Connection and opportunity
Digital technology provides opportunities for learning, collaboration and capacity building.
Digital technology is ubiquitous. The use of mobile devices, Internet and Wi-Fi sessions in NSW public libraries has increased significantly as a result. The use of digital technology for recreation and lifestyle, from social networking sites, to paying bills, job search, shopping and current affairs, is evident throughout public libraries. Wireless technology allows greater flexibility, creating multifunctional library spaces. Advances in digital technology are changing the way public libraries are used by society. New technologies in library process automation and virtual customer service are also impacting upon library design and layout.
Learning through technology
Public libraries can provide a physical environment in which the community can learn, socialise and take full advantage of the opportunities that are presented by technology. The community can trial new technologies before purchasing them or use technologies they would otherwise not access. These can include 3D printers, virtual reality wearable devices, video games and robots. Library and council staff with specialist IT knowledge are critical to the success of public libraries.
Community multimedia spaces
Library multimedia spaces can provide an effective platform for discussion, information sharing, and other group-based activities. They have the potential to not only build social capital within a geographically defined community but also to facilitate virtual interaction through the library’s social networking websites. The introduction of technology-rich environments to ‘living room’ style libraries is a decisive strategy in bringing NSW public libraries to the forefront of information access, information sharing, learning theory and content creation in the digital age.
Digital access and inclusion
The average person in Australia is doing more online and is using an increasing number of connected devices. However, a ‘digital divide’ exists as some people still lack internet access due to prohibitive costs, unavailability of services, and digital illiteracy. Public libraries play a critical role in closing this ‘digital divide’ and increasing digital inclusion through access to Wi-Fi, computers, laptops and tablets.
Digital inclusion is about using technology to improve skills, enhance quality of life and promote social inclusion. Libraries’ traditional role of promoting literacy has naturally extended to encompass digital literacy. Amongst other things, digital literacy has become a vital skill with regards to job seeking and accessing government services. Digital access and literacy can also encourage creativity and entrepreneurship and can contribute to reducing social isolation. Libraries will play an increasingly important role, not just in ensuring equitable access to technology and learning, but in empowering people from all backgrounds and abilities to become comfortable and confident users.
The evolving technological picture will inevitably continue to influence how libraries are used and the technological infrastructure that will be required to support them. We are already seeing libraries used extensively with people bringing their own mobile or laptop devices to work, play and learn. Technology is no longer a separate part of the library offer, rather it is integral to the delivery of a comprehensive and responsive library service. With ever-evolving technology the role of library staff also needs to be continually redefined. The skills required today are substantially different than 10 years ago and will be different again in 10 years’ time.
Collaboration and sharing
While technology is a key future focus this has not replaced people’s desire to connect with each other in a range of both formal and informal ways. A surge in collaboration, both on a personal and organisational level can include a role for public libraries. Increasing costs of living and the associated emergence of the ‘gig economy’ has resulted in a decline in individual ownership of goods and a keenness for sharing. It’s in this environment that a creative and collaborative culture is growing. Libraries are loaning ‘non-traditional’ items such as musical instruments, tools and cake tins.
Libraries will be increasingly called upon to facilitate and encourage creativity and collaboration by providing programs, facilities and assistance. These can include studios for rehearsing, recording and editing content; workshops to facilitate individual and group artistic development; and formal business spaces for collaborative telecommuting. By adapting and responding to the growing demand for collaborative learning environments, public libraries continue to fulfil their role as places of lifelong learning, self-improvement, development and social mobility.
Libraries and their staff can provide a vital leadership role and as well as buildings, spaces and services and activities that support the skills required to learn and work in the 21st century. Public library staff have always been problem solvers, educators, respected mentors and agile thinkers. Libraries themselves are wonderful incubators and are well positioned to provide, facilitate and create spaces where people of all ages collaborate and share.