By Donald T. Hawkins (Freelance Conference Blogger and Editor)
Final Keynote: Building Intelligent Communities & Smarter Cities
Throughout his career, Dr. Rick Huijbregts, Global Lead, Smart Cities, Stantec, has been interested in understanding, building, and improving the DNA of intelligent communities. In his keynote address, he discussed the role of libraries in building intelligent communities and smart cities, which have an instrumental and critical role to play in the success of this movement. Our cities are changing. They have been growing tremendously, and the expectations of their citizens are also changing. The world we live in presents incredible opportunities, and if we curate them well, we will leave an incredible impact and a huge legacy. Sustainable approaches are needed to make cities better places to live, work, and play, and libraries can be catalysts in the process. It is all about impact and legacy.
The first Industrial Revolution between 1760 and 1830 caused people to move closer to their work, which shaped our cities. Then the second revolution occurred in the late 19th century to the mid-20th with the development of electric networks and led to mass production and the development of traditional office spaces. The 3rd revolution from 1960 to the early 21st century led to automation, computing, and email, which caused huge disruptions and changes. Convenience and productivity substantially changed. Infrastructure was needed to support the 3 revolutions, and it supported the transformation of our municipalities.
We are now in the 4th revolution, which is digital transformation and the experience economy. The audience was asked to identify the digital innovations that are having the greatest impact on how we live, work, and play. Here is a word cloud of the responses.
Every company is becoming a software company, so we must start thinking and operating like a digital company. We will soon deliver experiences that we could not have foreseen. The pandemic has accelerated this and committed us to be in the digital economy. These things have an effect on libraries too; in response to another question, nearly half of the respondents said that they are fully engaged in a digital transformation. Many library Boards have accelerated digital business initiatives in the wake of the pandemic. Here are some examples of the results.
A digital infrastructure is required to make connections with people whom we have never connected with. The IoT has resulted in 75 billion devices connected, which is a massive marketplace with incredible opportunities. Libraries will have a huge role to play in it. The infrastructure will introduce many challenges but also lots of opportunities. We need to bring everyone along to benefit from the digital economy, which is an opportunity for libraries. Bandwidth will be the key; speeds have increased 63% in the last 5 years. But the downside is that as more things are connected, there will be more vulnerability to being victimized by cybercrime which we must protect against.
Cities are becoming larger and more congested. They have more of an aging population and more need for diversity and community building. How do we create value and sustainability with opportunities for everyone to create? The impact of urbanization is that aspirational and sustainable goals are in a world in flux. We must have collaborative ecosystems: providers, nurturers, pioneers, researchers, and universities, and we must ensure that everyone is connected with broadband. Libraries have a critical role and an opportunity to be curators and to make sure that everyone is heard. A smart city cannot happen without the library’s involvement. There is no lack of solutions. The only way to make a sustainable difference is to impact urban systems.
What makes a city smart? We want to create a social environment that benefits everyone, which will be a massively growing marketplace: from $410 billion in 2020 to $820 billion by 2025. There is no lack of suggested solutions, and it is important that we choose the right ones to get the most visible and meaningful impact. We should build a “smart city platform” that supports scale and sustainable growth.
Some ways that libraries can add value to the transformation of a community include:
- Providing resources and physical technology,
- Inclusivity, democratization of knowledge, supporting people,
- Leading by example,
- Digital literacy instruction,
- Bridging the digital divide,
- Influencing policy developments,
- Providing connectivity for the entire community, and
- Being the drop that starts the ripple.
Pointers for libraries to take home:
- Smart cities are here and happening.
- Get engaged and facilitate the smart city journey.
- Provide connectivity to the un-connected.
- Facilitate citizen engagement.
- Create collaborative eco-systems
- Bring diverse and inclusive voices to the table.
Leading Through Uncharted Frontiers
Austin Williams, Interim Director of the Law Library at Georgetown University Law Center said that navigating our way through uncharted areas is like going through a wilderness. In March 2020, everything changed, and we still don’t know what will be the end of it. This presentation will discuss key insights and an overview of the technology used during the pandemic. The last 2 years have been a constant whirlwind of changes, and the most frequent questions people are asking are “What Will the Future Hold for Libraries?´ and “How will jobs change in the light of what we have learned?”
How we will approach uncertainty in the future is a very important consideration. Uncertainty is hard for users, but especially for library staff members. Will priorities and expectations be changed? Areas that have been emphasized during the last 2 years:
- Communication: It is critical to communicate about everything in multiple ways. Don’t hide away from staff. People want information and updates, even if the answer is unknown. It is important to forecast as far as possible. Forecasts will not provide all the answers, but they help staff. Relying on official information is not enough; let staff know what policies mean for libraries and services now and in the future and what they can expect. Communicate in multiple ways; people have preferences for how they receive information. Make face-to-face an important part of communication. Most of today’s laptops and tablets can perform high quality video calls using systems like Zoom, so there is no longer any need to go to a dedicated conference room to communicate. Regularly scheduled meetings are a good habit to form. They avoid flooding staff email accounts with non-emergency information. Create a centralized platform for sharing information (such as a Wiki) that staff can refer to as needed..
- Input and Feedback cannot be done alone, so seek input from others and let people know that you are available for feedback. Ask what people want or need to know, what is working well, and what is not working well.
- Plan, plan, plan. Be flexible and ready to pivot. Prepare in advance even if the situation changes, and the past few years have shown us that it will. Be sure to archive your plans because you might need them again.
- Resetting priorities and expectations will need to be reset as conditions change. Take time to step back and focus on what is important and critical. Some rollouts will not be smooth.
Visibility Matters: Building and Expanding
Virtual Impact and Engagement
As schools scrambled to address learning needs during a pandemic, leadership in digital curation was critical. Librarians who were prepared to gather, organize, and make sense of digital resources and workflow tools became even more indispensable. Invisibility is not an option. Visibility means finding a way to let people know you are there.
Joyce Valenza, Associate Professor, Master of Information Program, Rutgers School of Communications and Information; and Shannon McClintock Miller, Teacher Librarian and Future Ready Librarian Spokesperson, Van Meter IA Community School said that visibility and curation are not options but essential practices. During the pandemic, leadership in digital curation was crucial. School librarians were uniquely positioned to serve entire student bodies and communities. They were the glue holding communities together.
Making the case for visibility: Collections are not just what we buy but are what we point to, make available, and contextualize, so ensure that your collection is visible. Digital curation is the story we tell around the resources we collect. It is our instructional voice about engagement with our communities and modeling a new set of tools and skills. Information equity means to be visible for teachers and students.
Curation means visibility. Library websites can be turned into remote learning sites. We need to be creative about curating. During the pandemic, teachers came to the library to ask for help in getting materials to students, so books were set outside on the doorstep for them to pick up, which is only a small thing, but it illustrated how librarians were thinking about solutions for students and families. Those relationships will not go away.
Curation situations: In many ways, our old websites were more focused on brochures than destinations. A better way to curate is with a choice board to give kids choices about what they would like to read and learn.
We are using things differently. Choice boards provide wide scale inspirations to grab content and ideas; some schools are using Wakelet to curate them. Other ideas:
- We are not limited to 1 platform.
- Before you curate, search the web for LibGuides.
- Create a custom search engine and embed it on your site.
- If people can’t find you, they can’t learn from you.
- Everybody sees the sun, so be the sun.
Meeting the Needs of the Community, From a Distance
This session featured 4 librarians from the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket, NY describing how they operated and even thrived during the pandemic when they had to serve their users outside the walls of the library. Their experiences will be a good example for many libraries should another time of emergency occur.
The shutdown came without warning; everyone in the library, including staff, was told to go home immediately. The staff had to figure out what they could control in a time when everything mattered. It was important to look at the remote capabilities of the staff; many of them did not have a PC at home. How do you quarantine thousands of books? What basic services can be offered outside of the building? Solving these problems proved that, indeed, necessity is the mother of invention.
One of the biggest things that users wanted was Wi-Fi access from the parking lot, and by modifying the phone and email system, that worked well. Technical help by phone or email was available every day. People were glad to talk to someone. Zoom calls to virtual offices were launched, and curbside delivery of books was a big addition to the services provided. Items were held until the library reopened. Users could schedule a time to pick up their items using an app on their phones. When developing these services, the managers were constantly threading the needle between service and safety.
Before closing, people could sense that changes were coming (over 400 people visited the library the day before the closure), but nobody imagined they would be closed for such a long time. People were asked to retain items on loan until reopening; over 9,000 items were returned in the first 2 weeks after reopening. Materials in the book drop were collected and held by the grounds staff. Meetings were held using Zoom. Circulation staff stayed connected via email and social media. When they returned, they had reduced hours, staggered shifts, social distancing, and wore masks and gloves. Held items were delivered at the front door. Loan periods were extended, and fines were waived. Time on the Holds bookshelf was extended to 14 days, and users with holds ready for pickup were called to see if they still wanted their items (most of them did). Contactless lobby pickup has been retained as a convenience for users.
Programs for children and teens continued with dramatically increased numbers of participants. Community service projects were developed, and virtual story times were online after publishers dropped their copyright restrictions. Working from home was facilitated by moving to Google Workspace. Librarians created videos as educational programs and as ways to stay in touch with children and parents. A “library buddy” service allowed parents to sign up their children for meetings with their favorite librarian. Summer reading programs were converted to online using Beanstalk.
Public Health Hunger Games: Libraries as Winners!
Amy Affelt, Director, Database Research Worldwide, Compass Lexecon, and Stephen Abram, managing principal of Lighthouse Consulting Inc. and past Executive Director of the Federation of Ontario Public Libraries presented this update from a similar talk they gave at a past Internet Librarian conference. Amy noted that because of the many changes since them, the title of this talk should now be “Global Pandemic? World War III? Libraries Have Your Back”
(Note: Amy’s slides contain a wealth of information and many useful URLs. Click here to view them.)
Science is evolving from a process of hundreds of competing teams conducting studies, presenting results at niche conferences, doing more experiments, and finally publishing their work in peer reviewed journals. With COVID, Federal agencies have created guidelines regarding the virus, some of which conflict with those from other agencies. This situation is a significant opportunity for librarians because we deal with facts and information. It is important to understand that science changes. What can we do to help?
Libraries have a mandate to do this because according to Pew Research, they are the most respected source of information. We need to use gold standard sources with a credibility that is difficult to deny, for example WHO, CDC, Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker, Global Epidemics. The New York Times has a good vaccine tracker for locations designated by users, which is updated daily.
It is important that skeptics see both the fallacies and facts to be persuaded: the brief refuting false arguments, the false arguments, and the truth. People are persuadable; those least likely to change their mind are the most risk-averse, and altruistic messages are the most persuasive.
Librarians should stand ready to help people find information about COVID, treatments, and vaccines. The July 2021 issue of Computers in Libraries had an article describing success stories of libraries that helped people in their communities with various services. Many people have no way to print anything, so the Ann Arbor District Library offered a remote printing service to users. Politicians in many places are helping people find vaccine appointments. Libraries can help people in many places to obtain and use COVID self-tests, find therapeutic locators, and vaccine passports.
Amy ended her talk with a wonderful quotation from Stephen Abram: “There is never an event where libraries are not needed,” so he began by noting that the last few months make us feel like we are going crazy. How can libraries handle disruption? We need to learn from past disruptive experiences, find innovative ways to position libraries to be mission-critical in times of emergencies, and remain flexible and nimble. What do we do well?
Although disasters come in all types and sizes, COVID was different because it was global and affected many humans. Libraries have an important role to play because we are trusted, professional, and maintain confidence; we have content and digital assets as well as trained and competent staff along with skills for communicating quality information.
In the current situation with Ukraine, what are we learning about leadership? This is an economic war; how at risk is your employer? Is its data safely backed up at a remote site? How do we provide hope? We need to learn the lessons from different events and threats and how they affect libraries. Look at the roles we have played, step up, and deal with ambiguity, which affects our professional skills. Informing people is core in our profession. The list of what we did during the pandemic is very impressive.
We have seen massive changes in the digital use of our libraries.
We must prepare for the next disaster…and there will be one! Here are some things we can do:
Finally, we need to review our progress. What are we learning? What do we need to know? Is something changing permanently? What skills can we add to our competencies list, services, and resumes? What can we stop? How is this affecting our culture?
CIL 2023 is scheduled for March 28-30 in Arlington, VA.\
Donald T. Hawkins is an information industry freelance writer based in Pennsylvania. In addition to blogging and writing about conferences for Against the Grain, he blogs the Computers in Libraries and Internet Librarian conferences for Information Today, Inc. (ITI) and maintains the Conference Calendar on the ITI website. He is the Editor of Personal Archiving: Preserving Our Digital Heritage, (Information Today, 2013) and Co-Editor of Public Knowledge: Access and Benefits (Information Today, 2016). He holds a Ph.D. degree from the University of California, Berkeley and has worked in the online information industry for over 50 years.