Dan Overfield, Business Librarian at Villanova University, told us about a pilot project in which 3 librarians traded their office phones for BlackBerry mobile devices.
ACRLog – How did this pilot project come about?
Overfield â€“ The primary reason was that we employ a satellite research office model where subject librarians, in this case in business and the sciences, operate from the library as well in various buildings across campus. Our remote locations, combined with our other obligations, made communication difficult.
ACRLog – Do you know of any other libraries using BlackBerries?
Overfield â€“ I am not aware of specific cases that feature the dedicated use of mobile technology by academic librarians, though I have heard discussions about text reference via cell phone. I am certain that others must, or soon will, be following the same model. Our research support team shares a cell phone but it is only used whenever someone is both â€œon callâ€ for research support backup and simultaneously not able to remain in their offices.
ACRLog – What were some of the reservations people had?
Overfield â€“ One clear factor was cost and that limited us to three devices in the pilot. At this moment I have asked our telecommunications office to compare the annual costs of the BlackBerry and the desk phone because our wholesale adaptation of this idea will need to consider the bottom line as well as other factors. The other concern was that the participants would find themselves receiving and answering calls and emails all night, everynight, over holidays, and on vacation. I am also personally concerned with the possibility of losing the device. Desk phones are low risk and it is very difficult to misplace one.
ACRLog – Well, what about answering questions at all times of the day and night?
Overfield â€“ The BlackBerry allows me to easily keep up with patrons. When I am unable or unwilling to make replies I simply leave them for my next opportunity. Everyone wants to be as available to students as possible, and the blackberry does accomplish this very well. The main thing is that it is very simple to read and reply to email, even at odd hours, because you can check your messages by pressing a single button. Laptops require an internet connection, a power supply, passwords, and time to load the applications. I have installed del.icio.us onto the BlackBerry and it is quite painless to cut and paste links into emails to students. Two of us in the pilot commute to campus using public transportation and we are normally able to read and respond to emails before we arrive at work.
ACRLog – What are the benefits of using a BlackBerry?
Overfield â€“ Students, faculty, and colleagues can reach me at one telephone number, or via email, at any time, regardless of which building I am in, or whether or not I am even on campus. With emerging technology like Twitter I can make updates to my websites by simply texting them to my account. Students can also subscribe to â€œfollowâ€ my updates via text or email, so with the blackberry there is the potential to communicate with patrons without anyone having to be at a desk or in front of a computer.
I have dramatically reduced my response time to student questions. In cases were I cannot reply in an appropriately complete manner I am, at least, able to forward the email to someone who may be on campus or inside the library. My entire address book is loaded in the device so it is easy to reach any of my colleagues at any time. Again, response time is something we are very pleased with, and students have frequently been impressed with our shortened response times this semester.
ACRLog – The drawbacks?
Overfield â€“ It is first and foremost a new technology for my colleagues and I, and we have had to spend ample time learning to use the device efficiently. I was confident with the device after a few weeks though I am still learning tricks after several months.
It is also very hard to type using the BlackBerry. Stated simply, the keys are small and our thumbs are large. The other significant draw back is that many websites are not optimized for mobile viewing. I have noticed that some academic libraries have developed a mobile version of their sites, but this adaptation ends when a user follows a link to a different website or database. The web browsing capability of the iPhone seems like it would be much better, and my hope is that other devices will soon catch up.
ACRLog – What’s the next step?
Our panel will meet to discuss our individual experiences using the device. We plan to review all of the pros and cons and will then report our findings back to our colleagues. At that point, if our experience has proven to be positive, we will conduct a cost benefit analysis to see whether or not the mobile phone, with its many abilities, is a viable alternative to sitting at oneâ€™s desk, next to oneâ€™s phone, in case it should ring.
It should be noted that our project would not have been possible without the endorsement of Joseph Lucia, University Librarian, and the participation and efforts of Linda Hauck, Research Support Librarian, and Alfred Fry, our Science Librarian.