Technology Trends Innovations in Libraries

technological trends
technological trends | © New Media Consortium

Enlarge The Bavarian Library Network’s Virtual Library Commission reviews reports of the latest trends. Dr Steffen Wawra, the commission’s chairman and director of Passau University Library, explains how libraries are preparing themselves for the future.

Dr Wawra, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, the IFLA, publishes an annual trend report. Which of the top five current trends have a particular impact on the work in academic libraries?

Two of these trends in particular have great relevance for us: the ambivalence of new technologies and technology’s dominance. The IFLA describes global trends and notes that new technologies increase access to information on the one hand, while making it more difficult on the other for those who do not have the necessary technology at their disposal to access it.

At first glance Europe would not appear overly affected by this ambivalence …

Actually, this is an issue that is highly contentious here too. Take for example the restructuring that is currently taking place of the German Research Foundation’s special collections. The idea is to turn them into specialist information services in which digital content plays a central role. The question is whether every German university library will really have access to this content – or whether it will only be those that are financially well-off and can afford the digital content.

Mobile devices require content to be reorganized

Is technology’s dominance something fundamentally new?

Yes. Libraries used to have a specific mandate and media – and there were technologies that could be used to access the media. This structure appears to be shifting, thanks above all to the emergence of mobile devices. A tablet is far more than simply a tool with which to access our media. Mobile apps allow knowledge to be acquired in quite different ways. Consider for instance the way content is shared in social networks. We therefore need to think very carefully about how we convey our content in future.

The Horizon Report predicts which emerging technologies will become established in the area of academic education, and when. In the 2013 report, tablet computing is one of six key trends that are identified.

Yes, the report claims that tablet computing will become universally established in a year or less. For us, this means that we need to make further progress with our mobile applications – and may also have to rethink our approach: it isn’t only a question of making our websites and catalogues smart phone-compatible; we have to rethink the way our services are accessed, considering the possibilities offered by mobile devices, and adapt to user habits. We can’t present something that looks like a database interface – it has to have a sort of Google-like appearance. We must ensure that we do not become dinosaurs, increasingly perfecting our clunky systems while slimmed-down and user-friendly elements emerge all around us.

Learning analytics allow user-specific services

The second trend that the Horizon Report claims will hit all universities very soon is the trend towards Massively Open Online Courses, or MOOCs for short.

Yes, these online courses, in which thousands of students can enrol, give an entirely new relevance to the digital reserve shelf system we operate today. Which takes us back to the question of how democratically we can arrange access.

One topic which the Horizon Report says will become acute in two to three years is “learning analytics. What is meant by this?

Learning analytics is the use of big data in education. Big data refers to all information that is used, in the commercial world for instance, to identify consumer behaviour. To this end, Web tracking tools are developed which generate messages of the “You may also be interested in....” type. Learning analytics is a way for us to obtain information about how students use online texts and course materials. Ultimately, such specific data can also be used to improve teaching methods.

What is more, learning analytics can also be applied to the Semantic Web in libraries, which is why Saxon State and University Library Dresden (SLUB) has launched a project entitled SLUBsemantics to allow multilingual and semantic browsing of catalogues. So far, we have spent a great deal of time and effort on subject indexing our collections. Today’s students no longer use these classifications when they search, however; they live in the age of the Semantic Web – and we need to follow suit.