Future technologies and changes in people’s attitudes are difficult to predict. This is a fact that has become evident to Concept Designer Anu Koski of the Central Library. She is involved in a working group that develops digital services for libraries through pilot projects and prototypes.
“At the moment, we still need to include the word ‘digital’ to clarify various concepts that utilise electronic systems. In the future, however, everything will blend together. As physical and digital services merge into uniform functional entities in our minds, we will no longer think of certain aspects as distinctly digital.”
Koski knows the situations where people are normally acutely aware that something is not working as it should. “It’s heartbreaking to see a great new service reduced to a black screen in the corner,” she describes. The upcoming Central Library intends to eliminate such impressions, but there is much work to be done.
The majority of the efforts are under way now and some will take place later in the background, out of the direct view of the library users. “The precondition for all operations is to build background systems – the entire foundation on which we will create something new. This also involves such basic principles of library services as easy access to materials and the methods available to present them. For some libraries, the challenge is finding ways to highlight and present content so that the library visitors are made aware of the entire range. This applies to digital materials in particular.”
Pilot projects tested
The idea for the first concrete tool on which Anu Koski is currently working stemmed from the wishes of the library customers and staff and the city administration. The purpose of the premises reservation tool is to enable people to reserve library premises independently through an electronic system. The tool will be tested at libraries in the near future. Other city departments, such as the Department of Early Education and Care and the Youth Department, are involved in the cooperation. In this way, technical information is distributed to other parties, which also serves to obscure the boundaries between departments.
“The second pilot project pertains to info displays. The Central Library will have plenty of information to disseminate, and all forms of marketing communication are a challenge. We don’t want too many visual distractions in the library, but information must be distributed efficiently. The development of the info displays is also a collaborative effort with other departments,” Koski explains.
The architects of the Central Library take part in the design. For example, they know the best places to mount screens and the spaces where the info displays would be most effective in terms of crowd flow. The Central Library will feature screens that present digital content. Some of these screens will be interactive, to enable digital storytelling, for instance. Solutions for providing guidance are also being planned.
Library users who have participated in workshops and campaigns, as well as library employees hoping to facilitate day-to-day work tasks, have been a abundant source of ideas related to electronic services. Customers benefit directly from staff who have to spend less time on mechanical routines.
“In future, IT experts, enthusiasts and students may be able to form a development community that takes part in the development of digital solutions for the Central Library. Once the Central Library is open, it could also include test stations where parties from a variety of fields could present their inventions,” Koski envisions.
Space for future needs
The digital needs of libraries are by no means related to e-books alone. “Still, the visibility of e-materials is an important matter. However, we don’t yet know whether or not electronic books and other materials will take off in the coming years.”
There is much we do not know about new technology. “For this very reason, it’s important to come up with general concepts and ideas instead of leaning on a particular technology,” Anu Koski says as a reminder and states that the library project is keeping a close eye on the situation and coming needs of libraries abroad, such as the Danish Århus library. “It’s always a good idea to conduct a lot of tests and try out different solutions. We have no intention of implementing everything we test – only the pilots that actually work.”
Nothing new can be created without testing, failing and testing some more. At this point, no one can define what kind of digital services it would be possible to hope for and realise. How would you like a service that library visitors could use to determine, for example, where in the building the foremost expert in British historical novels is currently spending time enjoying a book? What about creating a digitally transforming story room?
“It’s always good to keep in mind that something being digital is not a value in itself. Instead, the added value must come from creating a solution that works for the user. Digital systems are expensive and all usage must be somehow well justified. For us, technology comes second – we focus on what’s essential,” Koski says.
The final form for the services may never be found, but that is not the ultimate intention. Digital services, such as those that will be implemented at the Central Library, are not designed to a complete state. The actual needs will be seen in 2018 when the library opens, and they will continue to evolve thereafter.
“The purpose of the Central Library is to be a building for the people that promotes accessing the services on-site – nothing will be set in stone beforehand. At the same time, the library can be a place that entices and encourages city residents to try out various alternatives and teaches them how to use new types of services. The building has plenty of room for traditions and creative novelties, as well as a wealth of ingenious combinations.”