July 21, 2017

Wireless Power, Geolocation-based Ebook Lending Top Tech Trends | ALA Annual 2017

LITA logoWithin a few years, library patrons won’t huddle near electrical outlets charging tablets, phones, and other portable devices. Those devices will charge wirelessly as they browse or work, noted Emily A. Almond, director of IT, Georgia Public Library Service (GPLS), at the beginning of the Library Information Technology Association’s (LITA) Top Tech Trends panel at the American Library Association’s annual conference on June 25.

“Distance charging solves a huge problem for libraries,” Almond said. When patrons “wallpaper” the walls or crowd around tables with outlets, “people are technically in the library, but they’re not using it the way we really intend [for] it to be used,” she said.

The Wireless Power Consortium formed in 2008, and member companies include Apple, Samsung, LG, HTC, Sony, and more than 220 other manufacturers worldwide. Consumers are already becoming familiar with short-range solutions developed using the group’s Qi interface standard, such as wireless charging pads that use inductive power transfer to charge many of the latest smartphones, or wireless charging furniture by companies such as IKEA, which use resonant inductive coupling to charge devices separated from a power source by a short distance or a physical barrier. Commercial applications are still in the early stages. Almond noted that it will likely be a while before devices could be charged as patrons wander the library, but eventually, this trend could help solve a common issue that affects not only libraries, but other public spaces as well.

Almond was joined by panelists Marshall Breeding, independent consultant and founder of Library Technology Guides; Vanessa Hannesschläger, researcher, Austrian Centre for Digital Humanities/Austrian Academy of Sciences; Veronda Pitchford, director of membership and resource sharing, Reaching Across Illinois Library System (RAILS); and Tara Radniecki, engineering librarian, University of Nevada, Reno. Margaret Heller, digital services librarian, Loyola University, Chicago was moderator, and the remainder of the panel was broadly organized around three themes: open source disruption and cloud computing, new models of innovation and entrepreneurship, and new models for partnerships and outreach.

Open options

The open source integrated library systems (ILS) Koha and Evergreen started gaining traction more than a decade ago, Breeding noted, and now he estimates that more than 12 percent of U.S. public libraries are using these open source systems.

“It [hasn’t] changed the world, but it’s made a big impact,” Breeding said. “And the impact goes beyond those numbers, in the fact that open source options have changed expectations tremendously.” The emergence of open source systems as viable competitors has resulted in “more openness, more innovation, more customizability” in the market, he noted. “So even if you don’t use an open source product, you’re benefiting from it indirectly.”

Open source adoption has been slower in the academic market, which is dominated by a handful of large companies—Breeding estimated that about four percent of academic libraries currently use an open source ILS. But he added that he was watching the new FOLIO (the Future Of Libraries Is Open) library services platform, which could potentially disrupt that market as well.

But Breeding also noted “the uneven access to technology” within the library field, pointing out that hundreds of public libraries in the U.S. have to operate without an ILS, and many more that have very old, outdated websites. “It’s kind of disheartening to see that…cloud computing and other kinds of technologies have not been able to scale down to the communities that serve rural populations and small towns.”

Google IT

Almond noted that a couple of years ago, GPLS needed to replace about 7,500 aging public computers throughout the network of 63 library systems and 406 branches it serves throughout the state. The organization decided that swapping old desktops for new desktops wouldn’t be the most efficient use of funds, so instead, GPLS decided to deploy a network of less expensive Google Chromeboxes and Chromebooks to replace the outdated equipment.

The Chrome OS is different than Windows, and substituting productivity software such as Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides for MS Office can potentially pose day-to-day challenges as library staff help patrons with the switch, although Almond said that this had not turned out to be a significant issue at GPLS.

“Patrons are smart, they know what they want, and they’re going to be able to work around an interface change,” she said.

The biggest barrier, she said, was Chrome’s lack of computer time and print management features. “In public libraries, especially, but also in a lot of academic libraries, time and print management is crucial to being able to manage a large number of computers.”

So, Google engineers worked with GPLS and third-party time and print management software provider LibData “for about a year” to create a solution, Almond said. Once that was resolved, GPLS has been pleased with the simplicity of Chrome’s web-based management console, which enables centralized control of Chrome OS devices throughout GPLS’s network.

Tailored spaces

Maker spaces have become a well-established trend in libraries, but Radniecki discussed how libraries are now refining the concept. Rather than adhering to a formulaic approach, libraries are designing creative spaces in response to community needs.

“They’ll vary as much as any other good library collection will,” she said. “They should meet the needs of patrons, first and foremost.”

There are libraries that have the staff, the space, and the liability coverage to support machine shops with heavy equipment, she said. But “most libraries, ours included [at the University of Nevada, Reno], do not have that luxury, and so we have to cater to our communities a little more closely.”

In addition to Maker spaces that focus on prototyping tools such as 3-D printers and printed circuit board milling machines, examples include multimedia-focused spaces with professional equipment, green screens, audio booths, and computers to enable the production of video and audio recordings, or Maker spaces focused on textiles with sewing and embroidery machines.

“That actually supports…entrepreneurship,” Radniecki said noting that sewing and embroidery are skills that a lot of people have, but they generally do it as a hobby. A Maker space environment—where patrons are meeting other people with similar creative interests, sharing equipment, collaborating on projects, and taking advantage of library resources—can become an incubator for business ideas. Soon, “they’re selling clothes, they’re selling bags,” she said.

The role of libraries as a place for creation within the community is also leading to the expansion of technology lending. “We’re lending things like 3D scanners, soldering irons, Lego Mindstorm kits, Circuit Scribe, lots of things that either facilitate research in the field, or help people make and learn in their own time outside of the library. It’s really easy to see how these technologies and services support innovation and entrepreneurship on an individual level.”

Digital small talk

Social media platforms aren’t just inexpensive marketing tools—libraries should also use them to get feedback and find out what the community needs and wants, Hannesschläger said. “They’re designed for you to have a two-way conversation with your communities, and that’s what makes them such powerful tools. The input that you can gain via social media will…shape the libraries that we will build in the future.”

Hannesschläger said that it is “crucial” to consider the differences between platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and establish a content model for each. Twitter is good for time sensitive communication, for example, while Instagram is better suited for highlighting library imagery and posts that might require more preparation.

But every platform should be viewed as a way to engage with patrons and react to their comments or input, Hannesschläger said. “You shouldn’t be too formal when you’re doing it. Don’t only [send] out formal information—‘We are having this event at this time at this place.’ Social media is [also] the digital equivalent of small talk. You want to try to engage in small talk with your communities.”

Separately, Hannesschläger discussed open data licensing. “In the digital space, the whole world becomes your potential target audience, and that means that the whole world’s copyright legislation is also suddenly relevant to you,” she said. Educators and researchers in many countries do not have protections equivalent to the fair use clause in the U.S. Copyright Act, Hannesschläger noted. “Open licensing can greatly facilitate people actually being able to use what you have to offer. The data—be it text, be it resources…, be it [metadata] that you are producing as a library—it needs to be accessible, usable, and reusable for everyone. And that’s where Creative Commons [licensing] comes in.”

Work of friction

Library ebook lending has come a long way in recent years, but the field still needs to keep pace with consumer technology trends and make the lending process as streamlined as possible in order to reach new users. The Reaching Across Illinois Library System (RAILS) has done so by creating a completely frictionless checkout process for residents of Illinois with its community reading platform PopupPicks.com. Pitchford discussed the service during the final presentation of the panel.

Developed in partnership with Chicago-based Independent Publishers Group (IPG) and BiblioLabs, the service employs geolocation-based authentication using a computer’s IP address or the GPS coordinates of a user’s mobile device. So, anyone visiting PopupPicks.com within the state of Illinois can start reading right away, without logging in or submitting a library card number. (If an Illinois library user accesses the platform while traveling out of state, their library card can be used as a login).

Said Pitchford, “What we’re trying to do with PopupPicks and geolocation is reach people where they are, without the friction.”

IPG represents about 700 publishers worldwide, Pitchford said, and through its members, the organization facilitates access to specific titles for three months at a time, allowing unlimited simultaneous use by PopupPicks users. Patrons benefit from the seamless experience, and publishers benefit from having their authors introduced to new audiences, with libraries as the facilitator.

“What we want to do is to create a trend—a unique value proposition for libraries,” Pitchford said. “We have the unique expertise as libraries—and I believe this across types, not just public [libraries]—we know what people need, and what they read. And we can leverage those skills to get people to content that they may not have discovered otherwise.”

Matt Enis About Matt Enis

Matt Enis (menis@mediasourceinc.com; @matthewenis on Twitter) is Associate Editor, Technology for Library Journal.

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