Sarah Schindeler
Publication date


The pervasiveness of sophisticated mobile devices by our users has given rise to a movement towards mobile delivery of library services. Each week Australian libraries are enabling mobile modules in Library Management Systems. Some are adopting more advanced native apps that offer users browsability, web 2.0 features, digital library cards and other utility functions.

In 2011 the National Library of Australia released a mobile catalogue app and a mobile audio tour for the Treasures Gallery, hinting at our intention to engage in this area. These were stand-alone initiatives that gave rise to a planning project aimed at scoping the Library‟s strategic directions in relation to mobile service delivery.


The Library took a multifaceted approach to developing a Mobile Strategy, drawing upon:

  • Market research which focused on documenting key issues, innovation and emerging trends within the cultural sector and beyond;
  • Interviews with staff intended to identify ideas and challenges as well as technical specifications and corporate needs;
  • An online survey of public users to capture a snapshot of user desires, concerns and values in relation to mobile service delivery; and
  • Lessons learned from the recently completed mobile catalogue project.


In November 2011 the Mobile Strategy was approved. It is a piece of work that is aspirational and a guide to the strategic introduction of mobile services. At the same time it is grounded with practical, short-term actions in the areas of development, infrastructure, knowledge building and governance.


There is a growing and accepted culture of experimentation with mobile services that reflects this rapidly changing technology. Embracing this innovative spirit can only be a good thing for libraries but must be guided by a defined strategy. Informed by user feedback and actual build projects, the National Library has a vision, strategic goals and defined tactics to guide its mobile services.

The Context

The mobile Internet is here

The world's first Internet-enabled mobile phone (smartphone) was the IBM Simon Personal Communicator. It was launched in the United States in 1993 and included a touch screen and allowed users to send faxes and write memos. Today a reported 79% of mobiles shipped to Australia are smartphones (Novosel, 2011). Smartphones are becoming a pervasive technology, not only in terms of the number of people who own them but also in terms of the relationship people have with their devices. The overwhelming behavioural evidence suggests that users are demonstrating an increasing reliance on mobile devices for information seeking, for more meaningful and significant purposes. A recent study by Google reveals that more than half of American smartphone owners use their phones to assist with information seeking, including for the purposes of looking up information for work, for study or for health related reasons (Google, 2011).

Another revealing trend is the rise of 'nomophobia', which is the fear of being out of mobile phone contact. In February 2012, a UK study found that two out of three surveyed members of the British public suffers from nomophobia. 41% of the people interviewed own two phones or more in an effort to stay connected (Securenvoy, 2012). The prevalence of nomophobia within Australia isn‟t known but the population does have the second highest smartphone penetration in the world (Leeder, 2012). In 2011-12 Australians own an average of 1.3 mobile phones, meaning that most individuals will have multiple SIM cards and wireless broadband data cards (Jeremiah, 2011). Some of these people are believed to have acquired additional cards to cover geographical areas not well serviced by their existing mobile carriers (Yee, 2012).

All of these behaviours imply an unprecedented human dependence on mobile technology, to the point at which mobile has fallen into the background as a tool that users take completely for granted. The reality of this environment is that community expectations have also changed and users demand services that are integrated and consistent with the wider mobile experience. Service providers who do not meet the rising standard of mobile access risk becoming increasingly marginalised and having their services progressively under-utilised.

The new kind of mobile library

In 2011 Annie Yee completed a study for the Council of Australian University Librarians (CAUL) examining the uptake of mobile technologies by academic libraries. This work explores the use of mobile in providing service information, delivering user instruction, for tours and for bookings, providing real-time reference services and delivering mobilised content (Yee, 2012).

It confirmed that Australian libraries are developing a combination of mobile websites and native applications (apps), occasionally both, often using mobile websites to display library information and native apps for service delivery (catalogue services). The trend in both cases appears to be towards using third-party products – either modules attached to existing library management systems (LMS) or standalone applications that interface with the library LMS.

Within the library sector the focus has been on catalogue access, mobile tours, SMS services, social media and mobile-optimised collection content in the form of podcasts, vodcasts, ebooks and audiobooks. However, there are also examples of mobile innovation, such as the immersive Ludwig II app by the Bavarian State Library, which includes augmented reality features like 3D pattern recognition so that historical digital objects appear on the mobile screen, triggered by the physical location of the user. This same technology was adopted by the conveners of the 5th Spanish Conference on Public Libraries Layer, who
released a mobile app which used augmented reality features to provide information about various locations in and around the conference.
It is also important to recognise that in many instances, content and services are being generated for Library users by publishers without intervention or advocacy by library professionals. This includes a number of initiatives from stalwarts of the library field, such as EBSCOhost, Factiva, JSTOR, Sage, LexisNexis, WestLaw and Web of Science, in addition to referencing tools such as Refworks.


On the whole, libraries are engaging with mobile services, though their motivations for doing so are almost as diverse as the services themselves.

Customer demand

Research group Nielsen reported that in November 2011 more than 16 million Australians used their mobile devices to access the Internet, with each person visiting an average of 3000 web pages (Nielsen, 2011). Most of these people were over the age of 35, dispelling the myth that the mobile web is used primarily by younger generations. This activity persists in spite of the lack of mobile-optimised content, with upwards of 70% of companies reporting that they do not have a mobile website (Econsultancy, 2011). Every library that tracks the access to their website is likely to find a small but growing percentage of visitors that use mobile devices to access their service, regardless of whether they are mobile-friendly.

Following the trend

When the National Library first completed an environmental scan of Australian libraries in 2010, it found a small number of institutions „experimenting‟ with mobile services, predominantly with SMS notifications. Two years on, innumerable Australian libraries have mobilised their websites, some continuing to use third-party products – either modules attached to existing LMS (e.g. AirPac and Serials Solutions) or standalone applications that interface with the library LMS (Boopsie, LibraryAnywhere, Owl iLibrary, Bibliocommons).

To meet a particular need

Some tasks and types of information are a natural fit for mobile delivery. One good example is a mobile application that allows users to search for an available computer within a busy library. The context is ideal because it is a situation in which the user does not have access to a desktop and within the context of a large campus with multiple computer labs, it can save the user time and disappointment. This is one mobile service which has been widely adopted by libraries in Australia, for example by Curtin University, Victoria University, the University of Queensland, and the University of South Australia.

Knowledge-building and upskilling

While libraries are thinking more about mobile delivery, most have taken a very casual approach to upskilling staff to work in this area (Yee, 2012). In most instances the kind of specialised training that applies the knowledge and understanding of mobile technologies to the library context, just isn‟t available. Subsequently library management has taken an approach of „learning by doing‟ and learning through playing and experimentation, rather than formal instruction.

Reputation and relevance

There is a declining demand for access to traditional collection material and an increasing demand for digital products (Duncan, 2010; Rojeski, 2012). At the same time, libraries face increased competition from online alternatives such as search engines, subscription and pay-on-demand electronic resources, and file-sharing communities. For many libraries extending online service delivery to mobile is one of the most affordable means by which to demonstrate a willingness to grow and change along with their community.

Mobile at the National Library

State of play

In 2010 the National Library undertook an informal review of current practice in "hand-held" service provision. The focus was on National and State Libraries Australasia (NSLA) libraries, as well as other Australian service environments and cultural institutions and examples of innovative practice from around the world. This work coincided with a range of mobile activities, such as work on a mobile-optimised catalogue interface, highlighting mobile content with the electronic resources (eResources) collection, the release of iTunes subscriptions for podcasts, and development of a "mobile content tour" for the Treasures Gallery.

At the same time, visitor statistics for the main National Library website show that there is a growing segment of the population which continues to access services from mobile devices. In the year leading up to March 2012, there were more than 80,000 mobile visits to the Library‟s website, with each visitor spending on average nearly two minutes on the site and visiting at least two pages. Visitors overwhelmingly use Apple (iOS) devices, in particular:

  • iPad
    In 2012 the iPad surpassed the iPhone and is the most common mobile device used to access the National Library website. Visits from iPads comprise nearly 44% of all visits from mobile devices.
  • iPhone
    The iPhone is the second most-used device to visit the website – falling to 22% of usage from previous highs of 40-45%. As a standalone device the iPod Touch represents an additional 3% of usage.
  • Android
    Collectively, the different mobile devices using the Android operating system are the third most common devices accessing the catalogue (13%) but this percentage may be underestimated as a result of a significant number of devices that aren‟t identifiable.

There are additional, more lateral, connections to mobile services to be found in other library activities. For example, the release of National Library data sets for Libraryhack, the 2011 mashup and apps competition has the potential to be accessed and used for mobile development by members of the public (National and State Libraries Australasia, 2011). Similarly, the recent release of an Application Programming Interface (API) for the Trove service gives the public access to its data to use and reuse as needed.

Why we need a strategy

Mobile activity at the National Library was for the most part instigated with the intention of fulfilling specific needs through the extension or adaption of existing services. As stand-alone projects, overall they have achieved a gratifying level of success. For example, the early response to the release of a mobile catalogue app has been positive, with more than 6000 downloads in the first five months of release. The app has been successfully used by staff to assist with acquisitions trips, and internal reports have shown that users are actively using it to monitor the status of the collection items they have requested. At the same time the mobile tour apps developed for the Treasures exhibition have been downloaded 600 times since the launch in October 2011. Mobile devices that are pre-loaded with the tour app have been lent out to roughly 1500 visitors.

The Library can evaluate the effectiveness of each project undertaken and learn from the experience in isolation. However, the risk of this project-based and piecemeal approach is that valuable resources are increasingly expended without addressing the issues that surround balancing mobile delivery with traditional delivery and the role of mobile in the broader context of library services.

To effectively address user demand and efficiently prioritise the resourcing of mobile activity the Library recognised the need to develop a comprehensive mobile strategy (National Library of Australia, 2011a).

How we built a strategy

The Library took a multifaceted approach to developing its Mobile Strategy, drawing upon market research, public survey, internal consultation with staff, and the lessons learned from previous project work.

Part I : Market research

The first piece of work informing the Mobile Strategy was a brief investigation of the mobile market in Australia and correlations with National Library service users. It began with a literature review that focused on industry reports; anecdotal evidence from blogs and other online forums; as well as professional literature.

One important consideration identified during this process was that Internet-enabled mobiles have added a new dimension to the so-called "digital divide", creating a barrier to online content for the growing number of users who rely exclusively on them for Internet access. This is especially true of the developing world, where economic circumstances and the lack of network infrastructure have meant that for the majority of the population smart phones are their only means of access to the Internet (mobiThinking, 2010). This is also true of developed countries such as the UK and the US, where there remains a growing segment of the population for whom traditional desktop computing is not affordable, making them entirely reliant upon budget smartphones for Internet access.

 Map of world with Mobile-only internet users displayed

Source data for infographic: (2010, 2011)

This observation resonated strongly with National Library staff and highlighted the need to develop a strategy that moved beyond the development of add-on delivery points for user-convenience, and towards facilitating equal access to Library resources for everyone.

Changes in information seeking behaviours also influenced the Strategy; in particular the increasing trend which suggests that information seeking with a mobile device does not mean “on-the-go”. The vast majority (90%) use it at home where they are also likely to have desktop access to the Internet (Google, 2011). Within the US, as many as 80% of people multitask on a mobile device while watching TV, 38% search for related content and 96% are communicating by email, text or social media.

The implication of this trend is that mobile access is not just about information seeking, it is about engaging with content, conveniently, informally and on demand. There are synergies to be found in the work that libraries are undertaking with mobile delivery and efforts to build a social media presence. For the National Library Mobile Strategy, this translates into using mobile for many purposes, including facilitating connections, conversation and overall engagement with national collection material.

Part II : Public survey

In June 2011 the National Library undertook an online survey of public users in order to capture a snapshot of user desires, concerns and values in relation to mobile service delivery (National Library of Australia, 2011b). The survey was promoted exclusively through online channels: the Library website, social media, e-newsletter and LIS e-lists, with a randomly drawn prize (iPod Touch) used as an incentive for participation. The Library received more than 1,700 responses.

The overwhelming majority of respondents (91%) were in favour of mobile service delivery, which included support from a small number of people who did not yet own a smartphone. Moreover, several themes emerged from the open feedback provided by users:

  • Better service
    Users frequently suggested that the best use of mobile technology for the Library would be as a means to improve the user experience with existing services, in particular Trove and the catalogue.
  • The "cool" factor
    In the mobile environment packaging is the key to making users want to have the app and want to show it to other people. This was often reflected in the language people used to describe what they wanted: cool features, interfaces that "look good" and that "make you want to use it".
  • The platform wars
    Survey participants were given the opportunity to nominate the mobile devices that they owned, yet most used the numerous open feedback opportunities to advocate for specific platforms – in particular Android, iPad, ebook readers and mobile websites. This feedback draws attention to growing concerns around accessibility and brand loyalty in a mobile context.
  • Social networks
    Nearly 100 survey respondents overtly requested mobile tools to connect with new communities. This feedback was somewhat at odds with the overall response to the development proposition „Ways to express myself and share info with friends‟, which was only supported by 22% of participants.
  • Entertainment
    Games as a development proposition for the library were overwhelmingly unpopular (84% not in favour). However, within the free text feedback one of the emerging themes was that of “fun”, “entertaining” or “amusing”. The implication appears to be that our users want something that is enjoyable yet tied to the traditional values of library service - educational, research and information-oriented and studious.

National Library of Australia’s mobile services survey – summary of findings

Source data: National Library of Australia (2011)

Part III : Staff consultation

Staff from different areas within the National Library were interviewed to identify ideas, challenges, technical specifications and corporate needs. This feedback informed the Strategy in both general and specific ways. Many initiatives suggested by staff were incorporated into the Strategy as priority actions for the next three years. The consultation process provided other insights. Most importantly, it highlighted the need to focus on upskilling of staff.

The advantages of upskilling staff are two-fold: firstly, staff who understand mobile technologies are better equipped to support and engage with the public; and secondly, it will enable them to drive new initiatives by envisaging ways to use mobile technology, enhance the Library‟s organisational capabilities and generate cost savings through collaborative efforts. As a direct result of the consultation process, knowledge building activities became the cornerstone of the strategy, including a number of short-term priority actions:

  • Investigate staff training and awareness raising opportunities (enterprise usage and familiarisation) for delivery in 2012.
  • Create a repository of mobile project resources, open to all staff involved with mobile service delivery, whether for enterprise purposes or service delivery.
  • Work to remove barriers to staff engagement and adoption of mobile technologies, for example, by investigating the consequences of iTunes becoming part of the Library Standard Operating System for staff computers.

Part IV : Lessons learned

Within the cultural sector mobile service delivery for the most part is new and largely untested. It is clear that the Library will need to be open to staff exploration in this space, but this exploration must be tempered by evidence-based methodology, a focus on user needs and behaviours, employing this knowledge to shape service development, and objectively evaluating the success of activity. At the conclusion of every mobile initiative, the National Library documents problems, solutions and general lessons learned.

The mobile catalogue project was a source of some very valuable lessons. The user survey that the National Library conducted overwhelmingly suggested that the mobile service users most wanted was a mobile catalogue. User testing of services in development served to emphasise the reality that what most users really wanted was:

  • Onsite: a mechanism to alert them to the delivery of items they requested.
  • Offsite: direct access to digitised content in the catalogue.

Much of the work on mobile services being undertaken by libraries includes an inherent assumption that users want a mobilised equivalent of core services. Within the mobile context users are more likely to use services that fulfil a specific need with a defined function. How well libraries are able to successfully identify these needs will depend on their relationship with their user communities and their willingness and ability to be inventive.

The Strategy

The National Library completed its first Mobile Strategy in late 2011 and it is publicly available on the Library‟s website. More than anything, the Strategy has given us the space to articulate the issues that surround mobile access and place the work that we are doing within a context of the Library's broader strategic directions. The aim of the National Library's Mobile Strategy in the simplest terms is to ensure equal access to our resources and services for all Australians.

The Strategy identifies specific goals that focus on collection access, staff development, cross-over with information literacy programs, branding and communications work and an evidence-based approach to service development and delivery. These goals have been grounded with a raft of specific and measurable activities which the Library is pursuing. Knowledge building activities are currently at the forefront, as the Library strives to build, consolidate and share expertise. Development work is challenging and on-going. The most recent examples include the Android version of the mobile catalogue which was released in May 2012 and the ongoing mobilisation of the Library's main website. Infrastructure will no
doubt be the most costly and protracted work to be undertaken. Over the next three to four years the Library‟s major focus will be on the Digital Library Infrastructure Replacement (DLIR) Project which aims to increase the Library's capacity to collect digital content and develop more robust tools for importing, managing and preserving such content. This will include requisite support for different forms of mobile content.


It is often challenging to find the space to plan and think reflectively about new technologies but they are rarely as potentially game-changing as mobile. The Library‟s human investment in this area is a reflection of both its perceived importance and the complexity of the issues that surround it.

At this point the Strategy itself is simply too new to point to specific outcomes but it has forced us to look holistically at the activity we're undertaking and develop a framework which will allow us to formally evaluate the effectiveness of the work we are doing. The ability to measure the success of the Strategy is important. There is a growing and accepted culture of experimentation with mobile services that reflects the rapidly changing technology. Embracing this innovative spirit can only be a good thing for libraries but there needs to be defined and measurable goals in order to assess the work and learn from our experience.

Informed by user feedback and actual build projects, the National Library has a vision for mobile. Other libraries will have different visions that reflect their own priorities, circumstances and the needs of their communities. Each in its own way must tackle the challenges around the incredible rate at which people are adopting these technologies and adapting their behaviours in response to the conveniences that they afford. The National Library hopes that sharing its Mobile Strategy will promote discussion about these challenges and prompt an exploration of wider applications of the Strategy may have within the information sector.


Duncan, R. (2010). Ebooks and Beyond: The Challenge for Public Libraries. Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services, 23(2), pp44-55.

Econsultancy. (2011). Conversion Rate Optimization Report.

Google. (2011). The Mobile Movement report.

Novosel, M. (2011). IDC telecommunications : Australian Quarterly Mobile Device 2011–2015 Forecast and Analysis.

Jeremiah, R. (2011). IBISWorld Industry Report : Mobile telecommunications carriers in Australia.

Leeder, N. (2012). Challenges in 2012: Nick Leeder, MD, Google Australia and New Zealand.

mobiThinking. (2010). Global mobile statistics 2011.

National and State Libraries Australasia. (2011). Libraryhack.

National Library of Australia. (2011a). Mobile Strategy. Canberra, ACT : National Library of Australia.

National Library of Australia. (2011b). Mobile Services Survey: summary findings.

Nielsen. (2011). Australian Online Consumer Report 2010/2011. March 9 2011.

On Device Research. (2011). Will the PC cease to exist as the world’s developing markets turn mobile only?

Rojeski, M. D. (2012). User perceptions of ebooks versus print books for class reserves in an academic library. Reference Services Review, 40(2).

Securenvoy. (2012). 66% of the population suffer from Nomophobia the fear of being without their phone.

Yee, A. (2012). Mobile technology: academic libraries in Australia and beyond, Paper presented at VALA.