Smart Libraries: Community Development Through Innovation and Partnerships

Posted by Chip Weston on September 12, 2016 at 9:20 AM

Technologies that have been maturing over the last decades are no longer on the horizon but on our doorsteps. They are being deployed by the thousands and portend substantial changes in just about every aspect of our lives. Massive amounts of data are generated and self-learning, self-improving artificial intelligence is being used to not only make sense of the data but to leverage that information for good and nefarious purposes. Hundreds of new applications are discovered and come online every day in all fields of endeavor.

While the convergence of different technologies makes it difficult to forecast the future, the sheer amount of digital data, when harnessed effectively, makes it possible to better read the needs of the local community, government, organizations and businesses. Libraries are often the ideal and in some cases, the only organizations that can best articulate and leverage these data-related opportunities.

 “Smart” Libraries

Behind the constant improvement in smart phones are thousands of people working to improve the relevance of the applications, the user interface and the overall user experience. As the Internet of Everything begins to connect and monitor almost every object in our lives, smart phones (or whatever they morph into) will take on monumental tasks so that we can utilize real-time data to enhance our lives, communities and to better predict our future needs.

Like an ever-evolving smart phone, a smart library is constantly assessing and ranking the needs of the local community so that relevant programs can be created, funded, evaluated, enhanced and sustained.

Determining Local Needs

Libraries are generally politically neutral so they are in an ideal position to assess and aggregate all assets in a community. Representatives from these asset organizations are tapped to join ongoing forums that are tasked with evaluating the overall needs of the community. They decide which needs and opportunities might not be accomplished by existing government or other entities and rank them based on what is possible, immediate, fundable, most beneficial, etc. Stakeholders and partners are brought in to create, manage and deploy the initiatives.

Forums can be created for each major group; kids, tweens, teens, life long learning, seniors, businesses, entrepreneurs… each community will identify their own demographic segments.

Key factors in the success of smart library programs are:

• sustainable revenue

• sharing best practices

• new governance models

• measuring outcomes

• crowd sourcing the untapped intelligence within each community

• a real-time local “dashboard” of  relevant information

• access to adequate broadband

• adequate protection for privacy

Moving our Libraries into This New Phase

We need to bring staff, boards, government, and sustaining organizations into a conversation on existing best practices and enter into a dialog on the future. It is imperative that local stakeholders see libraries in new ways – for their new potential as a community asset organizer.

Identifying potential partners and pairing them with needs and initiatives through their participation in library-sponsored forums creates new revenue opportunities for the partners, stakeholders and the library. The ongoing education associated with these initiatives elevates the entire process and all involved. The process makes communities better able to deal with opportunity and disruption as humanity moves through a series of never before experienced inflection points. As communities grow deeper relationships and tap members of all demographics, a greater optimism of what is possible should emerge along with a clearer local brand and a more authentic and durable sense of community.

Smart libraries play a major role in the creation of networked and more sustainable communities.

Chip Weston

Owner, Chip Weston Studios