Designing Information Delivery of the Future
SXSW EDU went virtual.
This is a story of how artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and virtual reality can transform the academic library into a hybrid space. The library becomes a network of digital connections between physical objects. A network that recommends resources based on personal needs, links print resources to multimedia, embeds interactive tools to enhance knowledge, turns the focus on making discoveries rather than looking for them, and so on. And while we’re at it, we’ll fight fake news too.
I’m going to talk to you today about information delivery, in the context of libraries, and what I see as the future of libraries. We are about to create a new experience. We need to create a new experience. The music industry did it. Retail did it. Banking did it. But, in libraries’ over 300-year existence, at their core, they haven’t changed much.
When I say “library” people still think of…
This. Or, if I’m lucky, people might imagine something like…
This. Which is, of course, the Seattle Public Library, and a testament to the fact that libraries have always been worthy of good architecture.
But what I want you to image today, is a library that goes beyond a fancy facade or an integrated Starbucks.
What I’m talking about is a bold reinvention of libraries.
Up until now, libraries, I would say, have followed a pretty predictable path. I argue that libraries have followed a predictable path because all we’ve really done is put our card catalog online. Yes, we lend technology and offer community events, but the way in which we expect people to find information or resources is the same.
What I’m proposing is the bold path, a term that I grabbed from the book, “Think Wrong: How to Conquer the Status Quo and Do Work that Matters”.
What this book says, and it’s true, is that it’s abnormal to think different - biological and cultural forces tell us not to - let go of beliefs, biases, and assumptions.
But, the same thinking yields the same results. So, if we want to drastically change libraries we need to let go of those inherent beliefs, biases, and assumptions.
But what is most important is that I believe if we embrace the bold path that I have put before you, then we have the potential to change the world, which libraries already do, but let’s do it bigger, and let’s do it better. The low hanging fruit has been plucked, so my kids, the next generation, are going to be left with the big problems (climate change, income inequality, ai ethics). How can libraries lead the way in developing mechanisms to make solving these problems a little bit easier?
We can develop ways to take the mechanics of searching for information off the table so that way we can spend more time engaging with scholarly resources and making discoveries.
This is video is from Muriel Cooper and the MIT Media Lab in 1994. What her team proposed was literally taking typography into three dimensions, thus giving it dynamics and interactivity that had never been seen before
Here we are 25 years later, and e-books are nothing more than a digitized physical book. To me this is a missed opportunity to make information more interactive—more like what Muriel Cooper was thinking about before digital media really even existed.
And I believe this is the type of bold path libraries need to take. The work that I have been doing is looking technologies like augmented reality, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence to unpack how we can create a more dynamic research experience.
Let’s start with AR. We still tend to think of a library as a physical space with physical objects, but very few people think of all the connections that exist between those objects. That’s where I believe AR has tremendous potential as an information delivery tool.
So, imagine a library where interactive tools are embedded in the physical object. We can keep books! But, we have to make them better. We have to make them an access point to all the other information that exists.
Like Muriel Cooper suggested, the process of information intake does not have to be a linear path. We can explore different types of information simultaneously.
Your project is suddenly much more enriched. And I would love to do a study on the research output of students who have access to this kind of information delivery, because my hypothesis would be that the research is much richer than the student who struggles to find information at all.
Then there is virtual reality, which has a different potential than augmented reality.
I think we all know that virtual reality is still very much in its beta form [GOGGLES]. So honestly, I’m not sure what a virtual reality library looks like yet. I will say though, it’s not book stacks in your VR goggles. It’s not that. It has to be delivered in a method that is appropriate to the medium, otherwise we risk making the same mistake we made with ebooks.
So far the ways libraries have interacted with VR, that I know of, is by providing access to them. Again, I want to talk about something different. I want to imagine the potential virtual reality has to change the library experience.
One use I see for VR is combatting our fake news problem. I see this as a virtual reality tool, because it needs to be seamless. So, what if this algorithm was built into all VR tools? Is this something that librarians could be part of developing?
Browser extensions that do this exist now (NewsGuard, Trusted News, FakerFact) and Facebook has developed an embedded FactChecker, but if humans have to go that extra step of downloading an extension, chances are they are not going to do it.
Lastly, lets unpack artificial intelligence, which I believe has the biggest potential to change libraries. And frankly, it is hard to believe that basic AI-mechanisms are not wide-spread in libraries. These are services that users have come to expect, primarily thanks to Amazon. Tools like “since you checked out this book, you may also be interested in these books…” or I would propose taking it even further and integrating library intelligence with course management software that would provide tools like “you have a case study due next week on Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, here are some resources to get you started…”
And this really hasn’t been done in academia, primarily because there are so many concerns around patron privacy. But, there are companies that have been experimenting with AI in education and even libraries that are exploring the idea of it.
In late 2018, Google opened an AI Lab across the street from Princeton University. Something similar to this exists at Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, and others.
We’ve started to see these types of labs built into library infrastructure, like the AI Lab in the Library at the University of Rhode Island. However, I would argue that this is a disengaged model. Meaning, the lab exists in the library, but it’s not necessarily doing anything in the way of developing AI for libraries.
This document looks much more boring than it really is.
We’ve always told ourselves that we are the “gatekeepers”. Well, what if we’re not the gatekeepers anymore? What if the information is pushed to you instead of you having to go look for that information.
The report imagines a library interface a lot like a streaming music service.
Now, maybe it’s because I’m an architecture librarian, but I’m often asked what library spaces should look like, and it’s a little bit of both of these and a lot of what I’ve just talked about today. The library I envision and am actively working to create is a hybrid experience. You can browse physical books and browse in virtual reality, maybe at the same time. Technology is dispersed throughout the library and enhances the physical objects that exist in the space. Everything about it bridges the physical and the digital, the public and the private.
For me, the question is less about what libraries look like, and more about how libraries can lead the way in solving real world problems because like I said the low hanging fruit has already been eaten.
There’s a reason libraries haven’t changed much in 300 years. There’s a reason we didn’t invent Google. We could have, but we didn’t. Librarians have never learned to be innovative. Librarians have never been told it’s okay to fail. If we don’t have high usage statistics we get shut down, so we play it safe. In order to change a profession based on tradition, you need to have innovative people.
I would like to end today by asking the right question. I always tell me students that they need to figure out the question they want to ask. Albert Einstein has a quote, he said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solution.” The same applies to the work that all of us do. In libraries, we’ve been asking the wrong question. We’ve always asked “what information/technology/events do people need?” I think we need start asking instead, “how do people want to access that information?”