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IDEA WATCH: Trending Now … And Into the Future

By Carolyn Foote - Posted Dec 1, 2017
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On my blog, Not So Distant Future, and in this column, Idea Watch, I have often written about the future of libraries—new technologies, emerging ideas in librarianship, new ways to design library spaces, and new software and apps.

Looking over through the history of Internet@Schools and Multimedia Schools magazines back through 2004, you can see articles about badging, tags (when tagging was new!), using social media in classrooms and libraries, using Sketchnoting, inquiry methods, crowdsourcing, and more. As we watch these technologies emerge, grow, and evolve, libraries have adapted and absorbed these new tools into their toolkit.

Where are we going next? What trends ought we be paying attention to, and what thinking can we do about the “why” of who we are and where we are going?

In essays in the book Library 2020: Today’s Leading Visionaries Describe Tomorrow’s Library (Scarecrow Press, 2013), a series of librarians (academic, public) speculate on where libraries would be 7 years later in 2020. Now, even 4 years into the journey to 2020, the book has some mind-bending ideas, especially in the impact on school libraries. What will remain the same for our core values, and what will be more evolutionary?

Several essayists in the book conclude, as did the Aspen Institute report “Rising to the Challenge” (2014), that the importance of people, place, and platform is still, and will continue to be, very significant. The mission of school libraries around learning also means that people will continue to be significantly important—those connections that we build with students and staff are still needed. As author John Green recently pointed out in a talk at School Library Journal Summit (October 2017), “The internet won’t fix the problems with the internet.”

The more recent fervor around “fake news” and media literacy, as well as the national push on reading literacies, requires one-on-one planning, programming, and connections with students and teachers. Knowing what books a student likes, his or her learning or reading issues, or creative capabilities enables librarians to help students along their pathway to the future of whoever they are going to be.

Beyond those types of services, though, what is happening with our platform? How are we going to be “delivering” those connections? What is technology going to be able to enable us to do that we don’t even know about yet?

New Channels

The means by which our help will be distributed may change. Maybe it’s pop-up help—strategically popping up in hallways or cafeterias. Maybe it’s embedded help, stationed in classrooms to support teachers. University libraries are already experimenting with embedded librarians—librarians who are placed out in their departments across the campus. Of course, this is very challenging for school librarians who are both sometimes (singlehandedly) managing a facility and being instructional leaders. But it’s a conversation worth having with principals and administrators, because how much more effective can school librarians be if they can be embedded in classrooms when needed? Paraprofessional staff is no longer a luxury but a necessity so librarians can be freed up to be in classrooms.

Marie L. Radford, professor of library and information science at Rutgers University School of Communications and Information, points out these changing needs of information seekers: “One challenge is that libraries now exist in a world where the communication and information-seeking behaviors of library users and potential users are undergoing deep, transformational change. Their workflows and habits demand that the profession’s members constantly reevaluate what we are doing and how we are doing.”

Vendors also need to reevaluate how search support is delivered. How can we be more a part of our students’ electronic workflow? How can our catalogs be built so librarian support can be in a pop-up window on the side with live help, asks Lynn Silipigni Connaway, research scientist at OCLC. She writes, “We need to be where our users need us, when they need us.” That way we can help students when most needed and be embedded into their very search process. School library catalog software has yet to enable features like these that academic libraries already offer.

Radford also points out the impact of advances such as Siri (voice search) and translation apps. In fact, in October, Google announced its translation earbuds, which translate right into your ear. I personally think voice search will have a huge impact on libraries, increasing access for young students and disabled students particularly. Again, are our library vendors incorporating voice search features into their software? The continuously improving predictive technologies of Google and Siri will step in where librarians used to be in terms of helping refine simpler searches.

Many of the essayists in Library 2020 point out that, for many searchers, “close enough” is good enough. However, the need to be able to clearly formulate thoughts and theses and hypotheses will still be a key area where students need support. The need to dig deeper, find quality sources, and evaluate bias and fake news will still require human interaction. And certainly the teaching that inspires the questions students ask will be key.

John Dove of Credo Reference reminds us of Clay Shirky’s remarks about information overload. Shirky calls information overload “filter failure.” While technology is advancing rapidly, as Dove points out, the tools that intervene in searches electronically, refine them, and narrow down the “right” information, etc., still have a very long way to go. This is particularly true with products used in schools—which, in my mind, too often have very shaky search algorithms behind them that are too simplistic, making it harder to keep students “in our tools” at the speed of this change. It’s hard to make the argument that a database is better if it doesn’t start incorporating more automated algorithms for helping students refine topics when the competition is Google.

New Spaces

What about trends in our physical spaces and platforms? From locating items on a shelf to how the spaces look and what’s in them, authors in Library 2020 anticipate many changes.

What do the shelves actually look like as digital texts become more common? While school students clearly are still expressing a desire primarily for print, the creep toward more digital texts is without doubt occurring. Libraries are transitioning physical spaces to include more areas for collaboration, flexible learning, and instruction and creating more of a learning commons model. James W. Rosenzweig, formerly the education librarian at Northeastern Illinois University and now education librarian at Eastern Washington University, writes about the need to unite the “learning commons” concept with the print materials located in libraries so that they aren’t a “house divided.” He views libraries as a “base camp” for outbound adventures and the learning commons a place where connections, support for those adventures, and conversation can take place. This transition will still be in play in 2020, obviously.

We also need to expand our ideas of how to combine the print and digital. Michael Crandall cites the example of a library in Denmark, which asked its community what they wanted in a library. One answer? Children wanted the shelves with the forest books to make the sound of trees. From the mouths of babes, a reminder: We need to ask our community of students for their best and most creative ideas for design. Community will continue to be important!

Radford points out the usefulness of augmented reality, or AR, in library apps that could potentially help students “walk” to the right shelf or location in the library: “The user could use his or her phone to follow a virtual yellow-brick-type path to the item upon entering the physical building. This path could lead right to the book in the stacks, which then might light up (using radio-frequency-identification technology [RFID]) and automatically check itself out to the user when he or she carries it out of the building. Or if it an electronic item, it could automatically download itself.” Wow!!

I have no doubt these uses of AR are around the corner. RFID technologies also are already actively used in retail. The question for school libraries is, will these technologies be able to be developed in an affordable way for schools? Are school library vendors even considering how to incorporate this technology into catalogs and library management systems yet? How do we translate our spaces into digital maps with very little tech support within our school libraries (other than ourselves?).

Silipigni Connaway goes on to ask how we push our services out beyond the library to be where students are. Kiosks at football games? Marcellus Turner (Seattle Public Library) asks how we can use social-media-savvy students to push our library books out through their social media. For example, Austin Public Library reached out to “social media ambassadors”—community members—to push out teasers about its new downtown library, which opened in October 2017. Why can’t we enlist students to be social media liaisons who will share books on Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat with their friends? Check out the hashtag #booksnaps on Snapchat or Instagram to see how that’s already happening. But how can we connect that to our library catalogs for even more connection?

Loriene Roy (dean, School of Information, University of Texas–Austin) envisions extending the library’s vision beyond materials within our walls. What about a spot in our library where patrons can leave travel or restaurant recommendations for other patrons? To extend this to high school students, why not create places they can recommend podcasts or music? She envisions future libraries as incorporating quiet spaces (definitely a developing trend in school libraries), music studios, and opportunities for all sorts of community services from food, to live music, to passport renewal, to mail, etc.—the true community learning commons. Again, ideas such as creating writing centers, quiet rooms, and music recording areas or hosting student musicians into school libraries are achievable trends that lend themselves to the learning commons model.

Looking Ahead

As we continue to speculate about future trends impacting libraries, another excellent resource is the Center for the Future of Libraries “Trend Report” (ala.org/tools/future/trends). It also has downloadable trend cards to create discussion among stakeholders.

The piece that feels most critical to me is getting vendors on board. They need to recognize that school libraries, in particular, are a smaller niche market, but also have budgetary limitations. Yet in order to keep up with the services that public or academic libraries can provide, we need investments and support. We need webpage design templates, library catalogs with pop-up assistance for patrons, affordable RFID or AR options for navigating the library, easy search interfaces, collaboration between vendors, and more.

We can also continue to focus even more deeply on our core values of information literacy and reading literacy. The one-on-one connections that we make with students to help them become more critical thinkers, more passionate readers, and more informed library users will continue to be very important.

The good news, as the many columns and articles from Internet@Schools have demonstrated through the years, is that librarians are aware and actively anticipating and attempting to be responsive to these trends. As we continue to track trends and creatively respond to and incorporate them into our own libraries, we actually help build the future of school libraries. Check back in 2020 to see how close we are.


Contact Carolyn at technolibrary@gmail.com.


Onward!

To follow—no, to lead—in what’s trending, here’s a list of things we can continue to focus on now, in 2017 and going forward:

  • Building on our services to the larger community
  • Developing reading ambassadors in the community
  • Consistently speaking to our vendors about needed changes
  • Building on a learning commons model
  • Learning more about augmented reality (AG)
  • Piloting use of voice searching in library (Alexa, Google Home, Siri)
  • Continuing the focus on information literacy instruction
  • Recruiting more “geeky,” technology-savvy librarians into the field
  • Investigating radio-frequency-identification technology (RFID) technologies for school libraries


 
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