Developing a Mobile Infrastructure for Libraries: Funding Call

In the next couple of weeks JISC will be issuing a funding call to investigate Developing a Digital Infrastructure for the effective delivery of library content and services to mobile devices.

In what is essentially an experiment I have decided to post the ‘background’ section of the funding call on the blog. I have done this for a number of reasons:

  1. There is a large body of work emerging in this area and while the call will still contain this background text (with possible additions and amendments), this is a way to continue adding examples in a more dynamic and ongoing way.
  2. The post will provide a picture of the current landscape on the interaction between the library and mobile technologies.  This snap shot in time can act as a reference point throughout the programme of work against which the impact of the work can be (potentially) measured.
  3. It provides an opportunity for both interested parties and myself to discuss some of the issues the call refers to and explicitly engages with.  The post will act as both an introduction to the call, an opportunity to plan proposals based on this information, and a chance to inform and contextualise the call.

For more details on the structure of the call and the different strands see the funding roadmap and a presentation given back in March for more details.


In response to the challenges and opportunities that the explosion in both ubiquity and power (both socially and technologically) of mobile devices presents to libraries and information providers in general, JISC has made a number of investments to support UK Higher Education institutions in dealing with this mobile information environment.

In 2004 JISC funded a landscape study exploring the use of mobile and wireless technologies in the post-16 sector.  The study comprised three strands of investigation: current uses of wireless and mobile technologies, potential uses, and strategic implications. Despite a strong focus on mobile learning and teaching, the study identified a number of areas that overlap with issues faced by libraries and information services in the mobile provision of their content and services.  These included: the need for shared standards, support and infrastructure and a better understanding of user requirements and behaviours.

In attempting to gain a better understanding of the way institutions can effectively deliver content and services designed for mobile use a number of JISC studies have recently been produced.  These include:

These studies are complimented by a number of projects undertaken as part of its Organisation and User Innovation programme at JISC, exploring the wider institutional impact of mobile devices for delivering services and resources.  In particular the Erewhon project at the University of Oxford aimed to research and develop methods of accessing University information and services from mobile devices.  Similarly, the MyMobileBristol project, a collaboration between University of Bristol and Bristol City Council, explored the potential of mobile services and real-time information delivery and the impact it has on the communities within Bristol.  Both projects exemplify the potential that the ubiquitous nature of mobile devices has for institutional services and the delivery of resources and information to its constituents.

JISC has also invested in developing a broad mobile infrastructure for teaching, learning and research through a number of its services.  Mimas, at the University of Manchester has for a number of years been developing a mobile infrastructure through projects such as the Mobile Hairdressing Training project.  This took a very popular teaching resource and reconfigured it for delivery to mobile devices, and is part of a wider mobile programme of work at Mimas.  This infrastructural development for mobile learning continues to be at the heart of work that JISC, through its data centres takes forward.
JISC’s long engagement with mobile and wireless technologies has traditionally been focussed on what might be termed m-learning, in contrast to what is often called m-libraries[1].  However, the opportunities for delivering wider institutional services and mobile learning documented above help highlight the possibilities that mobile devices have for both the delivery and reconceptualisation of library services and resources.  This includes the increased capabilities of mobile devices offer the potential for new forms of engagement with student learning, with the library firmly situated as a partner in the teaching and learning process of the institution.

Libraries engagement with mobile devices is, at present, strongly technology led, with a paucity of evidence on the requirements and behaviours of users and their use and expectations of library services and resources accessed via mobile devices.

User expectations are firmly situated within a ‘world of permanent connectivity’[2] where the services and content of the library is expected to conform to these expectations.  Such expectations are driving the investigation of users expectations, motivations and requirements when it comes to their use of mobile devices to access and interact with library services and content.

In particular, a number of libraries and projects have attempted to understand the mobile library needs of users in their work.  Examples include:

  • Mobile Library Survey Report from the UX2 project at Edinburgh University
  • M-Libraries: Information use on the move a report as part of Cambridge University’s Arcadia programme.  As part of the report a short survey was undertaken at both the Open and Cambridge universities about current use of mobile information services.
  • Cambridge University Library Widgets and University of East Anglia’s UEA Wolfie undertook extensive user engagement in developing their library widget software
  • Butters, G., Griffiths, J., and Craven, J., (July 2009). M-Learning Project Report.  Manchester Metropolitan University. Although this was concerned with m-learning, the report is instructive in its interviews with a series of schools to explore current practice and future directions in mobile learning.  A survey that helps inform the current practice and behaviours of those about to enter post-16 education.

Acknowledging the opportunities that mobile access and delivery holds for libraries the Open University have held a number of workshops to explore the impact of mobile technologies on libraries, both their services and the delivery of content.  As well as being heavily involved in the international m-libraries conference these smaller UK based workshops, with members of the library and publisher community, have resulted in a number of challenges being identified, and issues that need to be addressed in order for libraries to fully engage with mobile technologies:

  • Evidence – Develop an evidence base in this emerging area;
  • Appropriate and engaging content – developing content in mobile friendly formats;
  • Technologies – the role of local innovation in developing relevant and timely services and mobile solutions;
  • Collaboration – sharing expertise and experience across the sector to help avoid duplication of effort and maximise resources.

These four challenges are indicative of a service attempting to cope and understand a disruptive technology.  They also help provide context for the focus of this call with its three core strands: Content; Innovation, and; Support (collaboration and evidence).

In light of these developments this programme of work is an attempt to develop an infrastructure to support libraries in their continuing mission to provide users with access to a range of services and content that supports their teaching, learning and research.  By means of the mobile delivery of library services and content programme, the JISC seeks to:

  • Explore the development, licensing, or otherwise of scholarly content that is configured for access and delivery on mobile devices,
  • Realise the innovative potential of mobile devices to help reconceptualise and redefine library services and information delivery and discovery,
  • Build a body of evidence and practice to support libraries in the development of services and content available for users to access via mobile devices.

[1] A definition of m-learning can be found here:  There is no readily available definition of m-library available, so what follows is a definition within the specific context of this call:

M-library refers to those library services, resources and content that is delivered to, or can be accessed by mobile devices.

[2] Dempsey, Lorcan (2009). ‘Always on: Libraries in a world of permanent connectivity’. First Monday, Volume 14, Number 1 – 5 (January).

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