of today. From what used to be cumbersome bulky gadgets of yesteryears, today’s mobile phones are sleek and savvy and come with an array of services which envy a modern desktop. If invention of mobile telephones are considered to be the advancement of human exploration, then the rapid and speedy delivery of the mobile telephone services and fast internet services which deliver such services to the remote destinations are the ultimate imagination of human endeavor.

Mobile Communication System and Academic Institutions:

Scott McQuiggan et. al. (2015) while talking about mobile learning argue that

Mobile learning is the experience and opportunity afforded by the evolution of educational technologies. It is anywhere, anytime learning enabled by instant, on-demand access to a personalized world filled with the tools and resources we prefer for creating our own knowledge, satisfying our curiosities, collaborating with others, and cultivating experiences otherwise unattainable. Mobile learning implies adapting and building upon the latest advances in mobile technology, redefining the responsibilities of teachers and students, and blurring the lines between formal and informal learning. (McQuiggan et. al., 2015, p.8).

The concept of learning has been redefined because of these observations which has absolved all the technological advancements into the realm of learning.

With the fascinating growth of the mobile communication system it is worth noting the growth of its user base especially amongst the academic community. Olatokun observes that “Mobile phones have become an inseparable part of everyday life” (Olatokun, 2006,p.530). The ECAR study conducted by EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research on undergraduate students and information Technology sheds lot of light into the mindset of the undergraduate students especially on their perceived use of mobile phones. According to that study close to 76.7% of undergraduate students use smartphones for not only communication but also for accessing information (EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research, 2009).Christine Wilcox observes that “smartphones help turn teenagers into technologically savvy adults who have a better chance of becoming leaders and innovators in their fields”. (Wilcox, 2015, p. 8).

It’s significant to note the study conducted by Yoo-Seong Song and Jong-Moon Lee’s in 2012 on mobile device ownership among international business students, which clearly shows that close to 82% students owned Smartphones and use them to access information. (Song and Lee, 2012). It is mainly because the Smartphones have been designed to allow users to browse the web with ease irrespective of the design of the websites. As quoted by Jon Henley of Amanda Lenhart, a specialist in teens and technology at the Pew Research Center, “Mobile phones and social networking sites make the things teens have always done— defining their own identity, establishing themselves as independent of their parents, looking cool, impressing members of the opposite sex—a whole lot easier.” (Henley, 2010).

Mobile devices have become more attractive mainly because of the availability of e-commerce related applications and the ease with which one can access desired information from anywhere anytime. The real impetus for the mobile devices started with the arrival of Web 2.0 applications especially the active participation of the users towards the web which has pushed the growth of mobile devices in academic institutions. When we look at the different gadgets used around us it’s obvious to note most of them are wireless. “Everywhere we go we cannot help but notice the number of mobile devices being used; cell phones, iPods, iPads, android devices, MP3 players, GPS systems, blackberries and even mini-laptops” (Jacobs, 2009, p.288). There is no wonder that libraries which play an integral part in today’s information society also strive to make use of this opportunity by exploiting the advantages of the technology and provide innovative services to its patrons. Libraries worldwide are quickly optimizing this potentiality to provide better services to their patrons.

Mobile Communication System and Libraries:

Scott McQuiggan et. al. (2015) points out that the “on-demand, perpetual connectivity of mobile devices changes the way we communicate with one another, gather and store data, and indulge our curiosity—all of which have great implications for education. Mobile devices enable users not only to be constantly connected to their data and resources, but also always to be connected to one another” (McQuiggan et. al., 2015, p.50). Another important factor in the influence of mobile technology in educational institutions are that the convergence of teachers, students, classrooms, textbooks and information sources through a single mode of access which has provided an unenviable power in learning. This is an important context in the educational institutions since libraries are one such place which connect students, teachers as well as the wealth of information.

With the rapidly changing ICT environment and with swift advancements in the mobile technologies and its applications throughout the world, the libraries and its services were left with no other choice than to join the mobile bandwagon to realign their strategies and services to suit the mobile users who are “connected to educational opportunities from virtually anywhere, making almost every situation a potential learning environment” (McQuiggan et. al., 2015, p.50). With more and more e-commerce and entertainment sectors are gearing-up for the mobile revolution, it is imperative that the libraries also take stock of the opportunities these mobile services offer to libraries and the challenges lay ahead in providing mobile services to its patrons.

The hard truth in libraries is that while the innovations of mobile technology have captured the imagination of e-commerce and the entire learning eco-system it has not dramatically caught-up with the libraries. It’s worth observing that libraries are just starting to make their first step into the world of mobile learning especially learning through mobile phones (Walsh, 2009). In the mobile app market place the libraries have not started making any significant inroads. Scott LaCounte observes that with computers and internet facilities libraries had the upper hand and provided state of art services to their clients but with regards to mobile applications out of the hundreds of thousands of mobile applications available for phones, the amount of apps that librarians have built for libraries can be counted on one hand! (LaCounte, 2012).

Theoretically while all the operations in the library can be transferred into mobile based applications, the ignition needed to spark that revolution is still missing. There is no doubt that the libraries are slowly moving towards offering mobile based applications but the concentration seems to be on providing some specific or isolated part of the library service as mobile application. Jason Griffey observes that “libraries over the past five years, focused heavily on providing digital services, especially reference services, via mobile channels”(Griffey, 2010). The focus of libraries with regards to mobile technology seems to be the ready reference queries. This concept is slowly changing with the advent of smartphones. Smartphones have redefined the mobile communication paradigm and has reinvented the mobile computing phenomena. It is predicted that the next five years will be an explosion of fully featured smartphones.

Similar to the library automation trend during the early nineties, the commercial library system vendors have once again started taking the initiative to drive the mobile based library application market. It is worth noting that most of the Integrated Library Systems (ILS) have mobile component for their OPACs. Some ILS provide other allied mobile services also, especially alert systems using Short Message Services (SMS) but most of them remain as add-on applications. Some libraries use SMS to interact with members and utilize to sending alerts and notifications as a general value added service.

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