So what is the intelligent library? What is the future of the library?
At the CILIP Conference in Manchester this year, on Thursday 6th July, I am delivering a high level briefing session on technology, specifically looking at the library within the intelligent campus space. The session will explore the potential technologies and the possibilities that can arise from the developments in artificial intelligence and the internet of things.
There has been plenty of hype over artificial intelligence and the internet of things. Is it time to put aside the cynicism that this kind of hype generates and look seriously at how we can take advantage of these emerging technologies to improve the student experience and build an intelligent library?
The internet of things makes it possible for us to gather real-time data about the environment and usage of our library spaces. It is easy to imagine using this data to ensure the library is managed effectively, but could we go further and monitor environmental conditions in the library, or even, using facial recognition software, student reactions as they use the library so that we can continually refine the learning experience?
Most smartphones now make use of artificial intelligence to make contextual recommendations based on an individual’s location and interests. Could libraries take advantage of this technology to push information and learning resources to students? If we could, it offers some interesting possibilities. On-campus notifications could nudge students to make best use of the available services such as the library. Off-campus notifications could encourage them to take advantage of the learning opportunities all around them. Could we use approaches like this to turn student’s smartphones into educational coaches, nudging students towards the choices that lead to higher grades and prompting them to expand their learning horizons.
As we start to use a range of tracking technologies, smart cards, beacons, sensors we are facing a deluge of data in the use of buildings, spaces and equipment across a college or university campus. We are faced with a breadth and depth of data which can be challenging to use effectively and have greatest impact. These tracking technologies are already widespread in environments such as airports and retail. Often using wifi tracking to track users via their wifi enabled devices and smartphones. In addition sensors are used to track space utilisation and occupancy. Interpreting the data is fraught with challenges and difficulties, as well as potential ethical and legal issues. However this wealth of data does offer the potential to deliver more satisfying experiences for students and staff as well as ensuring the library is used as effectively as possible.
Looking in more detail we can outline some potential use cases for the intelligent library, and we may want to think which of these are desirable, but also which are possible with the current state of technology.
We can imagine an intelligent library which not only knows what seats and PCs are free, but can learn from history and predict when the library will be busy and when it will be emptier. The library then provides this information to students via an app, pushing the library when there is more availability of places and computers.
Having a deeper understanding of the utilisation of the library, will allow for more effective and efficient use of space. Could this also mean we have a flexible library that expands and contracts as demand for space in the library changes over the day or over the year?
Could we use wireless technologies, such as RFID, not just for issue and return, but also track those resources as they are used within the library itself? Could we also use the same technologies to track resources across campus to identify areas where they are being used or stored (or even lost)? Could we then enhance those spaces to improve learning?
Could we use facial recognition to monitor regular users of the library and provide insight and data into learning analytics? Could we go one step further and use facial recognition technology to discover when students are “troubled” or “in need of help” and then make appropriate interventions to support them in their studies?
If the library is getting full, could we identify those students who have been in there a long time, and push a notification, incentivising them to take a break with a free coffee from the library coffee shop? Could we go one step further, and promote wellbeing, by doing the same, but with a free coffee on the other side of campus, so they have to go outside and get some air and exercise?
Is there any benefit in providing a platform to help gather this data from a range of systems in a standard format that makes it easier to analyse and act upon? Would it be useful to have a national view over this data? Would that enable us to find new patterns that could help us discover the story behind the data, to make appropriate interventions and improve the use of our libraries? Could we build the tools and practices an institution would need to use to gather, organise and push this data to student’s smartphones as well as exploring novel user interfaces such as chatbots?
Of course all this tracking and data collection has huge implications from an ethical perspective. We already gather large amounts of data in the library, sometimes this is anonymised, but sometimes it relates to individuals. At a basic level, we have seen physical counters to determine the number of users in the library, as well as using library management systems to gather data about the usage of resources and the borrowing behaviour of library users. The intelligent library as outlined above takes all this initial tracking of users one step further.
As the technology in the intelligent library space grows, we need to consider various questions on why we want to use these technologies, how we use them and if we should. We already use a range of systems to collect data, do we want to put in new systems to gather even more data? Some data we need to collect regardless of our concerns, a library management system by definition will collect and store huge amounts of data about resources and users. What happens less often now, but may increase in the future is the processing of that data. This is the analysis of that data and displaying that data in a way that shows a picture. The next step is taking action about what that data shows. It could be an organisational action, but could equally be action related to an individual user. How do we ensure that we have consent to collect data (sometimes this is implicit by using the library), how do we ensure we have consent for us to process that data and finally do we have constant to take action on that data?
What is the future of the library? This session at the CILIP Conference will explore the potential technologies and the possibilities that can arise from the developments in artificial intelligence and the internet of things. Can we build an intelligent library? Do we want to?