Transforming the traditional library through advanced technology

Technology has been evolving in various ways over recent decades, but the long-term effects are just now starting to show. Innovation has become part of our everyday lives and experiences, but new technologies also have a global impact on processes all over the world. That being said, traditional roles and functions are changing, thereby introducing new skill requirements. For the academic and research library (ARL) world, new innovative technologies are impacting librarians, library services and overall the traditional library model.

Machine learning, big data analysis, the Internet of Things (IoT) and everything in between are changing the way people obtain, consume and disseminate information, while simultaneously affecting the way we process, find meaning and make decisions based on it. At the center of this change is the library, a traditional powerhouse for providing high-quality information. How will traditional libraries compete with the growing demands of today’s digital information age?

In order to answer that question, we must take a look at the challenges currently faced by libraries all over the world.

Finding a new audience

Our world is hyper-connected through innovative technologies, and for libraries to fit into this landscape, they must offer services that meet the expectations of this audience. While the traditional library is a quiet space filled with books for focus and reading, the libraries of the future need to transform into a creation hub built to foster creativity with visual resources, flexible displays, 3D printing, virtual reality and more.

Financial stress and uncertainty

Universities and academic libraries are often the first to suffer cuts when government funding decreases and the economic environment shifts. This financial instability has long been listed as a top concern for libraries since the recession in 2008 from which 50 percent of chief academic officers believe their institutions had not yet recovered as of 2016.

The struggle for government or institutional funding is a vicious cycle. Libraries and their staff are expected to prove that they’re worth the money, but this cannot be accomplished without the implementation of new technologies, which requires funding.

Building a new value-proposition

The conclusion has been made that new generations see themselves as self-sufficient in their information-gathering skills. An Ithaka S+R survey found that only two percent of respondents use library staff or services for scholarly pursuits, while 40 percent of faculty claim their students rarely interact with campus librarians. Various scholarly sources have popped up online offering students a free option with easy access. This has led libraries to struggle to differentiate themselves and build unique experiences for users.

Alternative sources of information have updated the user experience

A 2017 Horizon report found that 68 percent of college students start their research with Google and Wikipedia. The reality is, there are various alternate resources available to access high-quality information, especially with the new open access mandates. This shift in how patrons consume information has drastically shifted how they look at the traditional library. According to McGraw-Hill Education’s recent Digital Study Trends Survey, 53 percent of students prefer digital learning, while 94 percent state that digital learning technology helps them retain new information. Paperback books are no longer cutting it — younger generations expect libraries to offer the same fast, interactive experience they get from other online sources.

While the challenges may seem grim, they provide libraries with an opportunity to evolve and take on new roles. The traditional model of providing high-quality collection, instruction and reference must update to give libraries the chance to offer new services in today’s digital landscape.

What do these new roles look like and how can AI make an impact?

Artificial intelligence and machine learning has the ability to prevent libraries from becoming obsolete by maintaining innovative relevance and taking on new roles and services. However, the adoption of AI is often a difficult process. As such, leaders must shift the perception of AI implementation to focus on the benefits that it has presented in other industries—as an enabler to solve everyday problems.

What common issues can AI help solve? Here are a few examples of how AI applications can bring immediate and measurable value to libraries:

Establish a place in the new information landscape

Locating connection with large datasets that would otherwise be overlooked is vital to success, but is also a complex process that requires cross-disciplinary alignment with research. This is one area where AI technology can lend a helping hand. The partnership between publication organizations, and the implementation of research systems that operate with other institutions, creates a streamlined exchange of research and data across sectors. Information and collections become more analyzable, searchable and discoverable, which supports a quality network of resources world-wide.

Help achieve new goals

Not only can AI help reduce common human errors, but can also cut the mundane and manual tasks to a minimum, dramatically increasing overall operational effectiveness. Automation technology frees up time for library staff, allowing them to focus on more strategic and complex initiatives such as assisting with lectures, developing collections and reading lists, or educating students on how to refine their research efforts.

Offer a more engaging user experience

With the use of machine learning algorithms, library staff can offer a better user experience for patrons. This technology has the ability to tailor content instantly from thousands of resources, replacing the manual sorting simply by optimizing search engine results with chatbots and location-based services. After this process is complete, the AI component will then leverage data on user touchpoints, such as past interactions and habits to better identify the needs of patrons and develop high-quality, engaging experiences.

Despite the various challenges that must be conquered, AI and other forms of innovation have the ability to positively impact and transform the libraries of the future. From a more engaging user experience to improved operational efficiency and a foothold in the new information landscape, the benefits clearly outweigh the risks and work required for technology implementation.

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