The present chapter introduces digital library services’ utilization through handheld devices, such as personal digital assistants (PDAs) and smartphones. It argues that handheld devices proliferation justifies the term digital library in terms of anywhere-anytime access, and retrieval and management of information. Furthermore, these devices constitute powerful information harvesting tools that help users enhance their interaction with information spaces, both of physical and digital form. The chapter presents the services that can be accessed by means of portable devices and analyzes the main sociotechnical issues that arise and influence user interaction. Factors that affect acceptance of these devices are discussed, and future trends are presented to outline the research landscape for the forthcoming years.
The term PDA was coined in 1992 by John Sculley for a handheld device that offered work organizing tools, like a calendar, scheduler, address book, memos, clock, and a calculator. The potential they introduced in information delivery was quickly recognized and soon these devices were utilized, mainly, by health sciences libraries (Jones, Rieger, Treadwell, & Gay, 2000; Rios, 2004; Smith, 2002). Meanwhile, bigger screens were made available and were able to depict colorful graphics. Computing power, memory, and storage capabilities increased, and data input methods, like handwriting and virtual keyboards, were implemented. Audio playback was made available and both size and weight reached the ideal measures. Wireless networks also evolved, making anywhere information delivery a reality. Moreover, smartphones appeared, providing telephony and other communication services like e-mail, three-way communications (conferencing), and Internet access.
Apart from the physical libraries, DL organizations also found the wireless connectivity features quite attractive. Handhelds could be used to access multimedia content on a 24/7 basis. They could also keep notes and other information for reference, or even be used as communication tools. During the last years many researchers have been studying issues that arise by the usage of such devices for information retrieval tasks. In early years of the current decade, several prototypes were implemented in various settings, such as James Madison University (McCabe, 2004), Oulu University, Finland (Aittola, Ryhänen, & Ojala, 2003), and Cornell University (Jones et al., 2000). Students from an informatics class in J.M. University used a PDA to view and edit patient records whereas students in the Oulu and Cornell universities used the PDAs to help them navigate in the university’s library, access the OPAC, locate books of their interest, communicate with other persons on the network (including library personnel), take notes, scan or photograph topics from the books retrieved, and transfer data on a personal storage area. Participants in the studies expressed enthusiasm for the ability to combine mobile information access with other activities such as writing or organizing materials. Map guidance to locate a book was preferred over traditional shelf classification. Even though the service was considered easier to use from a desktop terminal, the usage of a portable device in larger libraries was appreciated. However, as Jones et al. note (2000), “their enthusiasm declined significantly when either technology purchase or student fees where suggested” (p. 98).
Key Terms in this Chapter
Ubiquitous Computing: The idea of embedding computation into the environment by using everyday objects that enable people to interact with information-processing devices more naturally and casually than they currently do. The term was coined by Mark Weiser, chief scientist of Xerox PARC. Other terms include pervasive computing and calm technology.
Smartphone: Also known as hybrid, is any electronic handheld device that integrates the functionality of a mobile phone, personal digital assistant (PDA), or other information appliance. This is often achieved by putting “smart” capabilities, such as PDA functions, into a mobile phone. “Smart” functionality includes any additional interface, including a QWERTY board, a touch screen, or even just secure access to company mail
Mobile Computing: A term to describe a user’s ability to use technology from a nonfixed location, using battery powered, portable computing, and communication devices such as laptops, notebooks, palmtops, smartphones, and PDAs. Computing activity can take place locally, that is, the user can use a device to retrieve some information stored in it, or it can be connected wirelessly to another information/computing system with wireless LAN or wireless WAN technologies.
Human Computer Interaction: The study of the interaction between computers and their users. This interaction occurs at the user interface, which includes both software and hardware, for example, general purpose computer peripherals (i.e., disk drives, CD players, etc.) and large-scale mechanical systems, such as aircraft and power plants.
Usefulness: This is debatable. Some make the distinction between usability and usefulness. Although it is impossible to quantify the usefulness of a system, attempts have been made to measure its attainment in reference to system specifications and the extent of coverage of end users’ tasks supported by the system, but not on end user performance testing. Perceived usefulness expresses people’s intention to use (or not) a new technology to the extent that they believe it will help them perform their job better.
Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs): Handhelds that facilitate tools like a calendar, clock, calculator, address book, memos, and alarms. Newer models support multimedia playback, voice recording, e-book readers, e-mail, and Web access. There are also models that integrate global positioning system (GPS) and global system for mobile communications (GSM) modules for navigation and telephony, respectively.
Wireless Networks: The term refers to communication networks, whose interconnections between nodes are implemented without the use of wires, such as a computer network. Wireless communication networks are generally implemented with some type of remote information transmission system, consisting of base stations and client terminals that use radio waves.
Usability: ISO 9241-11 defines usability as “the extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction in a specified context of use.” Usability of hypertext/Web is commonly measured using established usability dimensions covering these categories of usability defects, such as screen design, terminology and system information, system capabilities and user control, navigation, and completing tasks. Perceived usability expresses people’s belief to the extent that a system is not too hard to use, and the performance benefits are not outweighed by the effort of using it.