IFLA’s Information Technology (IT) Section and newest Special Interest Group, the Artificial Intelligence SIG review the latest innovations in libraries. From building design to big data, single sign-on to virtual reality, read their overview of the top 6 current innovations and what is to come.

Social media, Chatbots, Podcasts, Webinars, Virtual reality (VR)

Everyone has a chatbot that they hate. Yet their widespread adoption is an increasing likelihood given the growing capability of Natural Language Processing (NLP) engines, and the opportunity they provide for consistent, 24 x 7 support. The increasing capability of NLP engines took a further step forward with the release of ChatGPT, an “open” AI chatbot that demonstrates remarkable (English language) capability.

As with web design, the development of a detailed conversational chatbot needs carefully crafted flow design. Moreover, as with all AI applications there are also ethical issues to surmount and concerns about environmental impact. The weakness of chatbots are both a difficulty and an opportunity – an opportunity for libraries is to develop applications that exemplify use for different libraries, languages and contexts. There are both open source and commercial products available for libraries to explore.

Virtual Reality (VR) as a teaching vehicle and a meeting space is a growing phenomenon, especially since COVID kick-started online delivery. The use of VR for education delivery in many contexts is growing, and the opportunity presented by the progressively lower cost of headsets presents opportunities for libraries to engage in this area. An extension of VR is the metaverse and a number of technology companies including Meta and Google have invested huge resources in this area.

There is not much traction in the home and retail sectors but large enterprises like the US Department of Defense and Nvidia have developed applications and platforms for metaverse development. A further extension of VR, the Internet of Things and AI is the Digital Twin – an exact digital replica of equipment, buildings, cities, etc. for better management of operations and services.

Even if not all libraries are teaching in VR environments, may have taken steps during the pandemic to adapt physical library services to remote learning in virtual spaces. The following research report (2021) from Research Libraries UK details these methods to create virtual reading rooms and virtual teaching spaces which merge the advantages of digital access and the advantages of human-mediated service using digitised materials.While many of these services were developed as a result of physical building closures during the pandemic, their utility and impact have lasted as an innovative methods for libraries, archives and museums to continue to engage with their diverse communities even after reopening.

Another interface between libraries and their patrons is social media. Maintaining a strong social media presence can be important given this is the primary interface to technology for many of the library clients. A credible social media presence is not a “set and forget” proposition – it requires time and resources to sustain, which needs to be suitably resources within the institution.

The COVID era has fostered the greater acceptance and use of podcasts and webinars as a means of delivering information between librarians to library users. This ties in closely with new methods of interaction between clients and staff.

Building design

The global challenge of climate change affects all individuals and organisations.  There are many opportunities for innovation through using AI in building design, from areas such as self checkout to 24 hour library operation, efficient lift operation and many other aspects of library operations. At the cutting edge of such developments are Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (ASRS) where books are stored in a vault and retrieved on demand by robots, and subject to automated robotic stocktakes.

New library building designs that reflect energy efficient and green design have been showcased by the Library Buildings and Equipment section since 2011. The library as a space for engagement in the information needs of society means that it is inevitably a resource-intensive environment and conscious building design for environmental sustainability and smart deployment of technology is an exciting area. The move to ebooks is a factor in this and there are many examples of case studies that illustrate greening libraries in both new and existing settings.  Examples include Passive Green buildings in the case of the National Library of Singapore. At the same time it is increasingly recognised that digital has an environmental impact, especially certain technologies such as streaming and machine learning.

Open source Innovations

Libraries were early contributors to and adopters of open source. The Koha library management system, first released in January 2000, represents one of the largest open source development communities in the world, with a huge diversity of talent and contribution. Koha provides a platform for the community to contribute translations of the software. There are over 89 language translations contributed so far, a great example of the benefit of the open source platform.

In the areas of digital asset management for cultural heritage institutions, there has been an increasing trend in adoption of open source platforms that can be built together to satisfy a multitude of needs that no product can do on its own. For instance, the Islandora and Samvera communities both support open source software products that support digital preservation, large-scale linked data/metadata creation and management, and public access to a wide range of formats.

Open source presents many opportunities for libraries to engage at the “coalface” of new innovation in technologies for libraries, Artificial Intelligence, new bibliographic standards, web interaction with clients and many other areas. Many of the AI toolkits have their origins in open source. The National Library of Finland, for example, has an open source, Agile-based philosophy for their systems delivery.

Cyber security and privacy, Single sign-on and identity management

The emergence of “state actors” in the area of intrusion into systems means that cyber security across every aspect of the technology deployed by libraries is vital. Libraries need to be hyper vigilant in their use of patron information stored in their systems, and in the security sphere around their systems. This is also an area of growing importance in the educational service libraries provide – helping in increasing awareness of the importance of privacy and the boundaries in sharing of private and public data. Prosentient Systems in Australia, for instance, has developed single sign-on using image recognition and integrated two factor authorisation for all patron/borrower reports and exports.

Single sign-on and identity management are technologies that are vital for library operation. The management of library services often demands the stitching together of many disparate resources  for a diverse community of users. There are a range of corporate (Active Directory/SAML) and open source (Keycloak) solutions in this area that are core to achieving this goal. Single sign-on is also important in the area of cyber safety, providing elements such as two-factor authentication.

Discovery, Public data services,  Big data, Linked Data

The IFLA Information Technology Section has been engaged in the evolution of bibliographic and metadata for decades, including the evolution of Linked Data initiatives, and engagement in Big Data areas with the Big Data Special Interest Group. The intertwined areas of discovery, and large scale data warehouses from government (everything from traffic, weather and other public data end points) offer great information opportunities.  There has been much innovation in the area of discovery services and the innovation of open data initiatives at the government level.   International initiatives such as the Open Government Partnership are important in fostering such work.

Coding clubs, open source and hackathons, library carpentry

Libraries have been active with innovations in the democratisation of access to information technology through coding clubs, open source engagement and hackathons. Such innovation spaces within Public Libraries provide a forum for interaction with new and emerging technologies and give access to explore and experiment with these technologies. Coding clubs have been deployed as ways to provide a safe and diverse point of access to technology within the library space.   Library Carpentry seeks to build software and data skills within library and information services communities.   The Big Data SIG has collaborated in a number of library carpentry sessions and workshops during IFLA World Library and Information Conferences (WLIC).

AI In Focus:  Artificial Intelligence in Libraries – Singapore, 2nd/3rd March 2022

Want to learn more about AI and other innovative work happening in our field? Consider attending the IT Section and AI SIG’s hybrid mid-term conference in Singapore on the use of AI in libraries.

Hosted by National Library Board, Singapore, the programme will include keynote speakers, workshops and presentations in the practical application and ethical dimensions of AI in libraries. This is a great opportunity to discover more about a fast developing area for libraries.  This hybrid conference will offer in-person and streamed sessions, and virtual workshops.