Top Tech Trends from the 2018 ALA Midwinter Conference

Library Tech Trends 2018

Each year, the LITA Top Technology Trends Committee puts together a great panel of library tech experts who present on the top trends for the ALA Midwinter Conference. Here is what panelists Ida Joiner, Ken Chad, and Bohyun Kim had in their 2018 crystal ball. Don't be surprised if you find AI, drones, social entrepreneurship, and the merging of library and educational technology on your library tech horizon. Here are their emerging trends.

Ida Joiner

Ida Joiner

Ida Joiner is the librarian at the Universal Academy in Irving, Texas, and also a tech consultant in the areas of digital content, research, e-learning, web design, and competitive intelligence. She was formerly the technology coordinator for the National Network of Libraries of Medicine and a public librarian. Ida's upcoming book, Emerging Library Technologies: It's Not Just for Geeks, will be published by Chandos/Elsevier in June 2018. Here are her trends to watch.

Drones in Libraries

The role of libraries has always been to provide resources to help improve lives. Emerging technologies are one facet of this. Drones are a popular emerging technology that are used in academic, public, and school libraries. Libraries are embracing this popular emerging technology to help patrons understand how drones work, how they can be utilized constructively, and how to navigate the complex implications of their widespread use.

The Mandel Public Library in West Palm Beach, Florida, for example, offers several classes and seminars on drones. They currently offer Drones 101 workshops, where they teach drone enthusiasts about factors that ensure safe, legal, and enjoyable flying.

Libraries can provide resources on drones at all levels. They can provide an introduction to drones and information on purchasing drones, the advantages and disadvantages of drones, and FAA rules and regulations. Libraries can form partnerships with schools to prepare students for careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM).

How to Keep Abreast of Emerging Technologies in Libraries

There is a plethora of emerging technology information on drones, artificial intelligence, robotics, 3D printing, virtual reality and augmented reality, driverless vehicles, wearable technology, cybersecurity, and other topics. Here are some of the more popular resources for keeping abreast of these exciting, engaging, and ever-expanding emerging technologies.

Ken Chad

Ken Chad

Ken Chad is the director of Ken Chad Consulting in the U.K. Ken set up his consulting business in 2007 after over 20 years working with customers exploring a variety of library system vendors. His business mission is to help make libraries and archives more effective through better and more imaginative use of technology. Here are Ken's trends.

The Merging of Library and Educational Technology

As pressure increases on academic institutions to demonstrate effective teaching and learning outcomes, so will pressure increase to provide more coherent learning technology solutions. These will enable discovery and management of a wide range of learning resources, many of which have not previously been considered library resources. They include lecture notes and videos, course-specific learning materials, and textbooks. In the U.K., the almost universal uptake of library-centric reading list solutions is witness to this trend.

These solutions will become common in the U.S. over the next few years. Libraries and other institutions will confront the need to reduce the cost to students of their education by reducing the cost of core learning materials. Data will be a key driver. The value of narrowly defined "library analytics" will diminish and be replaced by an increasing demand for "learning analytics" derived from an aggregation of library and learning activities.

As a result, we are likely to see the integrated library system/library services platform (ILS/LSP) and the learning management system become components or modules in much broader "learning services platforms." The ILS/LSP will fade away, and we will see a range of mergers and acquisitions as companies acquire the necessary assets to provide coherent learning technology solutions. For more on this, see my June 2017 Higher Education Library Technology article, The New Role of the Library in Teaching and Learning Outcomes (PDF).

The Rise of Platforms

Although the term library services platform (LSP) has gained considerable currency, such systems remain narrow in their scope and the companies providing them limited in their outlook. There remains a very significant lack of interoperability between the various components that make up the library technology ecosystem. They include, for example, systems to manage research outputs and processes, archives, and other activities that are increasingly becoming the responsibility of librarians.

It seems unlikely any one LSP from a single vendor could swallow up all these activities into a single solution. Instead we will need much improved interoperability between a wide range of applications from a variety of sources. It is therefore likely we will see a more open approach. It will go beyond current APIs to enable a mix of independent software vendors to develop solutions on platforms, even competitor platforms. For more on this, see my January 2016 Higher Education Library Technology article, Rethinking the Library Services Platform (PDF).

For examples of some LSPs, have a look at DeepKnowledge, Folio, or BLUEcloud Suite.

Bohyun Kim

Bohyun Kim

Bohyun Kim is associate professor in scholarly technology at the University of Rhode Island libraries. She is the author of two books, Understanding Gamification and Library Mobile Experience: Practices and User Expectations, and has been working in library technology for over 15 years. She is on the Advisory Board of the American Library Association Center for the Future of Libraries and the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy. She is also the vice president and president-elect of the Library and Information Technology Association (LITA). Here are her trends for 2018.

Artificial Intelligence

AI is getting a lot of attention recently as its capability develops rapidly, aided by the powerful combination of advanced computing technologies and big data. As many of us know, machines can now drive cars pretty decently. They can recognize people's faces and tell cats and dogs apart in videos. Digital assistants like Alexa and Siri recognize your words and answer you. Google pixel buds provide real-time translation. Machines interpret medical images alongside radiologists. Machines have already beaten humans in games of go and chess.

These dramatic advances in AI raise some very interesting questions. Will machines eventually be able to do everything humans do? If that happens, does that mean machines are as intelligent as humans? If the need for human labor is drastically reduced, what would that mean to our society?

AI is a trend that will have a great impact on the lives of all library users in a number of areas. Learning, health, jobs, information seeking and retrieval, and decision-making at both the individual and the societal level will all be affected. Libraries will need to keep an eye on the developments in AI and how they affect learning as well as the library's traditional services and operation.

Social Entrepreneurship

Social design refers to the application of design principles to solve social issues such as poverty and homelessness. Social entrepreneurship is an entrepreneurial approach to social problems using a business approach and methods. Both social design and social entrepreneurship are not new but recently have received much attention. They have come to represent an innovative new approach to some age-old social problems.

Whether we like it or not, in the current times in which the government's fiscal austerity and society's lively discussion of social inequality and justice coexist, we are likely to see more and more attempts at social design and social entrepreneurship.

Social design and social entrepreneurship are also important and relevant trends to the library, an institution established to solve a social problem, namely, the inequality of access to information and knowledge. As nonprofit organizations, libraries tend to shy away from seeing their operation as a business. But how to make a library's operation financially sustainable while enduring the low level of funding? And maximize our social impact at the same time? There may be something valuable for libraries to learn from social entrepreneurship.

We hope you find these trends useful from the LITA Top Technology Trends Committee and the 2018 ALA Midwinter Conference. If you've noticed a trend that we didn't cover in this piece, please tell us in the comments below!