3 Current Library Tech Trends

If you’ve done any job-hunting recently, you have probably noticed that any and every library position lists tech competencies under ‘qualifications.’ From school media specialists to public librarians to instructional support specialists, our craft entails a working knowledge of tech trends and systems. It is our responsibility as library professionals (and often a component of professional development) to stay on top of the latest developments and furthermore extend our newfound knowledge to colleagues and paraprofessionals.

Part of staying relevant in a shifting cultural climate is to assist patrons, students, and support staff with devices, databases, makerspace hardware and software, and – increasingly – Google services. While a rudimentary knowledge of Microsoft Office suite is a great launching point, more and more public libraries and schools expect candidates to have more to offer: knowledge of Minecraft mods, 3D printing technology, LEGO Robotics, etc.

In a 2016 survey performed by Library Journal, mid-sized libraries (serving a population of 25,000 to 49,000) increased their technology budgets by over 12 percent. Of course, tech budgets tend to fluctuate from year to year based on upgrades and the need to introduce new technology, and oftentimes these costs don’t emerge from materials budgets but rather state-sponsored sources.

So which new technologies are making an impact currently?

1.“Milo” the Robot – created by robotics company Robokind as part of its Robots4Autism  project, this groundbreaking creation has the capacity to display ‘humanoid’ emotions through realistic eye movements and facial expressions. This highly responsive and touch-sensitive technology is useful for teaching those on the autism spectrum about social and behavioral skills. Educators who use this technology are able to utilize lesson plans programmed into the robot while maintaining an interactive experience for the child in a modality that seems less intimidating than 1:1 instruction.

2. 3D Printers – From Maker Labs in public libraries and schools to science departments in universities, this ever-evolving trend appears to be at its peak. Not only are libraries using 3D printing technology for entertainment purposes, there is also a growing practicality to it as the hardware becomes more fine-tuned. Did a small internal piece of your dishwasher break off? Print a new one. Need a detailed 3D model of a molecule to support the chemistry curriculum? Print one. Increasingly, medical libraries are also using 3D printers to enhance research and assist in surgical planning in fields like biomedicine.

In addition, a recent press release appearing in School Library Journal announced that Follett and Dremel have made 3-D printing technology more affordable for the PreK-12 school media center by developing ‘Makerspace Bundles’ to support STEM-driven curriculum which often features coding and robotics in addition to 3-D printers. The availability of such technologies makes students who were born into this technological landscape more invested in learning outcomes and therefore more receptive to inquiry-based teaching styles. In other words, deliver a lesson using a format in which students can identify and they are more likely to be driven to succeed.

3. Virtual Reality (or VR) – While not as prevalent as 3D printers, virtual reality platforms and hardware are being used for unique experiences such as virtual field trips to places like the Rome Colosseum through Google Cardboard, enhanced gaming, and digital storytelling. Some libraries, like the Bethlehem Public Library in New York, have even started loaning out virtual reality headsets to their patrons. Much of virtual reality usage in libraries is experimental and fairly costly, but so were 3D printing services once upon a time. The popularity of the Pokémon Go app in the summer of 2016, which features augmented reality, affirms a strong consumer interest in this developing technology. As this technology grows in popularity and complexity, libraries may introduce virtual reality spaces specifically tailored for patron engagement. As with any new trend, library visits will increase with the introduction of such offerings as people feel inclined to try out the newest innovation.

These technologies are changing the face of libraries by offering users exciting and one-of-a-kind experiences that they cannot find anywhere else. Whether assisting with educational enrichment or allowing library users to explore new worlds without the cost of a plane ticket, these advancements are taking library offerings to a whole new level. As an aspiring librarian the best way to stay ahead in a thoroughly competitive market is to become acquainted with every aspect of these trends and even try them out for yourself as they become more widespread in scope.