Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Stretching the horizon of technology based solutions in libraries

I just finished reading the 2010 “The Horizon Report - 2010 Museum Edition” and I would encourage you to do the same, with a view to considering how you can stretch the horizon described in this report to include libraries.

Museums, like libraries, are faced with the challenge of increasing their visibility and strengthening their relevance and value in an era when its targeted users would rather look at Facebook and preferably on their mobile phone. The report challenges museums to embrace a wide range of new technologies.

Libraries need to do the same thing and this report can serve as a wonderful, mind-stretching read for a librarian. You could substitute the word “libraries” for “museums” in many, many places and the validity of the statements wouldn’t change at all. Perhaps that underscores the increasing trend towards the blending of the needs these two types of organizations are trying to address. Read the list of technologies that are suggested for museums to watch, which includes:
  1. Mobile and Social Media.
  2. Augmented reality and location based services
  3. Gesture based computing, and the
  4. Semantic Web
Some of those technologies clearly overlap with libraries and some might seem a bit far out to deserve serious consideration. However, before arriving at that conclusion, read the report. Some of my favorite observations were:
  1. Mobile devices.
    “According to a recent Garner Report, mobiles will be the most common way for people to access the Internet by 2013” (page 9).
    (We’re preparing our customers for this with Primo Version 3.0, which includes a mobile discovery interface. Our Open Platform website, EL Commons, includes other open source mobile interfaces.)

  2. The real value of social media.
    “In the way that they encourage a community around the media they host. Users can talk about, evaluate, critique and augment the content that is there – and do so in tremendous numbers.” “Social media allow users to collaborate and engage one another.” (page 13).
    Think about what would happen if we did that with library content, particularly in academic settings. This is really the kind of activity I was talking about in my recent post about the collaborative we really need. This report sees a similar opportunity.

  3. Augmented Reality
    “The concept of blending (augmenting) data – information, rich media and even live action – with what we see in the real world..”. (page 16)
    The report highlights examples such as that:
    “features content layers that may include ratings, reviews, advertising, or other such information to assist consumers on location in shopping or dining areas” (page 16).
    It doesn’t take much imagination to see what we could do with this in academic libraries. Bringing information to life takes on a whole new meaning with this kind of technology.

  4. Gesture-based computing. If you think gesture-based computing is out there in the future a bit, this report points out
    “The screens of the iPhone.. react to pressure, motion and the number of fingers touching the devices. The iPhone additionally can react to manipulation of the device itself – shaking, rotating, tilting, or moving the device in space.” (page 24).
    The Wii is another example of this technology and the list goes on. In other words, this technology is here today. Applying it to museums (and libraries) would give
    “the direct and satisfying personal connection of an individual with the object” (page 25).
    We’re seeing some initial uses of this with assorted mobile library applications, but this report helps you to imagine new and creative ways it might be further embraced and deployed.

  5. Semantic Web. I suspect most of us conceptually buy into the Semantic Web already. A key line here:
    “Semantic searching is currently used primarily to streamline scientific inquiries, allowing researchers to find relevant information without having to deal with apparently similar, but irrelevant information.” (page 28).
    No doubt we can benefit from this technology in libraries.
The report cites numerous real-life examples for each of the technologies and gives further readings. You’ll find ideas that can be readily stretched to include libraries.

I always encourage stepping back from challenging times and situations to take a different view of them. Reading this report about how museums are thinking of applying technology to their operations makes for an intriguing and invigorating read for us as librarians. It bears enough similarities to provide the opportunity to see how what is being proposed there (museums) could be applied here (libraries). It’s an exercise that we as librarians should do more frequently in difficult times. Most importantly it can give you a horizon that makes you feel excited about moving towards it.