Some still seem to believe that libraries are dusty, Dewey Decimal-laden places sure to be driven into extinction by our highly digitized, technology-driven world. But the truth is that libraries and librarians⎯or, as many of them prefer, “information specialists”⎯ have actually been helping to usher in the new whizbang era. In fact, some other industries and occupations could learn a thing or two from how libraries have become less old school and more new school, or, to put it differently: Less Dewey and more GUI. Here are several of many shining examples:
Reading with the Angels
The proliferation of eBooks has certainly lightened our book bags and brought other conveniences to the joy of reading. However, browsing eBooks hasn’t been as easy or as enjoyable as doing so with traditional books. But that’s changed thanks to services like those offered at Mansfield/Richland County Library in Ohio, among many others. This cloud-based offering allows you to browse and sample eBooks with ease⎯and even download them to your device on the spot. This sure beats waiting in line while the person in front of you checks out a huge pile of books.
Borrowing Only Books is So Last Century
Like a growing number of libraries around the world, the Ann Arbor District Library in Michigan lends far more than books. Wanting to know how efficient your major appliances are? Then borrow an energy meter to take home. Needing to help your kid wrangle a science fair project? Well, you can borrow a microscope, even tools for measuring ultraviolet light and electromagnetic fields. Imagine if Marie Curie had it this easy.
Robots Like Libraries, Too
If there’s one thing we can all expect to see more of at home, work and beyond, it’s robots. This is so much so that living smartly and productively is going to require that nearly everyone have a base level of “robot literacy.” And libraries are stepping up to the task. For instance, The Chicago Public Library offers programmable robots for its patrons.
Speaking of robots, The Central Library of Helsinki, The Oodi, has developed an interactive robot that guides patrons to the books that they’re looking for. Given how large the Oodi is, the robot frees up the information specialists to focus on those requests that are more worthy of their talents and expertise, like, for instance, helping someone understand the human psychology behind robophobia.
Visit the Library and Immediately Go Somewhere Else
Some libraries, such as the Pleasanton Public Library in California allow their visitors to experience VR through an Oculus Rift Headset. Pleasanton has a host of VR-enabled content from Facebook, Disney, the Nature Conservancy and many other sources. Singapore’s library@harbourfront also offers VR experiences, including one offered by Google Earth. Virtual reality on a different scale can be found at the Library of Alexandrina in Egypt—they have a planetarium.
Getting Real with Artificial Intelligence
While AI labs can be found on various university campuses around the globe, they’re often in computer science and engineering buildings and not readily available to outsiders. The University of Rhode Island created an AI lab in their main library thereby helping to educate a much broader range of people about the powers (and potential perils) of AI. If your local library doesn’t have an AI lab yet, they almost certainly have plenty of books, news articles and videos on the topic for you.
Remedies for 21st Century Information Overload
We all seem to be swimming in data and news these days. It can feel overwhelming at times, especially when there are so many cries of “fake news!” Libraries can help people find reliable and trustworthy sources of the information. For instance, The Aarhus Public Library in Denmark offers its visitors an “info galleria" to help people explore and think critically about all types of information. We can’t all be research specialists—although tools like Nexis® and Nexis Uni® certainly help to make it easier—and librarians are there to help you navigate the information landscape.
If you’re looking to better understand or prepare for the future, you should consider visiting your local library. You may very well find that the future is already there.