“From virtual reality to gamification to security techniques, libraries are using the latest technology to engage patrons, increase privacy, and help staffers do their jobs.
American Libraries spoke to library tech leaders—members of the Library and Information Technology Association’s popular Top Tech Trends panel from the 2017 Midwinter Meeting & Exhibits—to get the apps, devices, software, and best practices that you can adopt for your library right now and in the near future.
1. Take patrons on a virtual tour
Create a virtual tour of your library using a 360-degree camera and post it to your website or social media, says Cynthia Hart, emerging technologies librarian at Virginia Beach (Va.) Public Library (VBPL). Virtual tours can be helpful for both information and accessibility.
“One of our branches is 125,000 square feet. The A’s for adult fiction are all the way at the end of the building. Can you imagine if you were a person with disabilities or if you were an older person or had low mobility?” Hart says. “If you didn’t know that when you went into a library, wouldn’t it be helpful to have that virtual tour of the building? Then you could call and say, ‘Hey, can you pull that book from the shelf?’” Virtual visit statistics can also be used as a gate count metric.
2. Make Google Cardboard sets
Augmented reality and virtual reality (VR) have become mainstream, from Pokémon Go to PlayStation VR. VR technology can be used not only for entertainment but also as a way of engaging and teaching students.
Google Cardboard is an inexpensive VR platform that allows you to visit places, play games, watch YouTube videos, or fly through outer space. Google Cardboard and VR apps—such as Proton Pulse, NYT VR, GoPro VR, VR Roller Coaster, and Titans of Space—can be downloaded on a smartphone.
To use the platform, you can buy a Google Cardboard VR viewer, which costs around $20, or you can make one. Meredith Powers, young adult librarian at Brooklyn (N.Y.) Public Library (BPL), showed teens how to build their own Google Cardboard VR cases using plastic lenses purchased online, Velcro, magnets, and cut-up cardboard boxes.
Gena Marker, teacher-librarian at Centennial High School in Meridian, Idaho, says she plans on doing the same.
“I think that not only can we introduce low-cost ways to bring these technologies in, but we can also tie that to the maker movement and teach patrons that you don’t have to spend $500 on an Oculus Rift to have a VR experience,” Marker says. “Come into the library, and we’ll show you how to take a $2 lens that we bought off Amazon and some otherwise junk cardboard to create your own VR experience.”
3. Go on a Google Expedition
Using a Google Cardboard kit and smartphone, students (or “explorers”) can use the Google Expeditions app to take educational VR field trips to Mars, the Guggenheim Museum, the Great Barrier Reef, and other destinations. Teachers (or “guides”) can lead students using a tablet. The tours include annotations, questions, and points of interest.
“Google Expeditions is an easy way to bring that VR experience to a library program,” VBPL’s Hart says. “Libraries can offer headsets as a part of their circulating collection.”
4. Teach with gamification platforms
Just like VR, gamification platforms and apps can also engage students at the library and are freely accessible. Kahoot, Socrative, Quizlet, and Quizalize can be used for a library orientation or class project.
These platforms can be helpful for school librarians. Marker says she does a library orientation for new high school students in the fall.
“I created my orientation questions as a Kahoot! game,” Marker says. “It changes up the format a little bit. So instead of me spending half an hour standing in front of a group of freshmen saying, ‘Do this, don’t do that. Here’s where things are in the library,’ it gives it a fun twist.”
Marker says anyone can create an account and make a game that lives on the Kahoot! website. Teachers can then use that game as a quiz, review, or pretest in class.
5. Get coding with Code School
Bill Jones, Information Delivery Services (IDS) Project creative technologist at the State University of New York at Geneseo’s Milne Library, says online coding instruction, with its ease of access and low barrier to entry, is a great trend for libraries to get involved with. Online services can also help defray the costs of tuition and textbooks.
“It’s not equal to the classroom experience,” he notes, “but it does work in terms of teaching people.”
Jones recommends Code School, which offers some free courses, as well as membership-only resources, such as interactive courses, screencasts, coding challenges, and an online community. He says he prefers it to other platforms because it modularizes the learning process.
“They really gamify the way that that the whole learning process goes so that you can see how far you need to go to complete this session but also how far you’ve gone,” Jones says. “You watch a short, five-minute video, and then you do the lesson. The hands-on tasks are right there in your browser, so it’s super easy to get right into it and start coding without having to set up any servers or even build a local hosting solution on your local machine.”
6. Make circuits with tech-loving students
MIT Media Lab has created a new user interface called DuoSkin. These temporary tattoos, made with gold and metal leaf to make a circuit, let you use your skin like a trackpad to control what is displayed on your mobile device. DuoSkin is not available yet for consumers, but Powers says librarians could explore low-budget ways to get teens involved with circuit technology. BPL has held programs during Teen Tech Week where teens create paper circuits.
“You can get some copper wires, a coin cell battery, and some LEDs, and you can make greeting cards that light up,” she says. “It’s a little lower-tech, lower-budget version of a cool tattoo, but it’s definitely something you can get for 20 bucks’ worth of supplies for 20 kids, so that’s important.””