Thursday, May 20, 2010

The future of libraries and technology

“In three years’ time, desktops will be irrelevant... Mobile makes the world’s information universally accessible.” John Herlihy, Vice President, Global Ad Operations for Google.

This quote appeared on the registration for a webinar sponsored by the OCLU and Library Journal, entitled, “The Future is Mobile, Is Your Library Ready?” Three thousand people attended the online symposium. Working at the local library, and being interested in the technological interface between the library system and our patrons, I was anxious to see how the three speakers, all with impressive resumes in the field of technology, would link libraries to the technological future.

The first speaker was Lindsay Notwell, Executive Director of 4G Strategy and Implementation for Verizon Wireless. He explained that 4G technology will be available to over 1 million people in 30 different markets within a year’s time, the reach will be doubled within two years, and by 2013 all the rest of the Verizon coverage map, including my town, will be 4G. The vast majority of US service providers are going 4G. What this means for the local folks is we will have the ability be wholly mobile in three short years. Mr. Notwell called it the “internet of things”: mobile devices, GPS systems, monitoring of prisoners, and applications that bring science fiction closer to reality than ever before.

4G mobile devices (such as Smartphones) are high powered mini-computers that fit into your pocket. One of my library board members, owner of a Verizon Droid, recently told me that she was pleased with her purchase. On a recent trip to Texas she was able to keep up to date on her email, use her phone for GPS while traveling, take pictures, surf the internet, keep track of her appointments, and of course she can use it to make a phone call. 4G technology is fast and reliable, ten times faster than 3G, with latency time of a mere 30 milliseconds. There are so many applications (apps) that are being developed for use on mobile devices; we will be able to do live video chat, video voice mail, real time media sharing, video streamlining and picture sharing. Mr. Notwell even suggested that as laptops have replaced desktops, mobile devices will replace laptops. 4G will be able to host multi-player online role playing gaming, in-game chat, and new games are already in development. 4G will take the mobile office to a whole new level of remote through video collaboration and high-definition voice calling. Your device will be its own little mobile hot-spot; anywhere you can use your phone you will be able to tap into 4G. Did you know USB modems are already available?

There are library-specific applications currently in use, such as pic2shop, bookbazaar, text a librarian, and others. Your mobile device can identify your location and provide directions to libraries nearby. My library director says that the future survival of libraries lies with a universal borrowing system. She envisions sharing beyond your region, giving everyone access to collections from across the country through your current library card. It is evident she is correct when you consider how much information will be available at your fingertips, including directions to the nearest library, whether you are a cardholder there or not.

The second speaker was Sarah Allen, Director of Blazing Cloud, Inc. and author of Pro Smartphone Cross-Platform Development. She discussed what she called “annotated reality” and the bringing of books and library resources to people are via their devices. She claims social networks have developed to help people cope with information overload. Your interests are shared by your friends, and now spreading information is effortless. Everyone feels entitled to have a voice and many write blogs and contribute to sites like Wikipedia. In the 1960s, Ms. Allen said, everyone felt they had a voice, but it was a collective voice. Through the technologies of today, more individuals are heard. There are bloggers who have risen to fame, and grown to be recognized as experts in their field, not because they authored a book or had a study published in an industry journal, but because of their weblog.

Ms. Allen envisions the library of the future to be a place where people can go to utilize information through personal data overlays. For example, if you were download an application to keep a record of the books you read, you could go to the library, overlay that information into one of their public use applications or the digital card catalog, and have that information organized for you. The librarian can use your personal information to assist your research, and direct your efforts in a more meaningful-to-you way. When finished, you remove your personal data and take it home with you. She also suggested that libraries would be more able to assist in scientific research. Imagine going on a nature walk, you could photograph interesting specimens, take those photos to the library, Geotag the photos, catalog them into a database, and the data could be utilized by a researcher at a university in another part of the country! She would like to see every book in every library Geotagged.

The final speaker of the afternoon was Jack Mason, Global Business Services, Strategic Programs & Social Media, IBM. He used terms like “Outernet” and “Web Wide World” to describe the future technologies, which are going to disrupt the nature of what a library is and what librarians do, in the same manner as the internet has impacted the entertainment industry, government, and the business sector already. By 2011, half of all Americans will have a Smartphone. Mr. Mason showed us that it is not just phones, but many products that will be technologically advanced. Right now your phones can be location aware (GPS), motor aware (touch screens), directionally aware (compass), they possess microphones, speakers, and cameras. There is already an app called Google Goggles where you photograph an object then the app scans the picture and returns search results. Right now we use cameras to overlay digital information, will it one day be eyewear?

New York City already opened Real Time Crime Center which uses technology to identify and stop crime. Cab Sense is an app which helps New Yorkers to predict where the best location is to get a cab, and they are going to use that technology to develop an app for parking spots. Your phone knows your location. Through this app you could input when you vacate a parking spot and someone who needs a space in the area can find it. Gesture control is going to replace remote control. V2V (vehicle to vehicle) technology is going monitor blind spots when you drive and elevate cruise control to system which recognizes red lights and speed limits. Fully autonomous vehicles are predicted for 2020, according to Mr. Mason. The possibilities are limitless, and imminent. Mr. Mason’s presentation was like touring the imagination of a science-fiction writer, only he was showing us what is in the very near future. IBM will have a contestant on Jeopardy next year, “Watson”, a computer which is not internet linked, will compete against human contestants.

The panel wondered how all of this will impact libraries and Mr. Mason said that innovation is more driven by pull than by push. He explained the apps are developed to fill the needs expressed by the consumer. Libraries are the perfect place to hear what people want, and he suggested that librarians talk exhaustively to their patrons and experiment with apps. One of the panelists, Lisa Carlucci Thomas, Digital Services Librarian, Southern Connecticut State University, New Haven, explained to Mr. Mason that libraries are experiencing an identity crisis; they are trying to remain relevant in the face of the changing technologies with no flexibility and no resources to experiment with. His answer was that libraries are not alone in facing this dilemma. CEOs of all the major corporations and public leaders, everyone is wrestling with how to do more-with-less. He suggested using simple services like MoFuse to create applications without being a programmer. He reminded everyone that libraries have a community. Mr. Mason challenged the attendees to empower the patrons and the people who care to build on that with open source tools and apps. This creative process is a way to engage those who are the primary users of all the latest technology, 18-24 year-olds.

Libraries are the hub of the community. The webinar opened with the moderator explaining that the primary users of the library these days, the market the library successfully reaches, are those aged 55 and up. Current services are not reaching the 18-54 year-olds in a meaningful way. Therefore the future of the library depends upon going to where the users are, not expecting them to come to us. By bringing technology to the library and teaching patrons how to use it, by embracing the digital technology, preparing for the 4G, and by inviting the young people to help their library create apps that will advance the community technologically, the library can lead a small town, like mine, into the future.


Bobbie said...

Hello! This was featured at Friday Bloggy Happenings here:

Mary Bennett said...

I can't imagine doing all my computer typing on a droid screen, as wonderful as a Droid or blackberry is. The more advanced we become technologically, the less room there seems to be for those who do not have a college or even an advanced college degree. The new welfare class?

Lily said...

Thank you! I am thrilled to be included!!

That is what I wondered about, how do people with vision or dexterity issues cope with all this technology? It will be interesting to see :)