The Article Blog

Mobile document delivery: helpful or hype?

Posted by Ian Palmer on Wed, Jan 02, 2013 @ 03:29 PM

mobile document delivery libraryAs a global document delivery and medical reprints supplier, we’ve heard a lot of buzz about mobile apps for the library world.  While some organizations are pushing mobile to the limit, we at Reprints Desk believe that much of the industry buzz seems to be supplier driven at this juncture.

Do YOU, scientists or engineers, and others really want to order and read scientific, technical and medical papers anywhere at any time?  Is this something you really wonder about or receive questions about on a frequent basis?

Our experience and the “real world” primary research that we’ve conducted certainly hasn’t supported that.  Just a few of the most readily available pieces of supporting evidence for this assessment include:

  • Renew Training’s 2012 report ‘Readers Discover Content in Scholarly Journals’ reported a nearly 4:1 difference in respondents’ use of a desktop or laptop computer compared to a tablet computer or phone. Related findings included the fact that less than 10% of respondents use smartphone apps to view latest journal issues, search journal content, read content offline, or browse journal articles.
  • A FreePint 2011 presentation ‘The Enterprise Opportunity for Mobile Content’ highlighted their surprise findings on mobility in the workflow through a research respondent quote that stated “Generally our mobile workers don’t want to do their own searches. They want to send the request to a deskbound researcher and have the specific results emailed to them.”
  • Reprints Desk’s own 2012 posting on The Scientific Journal Club group on LinkedIn for which respondents tallied a 0% preference for mobile phones as a preferred reading device for scientific papers and only a 9% preference for a tablet computer. This was compared to the 59% preference for good old fashioned paper copies and 30% for desktop or laptop computers, which we learned was driven by the ability to search PDFs for critical information.
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  • Primary research in the form of focus groups that Reprints Desk sponsored in 2011 as part of its new product validation process for our award-winning ‘all in one’ literature management tool Bibliogo. The exchange with one research scientist from the Massachusetts area provided what is perhaps the most unambiguous sentiment when he was asked about mobile access to articles and citations: “…what am I going to do if it's 11 o'clock at night and a paper is published that I'm interested in. It's one of those things that probably sounds cool in theory, but I'd never use it.”

Not sold on the lack of demand or just want to better understand your users’ mobile document delivery needs and preferences? Feel free to contact us and we’ll be happy to help. 

So let’s suppose significant user demand for mobile document delivery actually did exist.  Do you really need an app for that?

We believe the answer to this semi-rhetorical question is “it depends.”  There are really two main user experience scenarios to consider: the ordering process and the method of accessing the full-text.

Let’s look at the ordering process first.

Assume a supplier like Reprints Desk actually built a mobile document delivery app for Apple’s App Store and that we were lucky enough to get past the ‘in app transactions’ review that requires content distributors to pay a portion of every transaction initiated via the app (-- luck in this case may be relative since it would be painful to go back to users afterwards to explain functionality or pricing changes!). Do you think your end users who are on a “sit back” mobile device actually want to go through the process of typing a citation in or navigating through an app user interface (UI) in order to order a full-text scholarly paper?

At Reprints Desk we strongly subscribe to the 'less is more' philosophy in many aspects pertaining to user experience. If you’ve ever read the book ‘Blue Ocean Strategy’ or bought an iPhone, an iPad, or any other Apple product, you can probably relate to the fact that value can be created through the process of elimination rather than creating new features or reducing or raising existing standards. 

How might process elimination work for mobile document delivery work, you ask?  Let's look at an example with the Apple iPhone.

To get started, a user can take a photo or screenshot of any article titles or bibliographies from their mobile device. This will work both for bibliographies on their computer screen and printed journals.

To take a screenshot on the Apple iPhone, a user simply needs to use their camera or press both the home and power button at the same to save a screenshot to the Camera Roll album. The user can then navigate back to the photo in their photo album, select the menu bar and click ‘Email Photo.’  Type as the email recipient if this email address is not already listed as a contact in their addresss book, then click send and they're done. 

The email will be sent the next time the user has Internet access and Reprints Desk will get to work on their order immediately, first checking subscriptions and other content assets the user's organization may have before processing the document delivery request. 

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This process takes less than a minute and your users will probably find that it comes with a lot less aggravation than having to navigate through an app just to place one or more document delivery article requests so they can get back to other pressing matters.

Time is money for scientists, engineers, information pros, and others, so this is also certain to help your organization save. And as you'll see in Outsell's 2012 Document Delivery Best Practices and Vendor Scorecard Update, Reprints Desk will do the data entry at no additional cost for orders sent by email.

What about post-purchase mobile content access and collaboration?

If all you want to do is store and read PDFs on an iPad, iBooks is already pre-installed and what millions of professionals already use to save PDFs today for future viewing - and it’s absolutely free.  But there are many additional mobile document delivery options that exist for you and your library.

We'll take a look at one or more of these solutions in one of our future blog posts and explore the user experience, copyright considerations and more, so be sure to subscribe to The Article Blog so you’re alerted when this post is ready. 

As a homework assignment so you have a full frame of reference when we publish our follow up blog post, you’ll probably first want to check with internal departments (eg legal, IT, etc.) to understand whether or not this type of mobile access solution sufficiently meets internal copyright compliance policies and cloud computing security requirements.

Have a different experience or opinion?

We always encourage productive discourse here at Reprints Desk. So if you’ve had a different experience at your organization or have a different opinion on this topic then feel free to further this conversation by sharing your thoughts as a reply to this post.

Topics: journal articles, document delivery, medical information, pubmed, stm content, scientific papers, mobile library, technical papers, medline