Augmented Library Reality

This is why I like reading a ton of blogs. If something gets past me the first time, someone else might pick up on it and make it an blog post. This is one of those times.

From Shelf Check last month:

What if […] there were neat, social, community-building opportunities for patrons to engage in whenever they happened to step foot in the library? That didn’t require planning on the library’s part, or remembering on the patrons’ part? That were targeted to their own individual interests? That fostered connections between them and their neighbors? That made stopping by the library just to see what’s up in the building worthwhile, as opposed to only using the digital branch? That helped people to learn and to better use our resources and our spaces?
Here’s what I’m thinking: a living, updated-in-real-time site (somewhat like Twitter or Foursquare in the way it works–and it would need IM capabilities built in), ideally displayed prominently on a large screen in the lobby/entrance, but workable even if it was just on the web via a link on the library’s home page (that automatically loads when you use the library computers, and that wireless users can choose to load).

Emily Lloyd goes on to note a couple of things. First, a system like this is completely voluntary. If you don’t want people joining you or learning your name or any intrusion on your privacy, then don’t do it. Even if you share an activity or location once, you are not under any obligation to do so in the future. It’s a complete opt-in idea.

Second, people could create accounts with a user or screen name that is not connected to their real name. This creates a barrier between the user and their identity and allows them to share as much information as they want about themselves when they meet up with someone. People will be given an additional safeguard over their identity.

Third, it could be done for a relatively low budget. While Mrs. Lloyd talks about a display setup, I know that the technology exists now for people to text a message to a special short code and have it appear on a screen. (I remember seeing it in Boston at an ice cream place called Toscanini’s. You can see the monitor in the upper left corner of this picture.) I would surmise that it would be a matter of buying the display and the software or service to use it. Under this premise, a patron could text a message, it would display for a set time (for instance, one hour), and then scroll away afterwards.

I can see this idea as being meaningful to the library in several ways. First, it creates the air of spontaneity that Mrs. Lloyd speaks about in her original post. It becomes a place for people to drop in and see what is going on at the library. It changes the tempo from being static to dynamic in nature, in which smaller events and connections can be created on an ongoing basis in conjunction with scheduled library programming. With a “status board”, one could mix the library events with patron happenings, allowing the library to announce what is going on currently as well as who else might be there or other things going on in the library.

Second, a savvy library could analyze the ‘check-ins’ to see what people are up to. Is there a regular group meeting to talk about current events? Offer them space or refreshments or other support. Do people regularly come to study Spanish? Examine your language collection and see if they are using it or whether additional purchases should be made. It provides some feedback as to patron behaviors and activities; and more importantly, it is something you can act on in tailoring the user experience.

The only downsides that I can see critics raising is the possibility of user stalking, inappropriate status messages, and the potential for luring people into remote areas of the library to assault them. User stalking is nothing new to the library, so that could be handled accordingly. Inappropriate status messages could be filtered before being posted with a backup system in place to remove those that survive the process. As to the last aspect, luring people to areas of the library, it would be a matter of letting people know that if they are unsure about joining someone in the library, a staff member would be glad to escort them. There are some common sense guidelines can be put in place much in the way that you tell kids to not go with strangers.

The aspect of this idea that appeals to me the most is serendipity. It’s the creation of a possibility or a chance at something new or different. The brain appreciates a good gamble, especially when there is nothing to lose in trying. It’s a risk-reward that is all reward. It’s a good gamble on a local social connection which creates a new possibilities for the patron.

Someone should steal try this idea. Because I’d like to see how it works.

(h/t: The Civil Librarian)

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