By Valarie Romero, STEM researcher, academic and consultant
Libraries are an important part of communities around the world. Because the way we consume media changes continually, libraries have had to evolve many times over the years to keep up with the rise of movies, audiobooks, and digital media. Today, they offer a wide range of services and materials. You’ll still find printed books, of course, but you’ll also find ebooks, magazines, Internet access, music, and more. Career assistance helps 204,000 Canadians each month, and most of Canada’s 600+ public libraries also offer community events and even programs like seed sharing!
Despite all the resources public libraries have to offer, they sometimes lag behind in technology. Big data has become an essential tool in the business world, but most libraries have not yet adopted predictive analytics. The good news? Tech leaders are urging Ottawa to create a national big data strategy. As businesses push for big data in Canada, libraries could also reap the benefits. Here are 4 ways libraries could improve their services even more by leveraging big data and artificial intelligence (AI).
1. Improve User Experience
We live in a world of algorithms. These days, we expect to get suggestions based on our past purchases or interests. The music streaming service Spotify uses AI to suggest new music based on users’ individual tastes—a tactic that libraries could take one step further. Using this technology, libraries could offer book recommendations, magazines, articles, authors, music, movies—any and all media the library offers could be promoted to enhance the user experience. AI could make finding new media more convenient for library patrons and introduce them to new material they may never have found otherwise. Aside from convenience and entertainment value, using AI to suggest similar materials could also help patrons who are doing research by combing the library database in an instant.
2. Big Data Can Improve Efficiency and Provide Insights
Libraries have the goal of serving as many people as possible, but funds are often limited. Increasing efficiency can help libraries streamline their operations and maximize impact in the community. Using big data, library managers and staff can gain more insight into user experience by quickly analyzing popular hours, popular books, and trending authors. These insights can then be used to make purchasing decisions and allocate resources where they will be most effective.
Big data has a long track record of cutting down on waste and increasing efficiency—smart routing, for example, can save 20 billion hours and $150 billion in fuel consumption. Libraries have a lot of moving parts (including trucks that deliver books between branches), creating so many opportunities for big data to save precious resources.
3. Big Data Can Secure Networks from Potential Hacks
Cybercrime is on the rise, and even organizations like libraries are potential targets for hackers. Individuals may try to hack anything from books, articles or even illegal music and video downloads. While library resources are generally free to borrow, some people want the materials permanently—and right away. New technologies that libraries are using add vulnerabilities—in the healthcare field, 51% of organizations believe that mobile devices, the cloud, and the Internet of Things increase security risks. Big data analytics allow libraries to detect threats in real-time: from irregular activity on server and application logs to questionable user activities.
4. Improve Librarians’ Ability to Search & Find Information
Librarians are skilled researchers, and usually know where to look for the book or information a patron is requesting. However, there is only so much a human can do to find relevant information, especially in large or academic libraries. For large collections or more esoteric requests, big data can make the search much quicker and ultimately, more successful. Librarians can use the technology to track down information in minutes, getting patrons the information they need right away.
A Blend of Old and New
Libraries may not use card catalogues anymore, but they use a blend of old and new methods to serve patrons. Big data is just another tool librarians can use to make sure they are offering what patrons really need. Some, including newscaster and author Nora Young, are already calling for libraries to become part of the big data conversation. Continuing to grow and change with technology, libraries continue to be a key part of strong communities—and big data can help them serve those communities even more.
About the author:
Valarie is a leading STEM researcher, academic and consultant covering everything from telemedicine to blockchain tech to how technology can be leveraged to improve social equity within the education sector. Valarie is also the President of her school's Women in STEM group and actively helps mentor K-12 students interested in STEM subjects and careers. Outside of her studies and leadership opportunities, Valarie loves playing with her two puppies, Sammi & Spice.