transplanted goose

tech Talk, v1n5

They're popping up everywhere. The University of South Dakota gave one to every first-year undergraduate, law, and medical student this fall. I've been using one for about 18 months (and it's a good thing, or I'd miss a lot more meetings and appointments than I do). Mark, a colleague, has used his to read an entire book - Mike Resnick's Soothsayer - during ALA Midwinter last January, and recently began using it to download those all-important sports scores. And another colleague downloads web sites on hers so she can read Salon and get access to movie listings on the go.

I'm speaking, of course, of personal digital assistants, or PDAs, just one of a class of wireless or semi-wireless handheld devices that have the potential to deliver buttloads of information whenever and wherever we might desire it.

PalmPilots, Handspring Visors, and others are showing up in meetings, at conferences, in the classroom, and elsewhere. The University of Georgia provides a Palm-friendly version of its news releases. Third-year medical students at the University of North Dakota use PDAs during their visits to medical clinics. I rely heavily on mine to remind me when I need to be somewhere, tell me the time (I don't wear a watch), and, when I remember to download it, keep me up to date on Canadian news (in both English and French, which, interestingly enough, are different). And while I haven't tried it yet, I imagine I could even take NewBreed Librarian on the road with me if I wanted to.

My colleague, Mark, thinks we should mount a PalmPilot at the reference desk and allow folks to beam our guides, maps, and self-guided tour into their own PDAs. The only limitation at this point is incompatibility between the infrared ports and software used on various devices. (Last time I tried, the Handspring Visor, which uses the Palm software, couldn't beam data from my Palm.)

The Arizona Health Sciences Library provides tables of contents formatted for PDAs. And a web search shows several health sciences libraries that are supporting the use of PDAs by medical students engaged in clinical practice.

Wouldn't it be really great if we could convince vendors to start making their products - integrated library systems, indexes and other databases, and more - compatible with PDAs? (Some vendors, such as Ovid, already provide some support.) Patrons could link up through a wireless network and download search results directly to a PDA. Then they could link to a GIS or global positioning system to locate certain resources within the library.

There are probably internal routines that could also benefit from the use of PDAs - inventory and usage counts where the data is transmitted to the integrated library system as soon as it's scanned in, and feedback on the success or failure is available immediately. Or cataloging, serials check-ins, ordering and receiving that can be done anywhere, anytime.

Just think of how many places the library would be popping up.

Related Links:
How Stuff Works: Wireless Networking
AvantGo and Vindigo
Mobile Devices Will Soon Be Useful [Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox]
PDAGeek and PDA Buzz

Published in NewBreed Librarian, volume 1, number 5, October 2001 - archived at

(web links have been updated where applicable; expired web links are shown in bold)

© 2001, colleen bell about / words