Smartphones, and Tablets, and Users, Oh My!

June 13, 2013

Photo from Pew Internet

Back from vacation–and back in the swing of learning!

Two interesting PEW reports (when are they NOT interesting!) came out in the past few days: a survey of Smartphone Ownership and Tablet Ownership. This got me to thinking about how this has implications for the library.

First, a couple of statistics:

  • 91% of Americans have a cell phone
  • 61% of these have a smartphone
  • Those in the lowest income bracket have only a 43% smartphone adoption rate
  • 34% of Americans own a tablet device (twice as many as a year ago)
  • The highest adoption of tablets falls to the 34-44 year old category at 49%
  • Only 20% of those in the lowest income bracket own a tablet

Harkening back to my post on the DIY generation, I find it helpful to note that the DIYers are among the largest demographic of smartphone users (79% of those between the ages 18-24 have smartphone, only trumped by the 25-34 year old category, with 81%.)  The DIYers (and the later generation) are used to fast-changing technology, and adapting quickly.  Because learning often takes place through making mistakes and trial and error, maybe the DIYers not only don’t WANT to be told, but do not NEED to be guided closely as they are used to finding their own personal “best” way of accomplishing a task. Maybe smartphones and tablets cause this trend.

The results of the PEW Surveys, therefore, bring this back full circle.  These users can carry their phones/devices, and find their information on the go, from anywhere they have a connection.  DIYers and even subsequent generations are less likely to ask for assistance from the library when doing research, and are more likely to turn to these devices to help them.

How is the library impacted by this, technology-wise?

  • DIYers may make heavy use of library smartphone apps if libraries make them aware they exist
  • Mobile interfaces will be more and more important, and expected by library users
  • More opportunity exists for librarians to interact outside of the library’s space, using smartphones or tablets like the library users
  • Hand-held mobile devices will become more and more ubiquitous, and the expectation will be that library’s have seamless resources for these devices


  • Libraries should consider equipping their librarians with the expertise to provide support for those using and adopting these devices
  • Librarians outside of the building with devices, where the users are, at an immediate point of need
  • Libraries should (and do!) build apps specific to their mission and space
  • QR Code promotions could be a practicable way to “pathfind” users to tools or events (but should be used sparingly). One option that has been used is for a library or campus orientation scavenger hunt.
  • Providing an online “mapping” app to assist students/users in navigating your library space can help alleviate library anxiety (something similar to the Windows City Lens)

This Library Journal article by Aaron Schmidt talks about putting the user again front and center–learning about our library community rather than focusing on the technology as a panacea.  I agree with this–we need to KNOW our users and get to the true need, and then use the technologies (smartphone and tablets in particular) to ameliorate the information seeking process.  Let there be ample ability for users to figure things out for themselves, but let there also be places they can easily get the answers or directions they need. And let’s not forget the lower-income bracket, who may not have the same access others have. We can help them too by being out in the community.

As always, the library-world is ever-changing and exciting!


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