It’s incredible to think about how much our libraries have changed over the last two decades, thanks to the advancement of technology and the Web. But it’s becoming easier to see how public libraries will look different in the next few years as the Internet of Things (IoT) becomes a bigger part of our everyday lives.
Already, Amazon is experimenting with a no-line, no-checkout store, and smart devices are available for everything from regulating thermostats, lighting, and even window blinds. These “things” connect to the Internet, enabling users to monitor and change settings from wherever they are or even to automate tasks.
Smart devices like these are all but certain to change how our libraries operate, from book checkout to reaching under-served communities. In 2015, the OCLC informally polled 100 librarians about the changes the IoT might bring to libraries. Respondents had plenty of ideas.
They foresee physical spaces that are easier for staff to manage, especially if rooms could self-regulate climate and availability. Inventory management would be streamlined, as books and other items hold more information about how they are being used. Smart books, gaming, augmented reality, and object-based learning were all cited as developments that create potential for new educational opportunities.
Libraries already are integrating IoT technologies. For example, Hillsboro Public Library in Oregon introduced a self-service kiosk that is located in its community’s central plaza. Its stocked with new and popular books and movies, says ALA’s ilovelibraries blog. The library monitors the Book-O-Mat from its main branch just a few miles away.
How can public library staff adapt their libraries to the coming IoT tsunami? Here are five ways to ride this technology wave.
1. Stay ahead of IoT advancements
Become the community resource for the IoT by staying ahead of new developments and challenges as much as possible. Follow technology resources such as TechCrunch and Fast Company, which track new initiatives in IT and across the business world. For information specific to libraries, the ALA’s Libraries of the Future blog focuses on how smart devices and IoT are implemented by your peers across the country.
2. Develop training programs
Artificial intelligence will create more jobs – about half a million – than it eliminates by 2020, analyst firm Gartner predicts. Just as they do today, public libraries will play an important role in preparing students for jobs of the future through workshops, classes, reference materials and ad hoc instruction.
3. Play a role in building it
As the experts in information and metadata, librarians will be called upon to help illuminate connections and improve the “smarts” of actual objects. They will provide the context and help make sense of layers of information.
4. Think about how physical space and services can change
As space, books and other items become fully networked, there will be amazing possibilities for new services and for re-imagining the library space. For example, physical space and artifacts can become more interactive, and the library collection may become more distributed or extended – as objects in one library connect to those in another.
5. Keep privacy and security top of mind
As with all things technology, IoT does raise some concerns, most notably around privacy and security. Public libraries will have to evaluate smart devices thoroughly to protect both employees and library users.
Our imaginations have barely scratched the surface, and at this point, it’s still hard to grasp the extent to which the IoT will reshape our libraries. But one thing is certain: Fascinating developments are on the horizon.