Silicon Valley Looks Ahead in Library Tech

A library patron uses virtual reality to pet a leopard in a jungle

Editor's introduction: Last year, TechSoup for Libraries published a profile of Supervising Librarian Liz Hickock and the Sunnyvale Public Library. Sunnyvale, California, is in the heart of Silicon Valley and the home of Apple, Google, Yahoo!, and LinkedIn among many other high-tech companies. We asked Liz to give us an update on emerging trends in library technology from the unique vantage point of Silicon Valley. Here is her view.

Libraries Teaming Up with Community Colleges and Online Education

While most patrons do have access to a cellphone, fewer and fewer young people are purchasing personal computers at home. In the coming years, there's likely to be a rise in the use of the library as a computing space and printing service by those enrolled in either traditional colleges or online study programs. California Governor Jerry Brown has proposed funding for an online community college, which would partner with public libraries for infrastructure support to offset the impact on existing community colleges.

Libraries are already seeing a strong interest in this new model of online education through partnerships such as Working Scholars. Partnerships have already been established at both Mountain View Public Library and Sunnyvale Public Library. Through Working Scholars, if you live or work in Sunnyvale, you can earn a bachelor's degree online for free. Sunnyvale Public Library also offers Career Online High School, a program which puts accredited high school diplomas and career certificates into the hands of its participants.

Digital Learning Platforms

Digital learning platforms such as Hoopla,, and Mango Languages will continue to position libraries as technology hubs for independent study, learning, recreation, and personal growth. The use of 3D printers, virtual reality, and robotics will become more commonplace as outreach tools at libraries over the next five years while new technology will continue to evolve at a lightning-speed pace.

Libraries will produce more digital content of their own while curating more of the community's content, especially book reviews, through platforms such as Bibliocommons. Libraries will do more with preservation and conversion experiences. At Sunnyvale Public Library, patrons can get their home movies off VHS or Super8 and into a digital format within iMovie to show at an anniversary party or other celebration.

In-Person Community Experiences

As telecommuting options expand and socializing becomes increasingly digital and isolated, there will be increased demand for "unplugged" programs and in-person community experiences at the library. Libraries will have an opportunity to respond by offering programs which leverage technology to get people outside. Following the surge of interest in Pokemon Go, there could be an uptick in the library as a central meeting place for multiplayer gamers or citizen scientists who are interested in photographing the world around them.

In the next five years, the combination of new technologies with more intentional outreach beyond the library walls will offer libraries the chance to engage new patrons in a renewed vision, a next-generation vision which redefines the public's experience of civic engagement.

About the Author

Liz HickokLiz Hickok is Supervising Librarian and the Head of Technical Services in the Department of Library and Community Services at Sunnyvale Public Library.