03 November 2003

The Rise of PDAs as a Ubiquitous Computing Option

by Erin Chadd

Looking at the evolution of technology can provide a glimpse at what the future has in store for information providers. Learning about technological evolution can therefore affect decision-making processes related to library and information systems. Studying technological trends can guide information providers to new technologies and they can be better prepared for the reactions of their customers to these new technologies. It is vital for information providers to examine the big picture of how the new technology will influence their services. There may be unexpected expenses associated with the new technology, customers may not be accepting of the new technology, or the technology may have an insurmountable learning curve for the general population.

As more and more people realize the advantage of having certain information available to them anywhere and at anytime, they will increasingly accept the need for PDAs and ubiquitous computing.

Stuart Glogoff addresses several of these in his article, "Information Technology in the Virtual Library: Leadership in Times of Change."1 Glogoff encourages librarians to "seek out opportunities for your library to participate in exciting new electronic initiatives� and build an infrastructure that positions the library as an active participant in knowledge communities."2 Glogoff makes a number of assumptions and predictions regarding technology. He points to some key technologies that he believes will play important roles in the future. These technologies include interactivity, wireless communications, delivery of electronic resources, and ubiquitous computing (having computers everywhere throughout the physical environment). In the three years since this article was published there have been great advances in many of these areas. The one that is of greatest interest to me is the concept of ubiquitous computing specifically as it relates to the use of personal digital assistants (PDAs). In today's society the ability to have access to information anywhere and anytime can be a great advantage. Glogoff states that "collaboration technologies, enhanced by the increased capabilities and the Internet's reliability, are providing people with new ways to merge their skills, arrive at insights, and exchange resources." 3 PDAs are offering information providers a new way to deliver information to their customers, whether students, library patrons, or medical professionals. The possible uses are far reaching and we are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg regarding their application.

The use of PDAs stems from the trend over the past few years toward the realization of ubiquitous computing. Since Glogoff's article was published,this trend has continued and gained significant momentum. Personally, I have seen PDAs come to be a vital tool in university administration. I work in a dean's office at the University of Arizona, and in the past two-and-a-half years I have seen everyone from the dean to the assistant deans to the office staff incorporate PDAs into their work lives. This technology has changed the way business is done. It has cut down on paper usage, made processes such as scheduling more efficient, and made networking among people smoother. PDAs are also becoming indispensable in other environments such as libraries, hospitals, and schools.

Libraries striving to provide their clients with new ways to use the library's myriad services are also beginning to use PDAs. For example, the Cleveland Public Library has begun circulating eBooks and digital media. The director of the library, Andrew Venable, Jr., states, "The new� digital book collection will be another example of our dedication to utilizing technology for 'Access-Anytime-Anywhere.'"4 This technology could have tremendous benefits for libraries in terms of bringing in new clients attracted to the use of technology.

Another arena that is utilizing PDA technology is e-learning. Here PDAs offer an additional way to transmit knowledge to students. In this environment the use of PDAs is referred to as mobile learning, which Paul Harris defines as, "� the point at which mobile computing and e-learning intersect to produce an anytime, anywhere learning experience." 5 By looking at how technology has evolved in the past, e-learning providers can look to the future and hopefully have a better idea of how and if new technologies will be accepted. Harris points out, "After all, the most ubiquitous mobile learning instrument is the book. The difference is that a book isn't connected. M-learning offers the advantages of a book, but it is also connected." 6

An additional environment where PDAs are having an enormous impact on the way business is done is in the medical field. For example, hospitals are using PDAs to enable doctors and nurses to access data as they make their rounds. 7 This has a tremendously positive effect on workflow and efficiency. Putting information directly into the hands of those who need it most is crucial in the medical field where information is constantly changing and lives are at stake.

PDAs are becoming more commonplace in information provision and it can be assumed that the trend will continue. There are many niches yet to be explored where PDAs can make a real difference in the way people deal with information. For example, I recently purchased my first PDA. I only did so because I finally had a real need for one of the features it provides me (anytime access to class materials). As more and more people realize the advantage of having certain information available to them anywhere and at anytime, they will increasingly accept the need for PDAs and ubiquitous computing.

By examining the evolution of technology, information providers are better able to make decisions about and prepare for the future. The interrelationships between certain technologies such as wireless communication and PDAs can reveal critical knowledge needed to ascertain the best decision that information providers can make. Looking at the big picture of what has come before, what is currently happening, and what can be expected in the future can assist information providers in making wise decisions regarding which technologies to embrace.


1-3 Glogoff, Stuart. "Information Technology in the Virtual Library: Leadership in Times of Change" Journal of Library Administration 32 3/4 (2001): 59-80.
4 "Cleveland Public Library to Open Circulating eBook Collection" June 21, 2003, at <http://www.contentreserve.com/news01062003.asp.
6 Harris, Paul. "Goin' Mobile" Learning Circuits July 2001, at http://www.learningcircuits.org/2001/jul2001/harris.html.
Embrey, Theresa. "Today's PDAs Can Put OPAC in the Palm of Your Hand" 22 3 (March 2002), at http://www.infotoday.com/cilmag/mar02/embrey.htm.

Erin started the SIRLS Program in Spring 2003 and plans to graduate sometime in 2004. She would like to work in a special library/information center, perhaps specializing in the medical field. She currently works in the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Dean's Office where she designs web pages and supports the assistant dean for Native American Programs. In her spare time she likes to read (of course) and work on her house.

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