Tech 100: ‘Smart libraries build smart communities and smart cities’

Written by Liz McGettigan on 8 March 2017 in Comment

Liz McGettigan, director of digital library and cultural experiences for Solus UK, on technology being the enabler not the solution

Liz McGettigan - Image credit: Solus UK

In too many cases the technology has been a solution in search of a problem, but digital disruption is about much more than just technology – it is about solving our problems in new ways.

So rather than starting with the technology, we should start with the problems that we need to solve and the people we need to solve them for.

This naturally means we become issue driven and outcome focused.

We know Scotland has a problem, which is improving literacies, enabling digital access and skilling up Joe Public in digital and STEM.

But it also has a solution if we look at the opportunities.


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Scotland has a fantastic network of over 500 libraries ripe for the transformation to help solve the problems we have in digital access and digital and STEM skills

We must think about citizens and library users in a new way – as mobile, digitally accessible, yet unique and focused on receiving the service that they want whenever they want it.

Technology gives us the opportunity to build a new relationship.

The library and cultural services are no exceptions to the fact that when consumers are exposed to fantastic customer experiences or faster ways to do something online, they are quick to apply their newly raised expectations to every other brand or industry.

We’re changing so fast as human beings, in the way we communicate, learn and interact.

We’re getting more demanding in an expectation economy that is customer led and data driven; disruption and innovation have ceased to be a 'nice to have' or 'some other person’s' role.

The digital library experience already lets you do it all from your mobile at home on the bus or the train 24/7.

It lets you pay bills and fines or buy that old map facsimile you fancied.

It will let you rent a library space or meeting room and actively encourages income generation.

It may surprise you to know Edinburgh libraries had the first public library app and social media suite almost 10 years ago now.

Library services across the world are getting to grips with new technologies.

The big facilitator in all of this is 'the platform'. We now have the start of a new, trusted global platform, indeed we should have had this 10 years ago.

To get there, it will require the development of technological and social platforms, the existence of a central core of workers and skilled individuals connected to that platform who can provide services to library customers worldwide.

The library of the future contributes to and enables your access to a national digital platform with access to a wonderful world of unique content and resources once kept quiet and hidden. 

The cultural experience of the future functions as beautifully as an Apple Store, makes recommendations like Amazon, speaks in hashtags, loves Tumblr and is ready for its selfie.

The library of the future knows exactly where you are and maybe even what you want.

Tiny Bluetooth beacons positioned strategically around the library and outside sends a push notification to your phone urging a visit to the author event it thinks you'll like or to the book by the author you enjoyed.

The library of the future will be one of the very few free public spaces that you and your community can nurture, design, build around and own.

The library of the future will be one of the very few free public spaces where you and your community become smart citizens and build smart communities.

We now have a huge opportunity as the internet proliferates to provide cost-effective, rich and trustworthy digital solutions for our library services – a very special opportunity because we value privacy and refuse to exploit users’ private data.

Now is the time to replicate the physical access, value and trust we have in libraries in excellence in the digital world.

Many, many 21st century public libraries are already becoming learning and digital hubs – one-stop destinations to test drive and learn about the latest technology.

They are becoming experiential, entrepreneurial, experimental spaces where access to technology enhances opportunities to learn, work and create. 

Places ensuring accessibility of tools, building the digital skills of our citizens and enabling access to the right resources to impart science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) skills to local youth, preparing them for jobs of the future.

They are creating 'experiences', equalising access and skills around the new and fast-developing technologies from 3D printing, robotics, coding and circuit-making to self-publishing and augmented reality. 

It’s about creating virtual reality experiences enabling ordinary people to see and experience the Taj Mahal or Moscow’s works of art from a library in Glasgow or anywhere else.

We know the role is about merging physical and digital excellence, technology and learning but also the creation of innovative employment, social enterprise or regeneration spaces.

Spaces for opportunity to thrive, opportunities for people to shape and influence their community, to co-design and co-produce.

Scotland’s 500 libraries are places where not only can we start learning about new technologies but spaces where creativity, collaboration and play can thrive.

Libraries are an important part of our communities. Let’s not waste the opportunity to transform our library network to ensure that they are a part of the overall development of all citizens and underpin Scotland’s digital and educational ambitions in support of the development of 21st century citizens.

Smart libraries build smart communities and smart cities.

Liz McGettigan is the director of digital library and cultural experiences for Solus UK

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