Some say that IM is on the verge of extinction and that forging into such territory for virtual reference so late in the game is a waste of a library’s energy. You can surely count me as one of those who agrees with that statement. I predict, as do many others, that virtual reference needs to fit in users’ pockets – in their cell phone.
We need to look at the trends happening now (according to PEW, 2006):
-47% can’t live without their cell phones
-35% use SMS and 13% would like it added to their features
The preceding stats were from the general respondents. Look at what the younger population (18-29) has to say:
-65% use their cells for SMS
-36% want their IMs to be forwarded to their cell
-40% would give up their landline completely for a cell (Note: I’ve done this already)
-56% want access to mobile maps and directions (could we include this into a broader grouping such as “want for general information?”)
Some of us look at our phones and say “jeez, it’s just a phone.” I personally don’t do text messaging because it hasn’t become a part of my communication habits (as an aside, my director jokingly put that I must be “old” seeing that I usually fit in with the tech habits of digital natives). Others see the phone as something greater than what Alexander Bell once did. Obviously, the PEW stats indicate such – the phone is more than a phone – and I’d venture to guess that those stats have risen dramatically over the past two years.
Let’s not stop here, shall we? These are statistical trends, but there other trends, observational trends, that we simply can’t ignore.
Walk into your local Verizon wireless store or AT&T and look at what they offer. More and more these big name cellular companies are introducing Smart Phones (phones with applications, advanced hardware, WiFi access, cameras, and more). These are what’s wanted and what’s needed (by some). Take a look at what the Mobile World Congress introduced this week. More Smart Phones. More technology. More features.
It’s safe to say that Apple knew this a year ago. So what did Apple do even though they knew cell phone users wanted more features (applications specifically)? Apple basically said “you don’t need more applications than what we give you – just be happy.” The couldn’t have been further from the truth. No one was angered more than the high tech iPhone users when they were limited by Apple to its default application settings. These high-end users wanted a software developers kit (SDK) to create more applications and they wanted it that instant. Apple is the whipping boy here – other phone companies have gotten the same treatment.
Finally, Apple was forced to see the light and said “fine, go build your applications – sheesh.”
Guess what. Over 70 applications that provide information services have been created. Nearly 900 total applications have been developed across all categories. Is your library one of them?
We can’t deny the trends. But we can and should adapt our virtual reference services to forge into the cell phone world. Adapt SMS reference, create mobile applications to search the OPAC and federated search tools, and – the biggest one of all – develop your website so it’s viewable on a cell phone or other mobile device.
I’d bet my MacBook Pro that this is the future of virtual reference (and that’s saying something!).
TTW Contributor – Kyle Jones