Reflection on New Horizons

by sgarcia

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In 2014 a Pew Research canvassing called “the Future of the Internet” asked 1,606 experts to answer the following question: “As billions of devices, artifacts, and accessories are networked, will the Internet of Things have widespread and beneficial effects on the everyday lives of the public by 2025?”

83% of the respondents answered “yes” (Anderson & Rainie, 2014). 

Even in 2020, many might say we’re already there. Smart phones, smart TVs, smart watches, and virtual assistants like Google Home and Amazon Echo are widely available on the market. It seems we aren’t too far removed from the hyperconnected, tech-saturated worlds once predicted in science fiction — in many cases, we’ve surpassed those predictions.

Ridley Scott’s 1982 Blade Runner predicting the video phone. 
Robert Zemeckis’ Back to the Future Part II predicting wearable tech

Last Sunday’s season premiere of Westworld included a forecast of what the next stages of the Internet of Things (IoT) might look like. CNET gave an interesting breakdown of the different IoT tech used in the show.

The Internet of Things is clearly where the world is heading — in fact, it’s the direction the world has already headed. The question of libraries adopting more advanced iterations of IoT technologies is not a matter of if, but when. It would benefit libraries to begin considering the implications of offering this tech to the public prior to its widespread adoption. Another IoT theme identified by the Pew Research canvassing revealed that most experts were concerned about data privacy:

“The realities of this data-drenched world raise substantial concerns about privacy and people’s abilities to control their own lives. If everyday activities are monitored and people are generating informational outputs, the level of profiling and targeting will grow and amplify social, economic, and political struggles”  (Anderson & Rainie, 2014).

The IFLA Trends report also highlights data privacy concerns as an area libraries need to be mindful of:

“The number of networked sensors embedded in devices, appliances and infrastructure nears 50 billion by the year 2020. This “Internet of Things” leads to a further explosion in recorded data with major implications for future public services and data-driven policy-making, as well as new challenges for individual privacy.”(IFLA, 2016).

“What responsibilities do libraries have to protect their users’ data? If libraries are mere conduits for access, with content creators and distributors able to exploit the personal data of library users, have libraries become part of the new information mining business model?” (IFLA, 2016).

As we move forward with exploring the IoT in library spaces, I think it’s essential to keep in mind how Confidentiality/Privacy are inbuilt in our professional core values.

The time to explore these issues is now. I agree with Daniel Obodovski, author of The Silent Intelligence, that libraries have a role to play in “being advocates for transparency when it come to data collection and privacy” (OCLC, 2015). We can also learn valuable lessons from the data privacy and transparency failings of social media giants like Facebook.

Mark Zuckerberg’s congressional testimony

The Internet of Things provide so many wonderful possibilities for libraries, but it’s essential that we hold true to our core values as we explore these new territories.


Anderson, J., & Rainie, L. (2014). The internet of things will thrive by 2025. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from:

International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) (2016). IFLA Trends Report.

OCLC (2015). Libraries and the Internet of Things.