Library Technology Guides

Document Repository

Smart Libraries Newsletter

Smart Libraries Q&A: Top five new technologies

Smart Libraries Newsletter [January 2020]


What are the top 5 “new” technologies that librarians should be expected to answer questions about or see students using in the next few years?

There are a few technologies that have become well established by today and are likely to have even greater impact on society in a mid-term future of five years. I see the following five technologies as ones that potentially impact the way that individuals access information, which would be especially important for librarians and students to explore and understand.

  1. Internet of things (IoT): The types of devices and products used in daily life that connect to the internet has proliferated already and will become even more ubiquitous in the future. This evolving ecosystem of interconnected devices offers its users new conveniences and personal benefits. Our homes are becoming smarter with automated thermostats, motion-sensitive lights, and security monitoring, with new capabilities continually emerging. It's important to keep in mind that these smart devices are not just programmed for our convenience, but many also collect data for the benefit of their manufacturers. From a privacy and data literacy perspective, it is important to look beyond the superficial functions of these devices but to also be aware of how any data generated behind the scenes is generated, transmitted, and shared. Hopefully device manufacturers or distributors make this information available through their privacy disclosures and terms of service statements. Individuals with the technical skills may also want to analyze their actual communications streams to assess what data are collected and transmitted.
  2. Personal digital assistants, especially smart speakers, fall within the internet of things category, but warrant special attention. Originally launched as “smart speakers,” new versions of these devices are equipped with video screens and cameras. These devices provide extraordinary convenience, with a voice-driven interface for answering questions, playing music or other media, and for controlling devices. The privacy concerns of these devices are obvious since they have the capability to listen in—or watch—any person or activity within their range. The major devices in use today, including Google Home and Amazon Alexa, provide clear statements regarding when these devices are actively listening, what is recorded, and what is transmitted to their servers. In the future, we can expect these devices to be enhanced with even greater capabilities. I anticipate that many tasks now performed on personal computers, tablets, and phones will shift on to these devices. As these devices gain greater power and penetrate into more homes, workplaces, and public settings, it will be important to likewise understand whether the rules related to the transmission of personal data and behaviors change from those in place today.
  3. Big Data and analytics will become an even more powerful aspect of technology in the next five years. Organizations will increasingly rely on data collected about their customers, clients, or other stakeholders to shape their services. The consumer arena exploits big data at a massive scale today, and libraries are joining the fray. The body of big data includes that generated by our phones and computers, by in-person buying and browsing, and increasingly through IoT devices and personal digital assistants. Librarians in the future will increasingly need to understand how to incorporate big data into their own services as well as be vigilant regarding how patron interactions with information resources and other library services might be channeled into the big data arena.
  4. Biometrics, especially facial recognition, have become incredibly reliable in recent years. These technologies are increasingly replacing passwords and other mechanisms for authentication and authorization. Phones, tablets, and computers routinely use facial recognition for sign-on. Airports and other secure facilities increasingly use facial recognition as one of the methods for controlling access. This technology trend will only become more powerful and prevalent in the future. Librarians will need to learn to take advantage of this technology as this becomes an expected means of access to systems that otherwise would require a password or pin. In a library context, however, it would be essential to ensure that using biometrics for authentication does not compromise patron privacy.
  5. Deep fakes, where video, or other media, can be convincingly altered has become possible today through advances in digital animation technologies. The tools for creating these deep fakes are widely available and do not necessarily require deep expertise. “Fake news,” a well-known issue today, means that it has become essential to validate the truthfulness of news items we read on the web and other media. Deep fakes mean that we can't even trust our eyes to know if a person actually said what is shown in a video. As the technologies for forging content become more powerful, it will be essential for librarians and other information professionals to give guidance regarding what content can be trusted.

These five technologies represent some obvious examples of the roles that librarians might play in the future in an incredibly complex information environment of interconnected systems and data. These new roles will likewise shape the skills that librarians will need to develop to give well-informed guidance to the individuals and communities they serve. Mastery of these technologies will enable libraries to take advantage of them when appropriate as well as to find ways to mitigate impact when they run counter to library values.

View Citation
Publication Year:2020
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Smart Libraries Newsletter
Publication Info:Volume 40 Number 01
Issue:January 2020
Publisher:ALA TechSource
Series: Smart Libraries Q&A
Place of Publication:Chicago, IL
Record Number:24765
Last Update:2023-01-25 10:43:55
Date Created:2019-12-20 14:18:22