Emerging Technologies for the Busy Librarian

I made my MCHSL colleagues get up early Saturday morning so I could make it on time to Gabe Rios’ and Melissa De Santis’ continuing education course at noon. Despite a little grumbling, my colleagues consented and felt much better after a stop at Chick-Fil-A in Cincy. (Stevo had never been there before!)

Anyway, I had taken the 2013 version of this class in East Peoria and was looking forward to drinking from the fire hose once again, and this dynamic duo did not disappoint! If you can imagine spending four hours in a class without getting bored then I highly recommend this course the next time it’s offered.

To begin with, I think one of the best raisons d’être for the library I’ve heard recently was in this class: “Libraries democratize access to technology.” This set the tone for why we as librarians even need to stay up to date in our technology knowledge. OK, I’m on board with that, bring on the 3D printing!

So what did Gabe and Melissa cover? Much more than would be appropriate for a blog post, but here are the highlights from my perspective:

NCState as a trending library to watch.

I had liked their “Browse by Call Number” search before, but in this class we talked about their policies for technology lending. I will keep the experience and knowhow of NCState in mind as we develop policies to lend out our Chromebooks and any newer technologies that might come along.

3D Printing and Makerspaces.

MIT 3D printed hearts from actual MRI data.
3D printed hearts from actual MRI data.

I have been kind of skeptical of the whole idea of having 3D printers in libraries. As we were discussing this in class, my contrarian side came up and I asked “What would medical libraries be allowed to print anyway – just models for instruction?” However Gabe and Melissa mentioned Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s 3D printed heart models direct from a patient’s MRI scan. Now that is something that could be really useful for a library to offer! This article in the MIT News mentions how surgeons “see with their hands,” and find 3D models invaluable for familiarizing themselves with a unique cardiac structure before a difficult surgery.

New Trends in Cloud/Client Architecture.

The term Device Agnostic refers to “web sites that are as readable in mobile devices as they are on desktop computers” (PC Magazine) An example of this is the new Medical Library Association website which is running on the Socious platform. I plan on reading more about what MLA has learned from implementing Socious.

Security and Beacons.

The phrase to remember here is “If you want more customization you have to give up some privacy.” Gabe and Melissa talked about beacons which are “small wireless sensors that you can attach to any location or object which broadcast tiny radio signals which your smartphone can receive and interpret.” (Estimote) This is a marketing or informational tool which lets your customers or patrons “know about things that would probably interest them because of where they are standing.” (Bluubeam) Beacon technology from companies like Estimote and Bluubeam has been in use in retail locations for awhile, but is now being brought to libraries with products from companies like Capira.

If all this makes you worry about your security, well, there is Skycure, which has been featured on the Today Show and promises to protect your mobile device from “free” wifi network threats and hackers. The best advice regarding the use of “free” wifi in public areas is “don’t shake hands with sick people!”

Virtual Reality.

Gabe and Melissa demonstrate Google Cardboard
Gabe and Melissa demonstrate Google Cardboard

Finally, one of the neatest emerging technologies covered in this class was “Google Cardboard,” a simple, fun, and affordable virtual reality technology. As Gabe is showing in this picture, you simply get (or make) an inexpensive viewer (which reminded me of a Viewmaster, which has also gotten into the cheap VR act!) and download an app for your smartphone, and you are set up for Virtual Reality!

How to drink from the firehose of emerging technology?

Although I’ve only written about five of the four dozen topics that Gabe and Melissa covered in four hours, I’d like to leave you with some ways to keep up with all this innovation:

  • The 2015 Horizon Report by Educase which “describes six areas of emerging technology that will have significant impact on higher education and creative expression over the next one to five years.” (Educase Learning Initiative)
  • The ALA’s Library and Information Technology Association (LITA) division blog at http://litablog.org/ which contains posts on technologies and trends relevant to librarians.
  • App Reviews: For general trends in mobile device applications, AppAnnie features a Billboard Top 40 chart for various devices, while iMedical Apps also has a specifically medical top-of-the-charts list.

There are many other ways to keep up, such as conferences (SXSWTED talks) or websites (MashableTechcrunchReadWriteGizmodo or Engadget). Check them out and book mark your favorites!

Finally Gabe and Melissa gave us a set of “Questions to ask about new tools” which include:

  1. How will this help my users?
  2. What risk is associated with this tool?
  3. Could I implement this without it being perfect?
  4. Does it help me get where my users are?
  5. What is the cost?
  6. What are the consequences if I try this? If I don’t?

Attending classes like this at meetings can help librarians be prepared to navigate the digital divide that can separate even our otherwise highly educated clients and make our libraries havens of democratic access to technology.