Sunday, May 26, 2013

Critique of tablet adoption in academic libraries

It is been a while, as due to teaching, writing for publication and doing my own research (as well as networking), I've been unable to maintain this blog. However, today I've been able to get some space to put down some ideas that I have been mulling over for some time. This concerns the adoption of tablets in academic libraries in particular. Based on an article in the Huffington Post and my own research and evaluation of the features of tablet devices (which should come out soon in an article in Library Hi Tech News), I am taking the opportunity in this post to contribute to the librarian discourse on tablet adoption in libraries.

In April, the Huffington Post Canada  (2013) reported Thorsten Heins, BlackBerry's CEO, as predicting that the market for tablets will decline within five years. While Heins may not provide a very strong basis for those predictions, it may be worthwhile for librarians to heed his words and consider carefully whether or not to invest in tablets within the next 5 years or perhaps consider laptops as alternatives.

The main problem with librarians adopting tablets that I have found documented in the literature is the mismatch between the tablet being designed for personal use, whereas library adoption of tablets typically seek to facilitate multi-person usage. This is pointed out by Lotts and Graves (2011) who applied the iPad technology to reference services and found that their use of the iPad for reference services conflicted with the intended design, as librarians sought to make the iPad available for use among multiple librarians. Baggett (2011) also suggests that tablet applications or apps are designed for personal or individual use rather than for multiple users of an institution. Hence, these sources both point out that adopting tablets, whether for use among multiple librarians or multiple library users, is a mismatch of the use of technology with its intended design.

Instead, I recommend that libraries consider the future technologies that may be more relevant for our situation. In my view, libraries should have smart touch screen tables (rather than tablets) that can serve as online catalogues, e-white boards, and devices for reading or accessing e-resources and the Web. For these purposes, smart touch screen tables are better than tablets for libraries, as they have larger screens. The technology is already here, with interactive touch screen table vendors such as Digital Touch Systems providing such technology (). As librarians, we perhaps need to take the initiative and be innovative, discussing and negotiating with such vendors, rather than just adopting every new technology fad.


Baggett, M. (2011), “Technology: A new wave of tablet computers”, Louisiana Libraries, Vol. 73 No.3, pp. 13-17.

Huffington Post Canada  (2013, April 30), "Thorsten Heins, BlackBerry CEO: Tablet will be dead in 5 years", Retrieved from

Lotts, M. and Graves, S. (2011, April), “Using the iPad for reference services:  librarians go mobile”, College & Research Libraries [C&RL] News, Vol. 72, No. 4, pp. 217-220.

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