I wanted this week to talk about two things: the Internet of Things and the 2017 NMC Horizon Report. Both of these are in relation to academic libraries.
“Alexa, Set a Timer”
Last Christmas, our family, like so many others, received an Alexa, bundled with a smart doorbell. The kids immediately began asking questions: “Why is the sky blue?” “What do you think about Siri?” “Who’s the richest person in the world?” After the initial excitement, we found ourselves wondering what we could do. After buying some upgrades, we connected our doorbell, house locks, lights, thermostat, and a smart plug so we could easily turn off the TV in the other room. I have to say it’s amazing being able to say “Alexa, set the thermostat to 68 degrees” on a cold day without leaving the bed is great.
Aside from all this, we’re aware of the privacy issues of this, and we had read about Alexa recording conversations (and sending them to a random contact!), but it wasn’t until I read Wojtek Borowicz’s 2014 article “Why the Internet of Things Narrative Has to Change” that I really thought about what these companies are collecting—“data, generated by billions of devices around the world, finally providing digital world with enough real world context.” And as Stacey Higginbotham mentions in this article, this has all sorts of thoughts behind it. It can seem like a double-edge blade sometimes. In relating this to libraries, privacy is a core ethic for librarianship. In many articles I’ve read the core trade-off for Smart Things is privacy for convenience. While I enjoy the idea of thinking of a library full of Smart Things and the convenience the can come with it (I imagine using it to initiate closing procedures for the library), I realize we may be sacrificing or compromising our key ethics by implementing them. What is Alexa listening to? How is that data going to be used? How susceptible to hackers is it? These are things to think about.
The 2017 NMC Horizon Report
In fall of 2017 I witnessed some of the changes mentioned in the NMC Horizon Report at my undergrad academic library. The most obvious change was the repurposing of the first and second floor. These floors were modified for specialized student study areas. For the first floor they introduced circular library pods, which are sound insulated circular areas for quiet reading or studying.
On the second floor they introduced more collaborative spaces. Glass paneled group areas with whiteboards for students to work on projects. Along the walls of the second floor, café style seating areas allow for studying with a friend or two. Easily movable seats are placed around small coffee tables for conversation or group studying. Downstairs, students have 24 hour access to a 24 hour study room which is separate from the library, but still accessible from the basement of the library and via an outside door with a student ID reader. All of these features utilize Rethinking Library Spaces. These study areas are adapted to the changing needs of students. They may need to cram the night before and need a distraction-free space. Or they may need to sit in a quiet area and enjoy a good book. Or they may want to sit with their friends and have a discussion about something they watched or read. Or work planning a big project. Library spaces are important as student’s needs change.
Another implementation the library implemented is a “book paging system.” With this program, students can search for a book in the catalog, request it, and have it delivered to the reference desk within a couple hours for easy pickup. I instantly thought “Oh, it’s sort of like that Target pick up!” (Or any retailer nowadays!).
It was interesting to notice these changes related in the NMC Trends. More than that, it really illustrated that some academic libraries are on track to remaining relevant in these times.