The librarian smartphone

The XKCD phone

Seeing as everybody and their dog is launching a smartphone these days I thought we should have a librarian smartphone, or since librarian and smart are just synonyms, we’ll call it the librarianphone (Lphone,) as well.

So, how would a Lphone differ from all the other smartphones out there? First and foremost it would be the ultimate tool for librarians.

The hardware would be something special. Totally dust resistant, impervious to any fluid (and trust me, librarians will encounter most fluids at one time or another during their careers), totally stealthy exterior, wireless and bluetooth-alerts that are transmitted to an appropriate wearable technology, wristwatch, earring, necklace, belt buckle or other item that is inconspicious but still gives the librarian an alert without disturbing the public. (it also tells you when you have forgotten the damn thing and buzzes discretly when you walk away from it). Scanners galore, barcodes, RFID, gold fillings, the works.

How about apps? What I really need in everyday life is a patron translator. An app that interprets the mumblings and incoherent questions you get and parse them to get to the core of the question. “Do you have books on animals?” is really “My dog is behaving weirdly, do you have anything on dog behaviour?”

Another app that would be great was a “follow the red light to the right shelf/computer/ bathroom”-app where a red light would appear in front of the library user and guide him/her/it to the appropriate place.

“The right book app” is of course a neccessity. Whenever a library user asks for a suggestion this app will identify the user from his/her voiceprint and analyze the social media footprint of the user and connect this data to the user record in the library system (totally illegal in Norway) and then reccomend a book based on this data and input from Amazon, LibraryThing, Goodreads and other sources.

X-ray alert. This app will let the librarian look through any obstacle in the library to identify situations in the library without having to run past shelves, interior walls/doors etc.  This app must be connected to the “red alert”-app which identifies situations in the library and alerts the appropriate staff member as the situation arises. Toddler meltdown in the children’s section, skateboarding in the mezzanine or stolen newspaper is just a few of the situations this app would identify and hopefully give a staff member a good chance of solving before it escalates.

Drone control, pretty obvious that the next level of remote services will be by drones. Good bye book-mobile, hello Library-Predator drone. Controling the drone from the Lphone is a breeze, just tilt the phone to tilt the drone, and deliver library services to any location in the service area. With speakers and a small screen on the drone the children’s librarian can even do remote story hour anywhere.

Any other suggestions?




Posted in Library 2.0

A touch interface for library use

Of the many things I want to fix in this world the library digital services interface is among the top five. The interface for searching that works on a computer screen where you can use a mouse or trackpad to navigate is really awful on a tablet or smartphone. You have to zoom in and out, scroll long lists of hits and the functionality that you want, like sharing or saving is buried deep down in the system.

I have pondered this issue ever since the iPad came along and turned the way we interact with information upside down. Until lately I have not hit upon what felt like the right approach for me. But since the norwegian browser company Opera published their new browser for iPad, called Coast, I felt that something suddenly fell into place.

Here is my first attempt at putting my thoughts down in print:

What you see in the image is a screen as it would be when you access your library search interface from a tablet or smartphone.

In the top middle is the search box (søk in norwegian). If you flick down from the search box you will get a list of available databases that you can choose from individually. If you flick up from the search box you will get a list of previous searches.
Library-CoastThe search results will display as rectangles with either a cover image or the title and author and other metadata displayed. The individual items can be clicked on and you will get either a full record or full text depending on the nature of the item.

The circles denote functionality. The circle in the top left hand corner  (del means share in norwegian) is the share function. You can either flick an item from your search results in that direction and it will automatically go to the share service (Facebook, twitter etc.) you desire or you can choose from a list. If you click on the share icon without selecting an item you will share the search and search result.

In the top right hand corner is the borrow function. This is an context sensitive function where the nature of the item you flick or select before you click on the icon will determine what function you initiate. A library record will be placed on hold for you, an ebook will be sent to your account and displayed in your preferred reader app.

In the left bottom corner I have placed an IFTTT button. This you can program to do anything you want with your items or search results. Since IFTTT is totally customizable you should be able to get any desirable result from this.

The last button in the bottom right hand corner is a save function. This will save a record, or full text if available, directly to a citation manager. You can set up EndNote, RefWorks, Mendeley or any other service you choose. Of course you can set up other services like Dropbox or Evernote as well.

The idea behind all this is to have a touch friendly interface that also have functionality that is useful for readers, students and other library members. It should improve ease of use on both tablets and smartphones and hopefully make searching and using library services a better experience than today.

Posted in Interface

A crowdfunded library?

I´m an enthusiastic supporter of crowdfunding and use as much as I can. Just yesterday a new crowdfunding proposal appeared on my radar. LIBRII is an attempt to make a template for a new type of library suitable for Africa. The idea is to follow the spread of broadband in Africa and set up small networked libraries based on a simple but fairly comprehensive formula. A self contained digital library in what looks like a large container, a building with books, staff and meeting rooms and a sun-roof bridging the space between the buildings. The library idea itself is not new, but how the concept is set up and funded is new. Hopefully this can herald a new way of creating libraries in a part of the world where there now is a greater need for libraries than ever before.

To me this looks like a brilliant idea. I especially love that the project emphasises that the libraries will be staffed by librarians (although they do not mention where these librarians will come from, library education if Africa is not producing great numbers) and that the digital and analog media will have equal attention. The libraries are supposed to be self-funded by offering premium services for pay. I´m not sure if this model will work, but since it is far better than the alternative, nothing, I think it is important that this is tried out to get information and experience. The countries and people of Africa should get a chance to  try out and find out what works for them. I support this project on Kickstarter, and encourage you to do so too!

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Posted in Future

Coding in libraries – a new service?

There are so many things happening around in libraries these days. I love how some libraries are becoming makerspaces, and other libraries are connecting to their communities in new and creative ways. 

At the same time there is a drive for more coding in education. The world needs more computer coders and everybody needs to understand a little more about code. It is rapidly becoming a skill on the same level as literacy and the ability to do simple math. 

This impacts libraries on several levels. First, how can libraries support the spread of coding knowledge in the community? I can think of a few things that even a small library like my own can do without too much effort:

1. Give access to coding literature – buy books, DVDs and other relevant material that people can use in the library or borrow.

2. Have a computer set aside for coding. Install coding software and maybe some equipment that makes coding fun. LEGO Mindstorms comes to mind 🙂

3. Learn to code! For librarians to offer a quality service they must have knowledge of the service. It does not have to be deep knowledge, but at least an understanding of the core concepts and skills that is required for coding.

I attended library school in Oslo in 1987 and 1988 when the school offered computer program as an option. I scoffed the thought of needing to understand code. I remember saying in several discussions: “Librarians don’t need to understand code. We need to use software, not write it ourselves.” And, yes, the assumption that librarians should write their own software was probably wrong, but I was wrong too. Librarians need to understand coding to be able to offer the service and support of people interested in learning to code. I admit my mistake (I was young!!) and will now enroll in Code Academy to try to correct this mistake. I will also try to upgrade the collection in my library with coding literature and support. 

What do you think libraries should do to support coding knowledge in your community?

Posted in Library 2.0

The future of the book, and libraries

It is really hard to think about the future of the book and not link it to the future of libraries. But increasingly it seems that this is something we must do. The nature of the book will change in many ways in the future, so will libraries, but I believe that the changes may not be exactly the same or connected.

Ebooks are of course at the the root of these thoughts. Ebooks seems such a transformative technology, but is in many ways an extremely conservative way of handeling digital literature.

Two years ago I was lucky enough to be involved in the creation of a Digital Literature project at the University of Bergen. The ELMCIP project opened my eyes to the extreme diversity that is possible for literature in digital form. Ebooks are basically just the paper book in a digital straight-jacket. Not that that is a problem as such, there is much to be said for a familiar image to make the transition more comfortable, but in reality it is the equivalent of the “horseless carriage” that eventually became the car.

So the future of the book looks to be one of many parts. Ebooks may dissapear as concept, replaced by digital texts, digital stories and digital literature. Of course the word digital will dissapear as well, and we will be left with… texts, stories, literature, just where we are today. The format you can access these texts, stories and literature will be multiple. As a digital file read on your screen of choice, ereader, tablet, mobile phone, PC-screen or as an overlay inside your glasses, or if you are a radical, a subsection of these texts, stories and literature will be avaliable to be printed on paper bound together in a sequence and inside a cover (probably printed on a POD-machine in a cafe, library or supermarket)

Where does libraries enter into this development? First, libraries have already moved away from paper books as the only supplier of texts, stories and literature. Some more than others, academic libraries are at the forefront, small rural public libraries are at the back of this development. But that might change in the near future.

Today libraries are trying out new formats in an abundance of creativity. Not just digital, but also physical formats are experimented with. Some libraries go for an expansion of the physical realm with collection of fishing rods, toys, power tools or computer equipment.

Some libraries experiment with digital formats, installing Microsoft surface tables for members to browse picture collections, or using QR codes to give access to digital content.

We need these experiments today, we need to push de boundaries of what it is possible for a library to do. For it is by doing this that we will know what works and what does not. What is possible and what is not. I applaud all my creative colleagues around the world for their courage and determination in this grand exploration of what the library can be.

What has changed for the book has not changed for the library. The core mission for libraries is still there, just with some twists. Collecting does not seem to be such a big thing any more (it’s all in the Cloud), describing is done better by others (google does it better?), delivery is a major commercial industry these days (Why don’t libraris do as netflix or Amazon?)

But the twists are still there. Collecting is done at the academic libraris more than ever. Today it is all about open archives and scholarly communication. Libraries are at the forefront in the conflict with the academic publishers.

I believe that this will also happen in the public library world. Not because there is a great monopolistic publisher cabal to fight, but because of the “great amnesia.”

There is so much content that are produced today that have a very limited (in numbers and time) audience, but that deserve to be collected, preserved and distributed to an future audience. Public libraries are ideally suited to this purpose. Most public libraries have great local networks and commnicate well with local content creators.

In the future the death of the local historian will no longer mean that most of his research and written material will dissapear when his unknowing relatives erase his harddisk and sell his PC. In the future a disc crash will no longer disable the genealogical research of the next door grandfather.

Because both will have stored their material in the “library cloud” in agreement with the local library who will curate and see that formats are kept up to date.

This is a part of the future of the library. The curator of nonpublished material. There are other roles as well emerging, like social integration of immigrants or school work support. All of which are equally important. But at the core it is about knowledge, as David R. Lankes writes in the Atlas of New Librarianship:






Posted in Books, E-books, Future

What, me worry? Or the Amazon “Library”

I am about as worried about the Amazon Kindle Lending Library  as I would be if a guy set up a box of worn paperbacks outside the library entrance and offered to lend them to people for $ 1 as they where passing by. Sure, some would probably take him up on the offer. But as a threat to the librarian, nah. The Kindle lending library is a way for amazon to try to sweeten an already bad tasting deal. For most americans I think that the Amazon Prime is just a bit too much. Sure, you get free transport of anything you buy, and access to special stuff. But it is a lock-in that in my opinion costs more than it tastes for most people. It is a niche product for already heavy Amazon users. The so called Kindle Library is NOT a library service in any way.

The public library offers something completely different to its community. Something Amazon never can match. Local knowledge, a way longer tail that Amazon, and a commitment to the community.

Posted in Library 2.0
September 2019
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