The latest LITA Top Tech Trends Committee put together a diverse panel of library technology experts to talk about trends and advances in library technology at the ALA Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. The panelists discussed artificial intelligence, network security, online news literacy, data mining and curation, cloud computing, coding for the very young, girls in STEM, cutting-edge humanities scholarship, and data literacy education. Here are the panelists and the emerging trends.
Moderator: James Neal
James Neal is a senior program officer in the Office of Library Services of the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) in Washington, D.C. He cultivates and manages discretionary grants in the domain areas of digital inclusion (broadband and digital literacy); privacy; open data and civic technology; OER; and e-books.
Neal was the moderator for the Top Technology Trends session. His thought-provoking questions on privacy sparked animated discussion and reflection.
A direct question from the audience touched on how broadband issues affect the way libraries in rural communities can engage with digital technologies. In response, Neal suggested watching the IMLS-funded Libraries Whitespace Project, which attempts to bring Internet connectivity to areas without access. He also suggested watching for further development of the IMLS funding opportunity Accelerating Promising Practices for Small Libraries (APP), which focuses on digital inclusion for rural and small libraries.
Ricardo Viera on Artificial Intelligence and Network Security
Ricardo Viera is the chief information officer for the Orange County Library System. He has been working with OCLS for 12 years as an IT leader. Prior to joining the library, he worked in Chicago for a Fortune 100 company, where he oversaw network infrastructure projects. Viera has a bachelor's degree in computer information systems and a master's in telecommunication management, along with two decades of work experience dedicated to technology.
Ricardo Viera started off discussing artificial intelligence (AI) and how it will apply in libraries. He presented two scenarios for artificial intelligence in libraries: facial recognition in customer service and using virtual reality to have conversations with historical figures.
The first scenario, facial recognition, could be used to identify patrons and note whether they have a room reservation or if they're going to a specific library program. The second scenario, digitizing people, could be used in conjunction with virtual reality to create avatars so that patrons could have conversations with famous historical figures such as Steve Jobs or Shakespeare.
The second trend from Viera falls under the umbrella of network security, specifically hacking, phishing, and ransomware. Viera gave examples from his experience in having to deal with malicious threats and network security in an increasingly digital world. These attempts are frequent, and strategies for blocking them have to constantly evolve.
Matt Enis on Online News Literacy and Artificial Intelligence
Matt Enis has been the technology editor for Library Journal magazine since 2012. He has an MLIS from Queens College, CUNY, and an master's in religion from the University of Georgia.
Online News Literacy
Matt Enis brought up the timely topics of misinformation and "fake news." He mentioned that reliable news sources on the Internet are becoming paywalled, and services to protect you online, like VPNs, are often subscription-based. Safe and reliable Internet is becoming something for people who can pay for it.
He brought up Neal Stephenson's new book about a society where the free Internet is a "miasma" of misinformation, and trolling is eerily reflective of our current reality. He pointed to the example of YouTube guiding viewers to increasingly fringe content and stated that people's views are shaped by content, and thus people are being radicalized online.
Enis believes that libraries are one of the last sources of trusted information, and we need to protect that reputation and work to promote digital literacy. He believes that libraries need to educate people not just about what information is out there, but also about the algorithms and systems that drive them to certain content.
Enis' second trend was also artificial intelligence, or AI, but from the perspective of its role in the workforce. What sort of impact is AI going to have on the employment markets? What does AI mean for the trucking industry, medicine, or law? Will self-driving vehicles replace truck driving? Will AI's use in diagnosing illness affect people just coming out of med school?
How does AI affect law enforcement? Enis mentioned that AIs that provide sentencing guidelines are often closed, proprietary systems. A lot of AI decisions happen in black boxes, and because of this, people who use them are not able to explain why decisions are made.
Enis says we are starting to see AI research and development at libraries around the country. Libraries should be at the forefront of community conversations about the impact of AI on life, especially around courts and policing.
Lavoris Martin on Data Mining and Cloud Computing
Lavoris Martin is a tenured associate librarian, director of library technical services, in the John Brown Watson Memorial Library at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. Her research area is technology, OER, accreditation, assessment, and information literacy for library and information services. Martin is a native of Arkansas. Her formal education consists of an earned Master of Science in library science; two graduate certificates from the University of North Texas: Advanced Management in Libraries and Information and Agencies and Digital Content Management; and a Master of Education in learning system technology and bachelor's degree in art from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
Data Mining and Curation
Lavoris Martin started her first trend by reminding everyone that catalogers do data mining every day. Data mining and data curation are used by libraries to improve customer service, manage budgets, make decisions, and design and direct workflows.
Libraries also provide data curation services to researchers, including dataset assessments and advice on how to increase the usability of the data. Martin cautions that we need to think carefully about storage choices and retention policies.
Martin's second trend was cloud computing. Martin stated that many library services are already running on or relying on cloud computing. She mentioned that it is constantly getting cheaper and faster, impacting workflows and skills required by library staff.
In answering a question from the audience, she advocated that libraries need to adjust hiring practices and their approach to professional development to reflect the new skills needed. She emphasized the need to build new skills. Library staff need to know how to manage complex projects, evaluate tech vendors, and write and enforce contracts.
Terry Ann Lawler on Coding for the Very Young and Girls in STEM
Terry Ann Lawler has spent the last five years as the manager of youth services at the Burton Barr Central Library in Phoenix. During her tenure, she created the MACH1 Makerspace and spearheaded the codePHX initiative for teaching coding, 3D modeling, and robotics to children across Phoenix in libraries and parks (community centers). Lawler was an ALA Emerging Leader in 2011 and has been recognized nationwide for her work with makerspaces and with disconnected youth.
Coding for the Very Young
Terry Ann Lawler brought some exciting expertise in teaching coding to very young children. She advocated for recognizing that libraries are important places to bridge the digital divide for young kids. Schools in impoverished areas often don't have the resources to teach foundational technology skills.
The Phoenix Public Library offers classes to teach coding skills to kids aged 4 to 7. When kids came to coding classes, they often didn't have the basic skills to even start coding. For example, the course started with tablets, but the kids didn't really know how to use the screen. When offered styli, kids sometimes didn't know how to hold a pen.
A program called Little Bytes was created in order to bridge that gap. The Little Bytes program starts with foundational soft skills like teamwork and perseverance that prepare kids to work on more advanced things like Scratch.
Lawler said that coding programs created with specific applications in mind rather than just coding for coding's sake were more successful. She also suggested bringing in outside presenters who integrate concepts with meaningful and fun applications.
These courses give kids the opportunity they may not otherwise have to try out coding and see if it is for them. The courses also help to improve on soft skills that are important in all careers.
Girls in STEM
Lawler has also been working to introduce more women into STEM. She pointed out that women disengage in huge percentages, despite interest and aptitude in younger ages.
Lawler suggests finding women working in science and technology to speak at your library. She believes it is important to show that there are astronomers, scientists, and explorers who are women. She also suggests keeping it fun, engaging, relevant, and representative. According to Lawler, representation matters as it is important to see a diverse group of people in these fields, especially women of color.
Matthew E. Hunter on Emerging Technologies and Data Literacy Education
Matthew Hunter is the digital scholarship technologist in the Florida State University Libraries Office of Digital Research and Scholarship. His work centers around providing technology and application support for faculty performing digital scholarship of all kinds. It focuses primarily on novel avenues for humanistic inquiry and the dissemination of scholarly work. His current research interests include spatial humanities, data visualization, and extended reality applications in humanities research, as well as issues related to digital cultural heritage.
Emerging Technologies and Cutting-Edge Humanities Scholarship
Matthew Hunter's strategy for examining and evaluating technology trends involves touching and trying out everything he can. He reads widely and talks to colleagues outside his silo. He also watches trends in other industries. Finally, he plans for services to evolve with experience.
Hunter often looks for other tools beyond 3D printing and 3D modeling that would be good in an academic makerspace for the humanities. He provides support and software for text mining as well as access to library resources for this sort of research.
Hunter brought up examples of using technology for social well-being and justice like an immersive art exhibit to convey the experience of Syrian refugees or offering remote appointments with social workers via library software. Hunter also talked about printing a set used in a performance so that visually impaired attendees could interact with and follow along with a largely visual presentation.
Another one of Hunter's current projects involves using photographs and 3D imagery of an archaeological site that is only available for a limited time in order to improve access at home and throughout the year.
Data Literacy Education
Hunter's last trend was multidisciplinary and multimodal data literacy, with a specific focus on visual data literacy. He mentioned geospatial humanities and designing, using, and evaluating data visualizations such as infographics and illustrative charts. Hunter mentioned that data literacy education programs in libraries often gloss over the various types of presentation formats and focus more on the collection and analysis methodologies. He pushed for including design-thinking education and workshops targeted towards the critical reading of visual presentations of data as standard parts of data literacy and information literacy campaigns. His example of geospatial data workshops at FSU served to highlight how this can be achieved for interdisciplinary audiences.
About the Author
Tammy Allgood Wolf is currently an associate librarian and director of online strategy at Arizona State University Library for all eight libraries on five campuses. Tammy provides direction for the strategy, development, and operation of efforts to deliver ASU Library collections, repositories, and services online. She was the 2018/2019 chair of the LITA Top Technology Trends Committee.
Tammy received her M.S. in information science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has a B.A. in history from the University of Arizona. She lives with her husband and daughter in the desert mountains of Mesa, Arizona.