After browsing through this week’s readings and videos, I thought about how I use virtual assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home in my day-to-day life, and wanted to reflect on how it changed my information seeking habits.
While I don’t make use of it every day, I think I can attribute that to having to overcome a strong sense of what I can only describe as ‘horror’ at the potential violation of my privacy that these devices represented in my life.
But the fact of the matter is that when I do make use of Alexa I do it almost reflexively, it is so convenient and effortless to get small pieces of information like how long a certain dish might take to cook, or to add or take something away from a shopping list that I might otherwise forget as I’m rushing out the door. In two of the articles this week multitasking was a factor in why people made use of their virtual assistants, and I have to agree after thinking about it for myself, after some reflection I realized that I had set up the machine in the kitchen area because that was where I most often began multitasking (I don’t know if it’s the space itself in my home or the function, but I find myself starting tons of separate tasks in the kitchen that I can easily lose track of).
When I think about how routine it is to have this source of information at the ready, I have to think about how this influences libraries and library thinking. How can libraries meet and learn from something that benefits not only from a massive investment from a private company, but also the millions or hundreds of millions of datapoints that virtual assistants have access to when making a search or trying to interpret a command?
I think the strongest message I take from this convenience is that libraries should try and meet the responsiveness of these devices, to try and make library spaces places where if a need is expressed there is a clear and visible way to meet that information need or space need as quickly as possible. Utility is key to building sustained use, if Alexa shut down every time I asked it something I would never use it, and so libraries should try and build places and services that aren’t readily available online, and do so in a way that reinforces the place of the library in the community. Whether this takes the form of a physical space being available almost on demand or easily by appointment (conference rooms, study spaces, makerspaces, etc.) or a service (notaries, reference services, digital catalogs), I think that responsiveness to patron needs with tangible results is the lesson I took away from some of the week’s readings.