The Future is Here!

Picture1_1-300x225.jpgAt the end of the first day of the EduTECH 2015 Conference in Brisbane, I arrived home at 8:15 pm after having dragged myself out of bed at 4:45 that morning. Boy, was it a long day! I sat on the lounge and began to tell my husband about my day. When I stopped to draw breath and he could get a word in edgeways, he said “You’re manic!” He had never seem me like this before. So why was I in this state? I had SEEN things, WONDEROUS things! I had seen the future of libraries and it is happening right now. The future has arrived!

In Issue 01 of our Cover to Cover newsletter, I extolled the virtues of 3D printers.  Now they are everywhere! They come in all different sizes.  They produce articles in a wide variety of colours and they are so affordable.  The parrot sitting on this man’s shoulder was born in a 3D printer.  Everything moves!  Its eyes; its beak; its wings…and it talks!  The vibrancy of the colours is absolutely phenomenal. For a small investment of $1,500 you can purchase a compact unit that can produce a vast array of items.  The cost of these devices is coming down so quickly that soon every library, whether is it a school or public library, will be able to afford to have one sitting next to their photocopier. You can even build your own 3D printer (if you are a bit handy with a screwdriver).

Similarly, laser cutters and etchers that use CO2 (otherwise known as carbon dioxide powered lasers) can cut intricate designs from wood, plastics or metal-covered plastics. The implications is that you can turn a rigid strip of plastic into a very fine, flat spring. 3D printers and laser cutters would be a wonderful additions to any library’s makerspace as they can be programmed to cut out circuit boards so you can design and make your own devices (more on that topic in our BYOD article).

Picture2_1-300x226.jpgFirst came the desktop computer. Then came the tablet. Then came the Smart Phone. Now we have the tablet/laptop, with digital ink! Microsoft have released the Surface Pro 3 and Acer have countered with their Aspire Switch II Pro and the Aspire R13 versions. At last! Here is an interactive technology that allow you to write all over your computer with a special stylus and it then converts your squiggles into a typed text, if you so desire, or you can rub it all out using the stylus as an eraser. Alternatively, you can just save your jottings, as is. The applications are endless. If you want to attach written notes to a typed sheet or PDF, you can draw all over it to your heart’s content. The really nice thing about the Surface Pro 3 is that you can remove the magnetic, clip-on keyboard and use it like a tablet. It won’t be long before your library customers will be bringing in these devices and asking you how to download e-books and e-audiobooks. Already, they are very popular in schools with school libraries holding class sets.

Picture3_1-300x246.jpgFor a few years now, Angry Birds has been all the rage with people of all ages becoming addicted to playing this game on smart phones. Well, how about this for a games tablet?  No less than 85” of LED, multi-touch technology! This enormous tablet can be wall mounted or laid flat to be used as a horizontal, mobile touch-table or whiteboard. The screen is made from tempered glass so it’s tough. It even comes with audio capabilities. However, it’s not just for playing games. There is an interactive drawing tool that allows users to paint all over the screen using their fingers – and no mess to clean up afterwards.  It also features handwriting-to-text capabilities so that you don’t have to have perfect handwriting to make notations on the screen – great for small children.  The manufactures are so confident of its resilience and robust features that they believe it will last for 17 years!  It’s almost impossible to imagine the technologies that will be available when this wears out. With up to ten ‘points of touch’ (ten users at any one time), the applications for use in any library would be endless.

Picture4_1-240x300.jpgMost library staff, at some point, will be asked to present a learning activity to their customers.  Whether it’s for teaching seniors how to use the internet or guiding school holiday groups through the Claymation process, this is the must-have item for presenters.  This wearable technology, known as Konica Minolta Smart Glasses, features a full-colour holographic display that can be clipped onto your existing glasses.  The wearer is able to view and control their smart phone while giving a presentation that is being projected onto a screen near the presenter.  Eye and eyelid movements control the device so, by looking left, right, up or down, you can interact with the menu and then blink to make your selection.  So that’s how Steven Hawking does it!

Augmented reality is an emerging technology that is finding applications in all areas of life.  These Smart Glasses are just one example of this.  However, the crème-de-la-crème of the EduTECH exhibition would have to be this Samsung Virtual Reality device – but be warned!  It is so real that, if you don’t sit down whilst using the device, you WILL fall over.  It’s really just a Samsung smart phone integrated with a 1-300x300.pngheadset but the real “jewel in the crown” is the software. It uses 360⁰ video footage taken from a camera suspended below a helicopter. The viewer can fly through the air, unaided, while chasing wild horses over meadows and streams; float through the canals of Venice; ski down an Icelandic glacier! Using integrated gloves, it’s possible to turn the pages of a rare and expensive book without doing any damage.  Having trouble seeing the fine detail? No problem. Just make the appropriate hand movements to enlarge the book; turn the pages; turn the book upside down and inspect the binding. The uses for glasses like this are only limited by your imagination.

The innovations in the library industry are not just limited to physical technology.  A number of Integrated Library Management Systems providers were keen to show off their software.  A stand-out product among these is Concord’s INFINITI Library Management System.  This library software is just so elegant, clean and fresh to use.  It’s intuitive, so the user needs very little training.  Everything is there on the screen and easy to navigate.  A lovely feature is the ‘Returns’ icon at the top of the screen, which allow users to return items without leaving their work screen to open a returns page.  The system is fully integrated with ClickView, allowing easy search and retrieve of desired video files.  Every facet of library use, from Acquisitions and Cataloguing, to Circulation and Stocktaking is easily managed from the home screen.  The 3D tag cloud is an amazing inclusion in the Search screen.  It reacts to the mouse pointer like a spinning ball and holds up to forty regularly-used search tags.  There’s no need for a separate app so that you can use it on your smart phone – the interface automatically adapts to the device being used.  It’s so nice to see a system that has such a clean looking work screen.  This ILMS is a breath of fresh air, in an industry that has required add-on after add-on to improve existing features. The beauty of ILMS is that it has been totally re-engineered from the ground up.

Technology is wonder!  It is changing and evolving so rapidly.  EduTECH had so many wonderful toys to play with and I have to admit, I felt a bit like a kid in a lolly shop!  It doesn’t matter what your library type is, there are innovative technologies that can be used by all age groups which can enhance the library experience for your customers.  There are assistive technologies to help the disabled.  There is gaming technology to use in your makerspaces.  There are a wealth of mobile devices to help your customers to access digital information.  Oh yes, the future is here – I touched it and it felt good!

Written by Helen Ladewig

Share this with your friends and colleagues.