What Could the “Internet of Library Things” Be?

At the recent ALA Annual Conference, I attended the OCLC Symposium on the Internet of Things, hosted by Lisa Carlucci Thomas and presented by Daniel Obodovski, co-author of The Silent Intelligence: The Internet of Things. (I wrote up my notes in an earlier post.) At the end of the talk, Mr. Obodovski asked the audience what they thought libraries should do if/when the Internet of Things came into being? The responses were varied, but were more like “RFID on steroids” — better circulation of materials, availability of equipment, and the like. These are mostly evolutionary steps, but the last one or two are more revolutionary.

So, I’ve been trying to think of less evolutionary and more revolutionary ideas. I have not, frankly, been particularly successful. But here are some of the things I can see happening:

  • Help library visitors find a space suitable to their needs (quiet study areas, low noise, full-on conversation) by installing noise-level monitors in each study space and simple sensors in each chair. This way, someone looking for a deserted, quiet area can easily find the available table off in the back corner, while a small group looking to conduct a group study session can find a free table in an area where there is already light conversation.
  • Put motion sensors in study rooms so that a list of available and in-use study rooms can be shown to library visitors. Library visitors will know which correctly sized study area is free, and they can then let their study group know where to come. Bonus points for tying these sensors into the study room lights for energy savings — the lights go off when the room is empty.
  • Show library visitors newly purchased books they are likely to enjoy when they enter the library. Combine information about books on your new-book shelf with each visitor’s checkout history to send a list of books that are on the new-book shelf to their device as they enter the building.
  • Impromptu book discussion clubs. (This is bordering on the creepy, but I wanted to see if you are paying attention.) Identify other people in the library with have similar reading interests and offer to introduce them to each other.

What would you do with pervasive connectivity of everything within your library? Let me know in the comments.

Incidentally, Jason Griffey talks about a number of other things libraries could do with cheap sensors in his chapter, “The Case for Open Hardware in Libraries,” in the recently-published LITA Guide, Top Technologies Every Librarian Needs to Know.

2 thoughts on “What Could the “Internet of Library Things” Be?”

  1. The internet of things shall be overkill.
    The internet of things shall be more crappy systems designed to keep us locked into paying a vendor.
    Remember RFID was going to be awesome? That’s what I thought because I was thinking of applications I saw hackers doing in their garage. Instead RFID ends up being an envisionware pad sitting on my desk right next to the scanner right next to my computer where I don’t need it. Nothing hand held, nothing real time, and no where near where I find a questionably routed or misplaced item.

    This stuff is implemented for the vendors to make lots of money, and mainly sold via convincing unhealthy people who don’t like getting up and moving around that it won’t require them to get up and move around. So we get machines. Conveyor belts. The aforementioned RFID system centered around the desktop rather than being useful out in the stacks or when sorting.
    Maybe the internet of things will tell you when the staff refrigerator needs to be cleaned, and you’ll get to pay a few thousand a year for it too.

  2. I’m not quite as cynical as you are, August, but I do share some of your concerns. Two reasons for my relative optimism:

    1) Hardware costs are dropping so fast that libraries may not need to rely on vendors for equipment or support; some of us, anyway, might be able to build our own sensors.

    2) As long as libraries are clever and insist on open standards for networking — everything is available via API over common protocols like http — we can get our data out of the systems and integrate, report, and use it how we like. We’d be fools if we didn’t insist up front that our data belong to us. With a contract to back it up.

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