Librarians across America are champions and co-creators of the digital era. But with limited budgets, the rising focus on digitization can create strain for academic, special, and public libraries alike. Even so, traditional challenges, such as patron engagement or slow turnaround on book returns, haven’t gone away. The Internet of Things (IoT) offers agile, customizable solutions for each of these dilemmas and is giving libraries a chance to merge and transform the physical space of the library with powerful digital tools. The Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) estimates that 50 billion devices will be connected to the Internet of Things by 2020, and it is time for libraries to consider adoption to streamline service and make library navigation easier for patrons.
IoT Book Returns: Faster Turnaround, Happy Patrons
While it may presently be too expensive to add IoT location trackers to a library’s entire collection, RFID strips can be added in place of regular tattle tape security strips to track book returns. Tattle tape strips have been a standard in libraries for years, but these magnetic strips are static in purpose and utility, only alerting librarians when books that have not been checked out pass through security system checkpoints. By contrast, RFID strips can actively engage with and share information to a network when scanned with the right digital reader. Additionally, RFID strips can be linked to the security system to perform the same function as traditional tattle tape.
RFID Journal writes that one library system in Quebec uses RFID tags to drive high turnaround on recently returned items. The tagged books are placed on shelves with embedded scanners that can read their RFID strips upon return and notify patrons of the book’s availability. Up to 30% of the books returned in this way are checked out again on the same day. To speed up the process still further, consider adding an RFID reader to book drops. These readers may be integrated with the library’s IoT network, as well as with the catalogue and circulation systems, to notify patrons immediately with a hold on the returned item and remind circulation assistants to set aside the returned items for a new pickup. While IoT is not a magic bullet for lost materials, it can expedite the turnaround and availability of high demand items while streamlining the frustrating holds cycle.
IoT Environmental Controls: Keeping Special Collections Cool
A library’s environmental control system also can be added to the IoT network. These temperature controls may be particularly helpful for archives and special collections where improper storage could lead to material deterioration or destruction. Using digital thermostats, dehumidifiers, and linked light switches, almost every aspect of a collection’s environment may be monitored and controlled from the network using desktop software or secure smartphone apps. In addition to empowering librarians to protect the physical integrity of their collections from anywhere in the world through apps, the library may even automate these controls with machine to machine communications (M2M) so that the monitoring software itself decides when to cut off or turn on temperature controls based on predetermined standards.
Facilitiesnet writes that IoT-mediated environmental controls may even be programmed to monitor occupant behavior to anticipate and accommodate patron comfort. This can be achieved simply by linking the environmental system with IoT-linked motion sensors that detect when a patron leaves or enters the special collections area. In this way, a chilled room may be temporarily warmed or lighted for the patron and then immediately returned to ideal preservation conditions when the patron leaves.
IoT and Wayfinding
Patron engagements can be enhanced through IoT networks, too. Take the traditional library dilemma of a patron overwhelmed in the stacks of a large research library. They may be looking for one specific item out of many thousands, and if they are not already trained in call numbers or Dewey decimal systems, the challenge may seem insurmountable and spark genuine library anxiety. As every librarian knows, anxious patrons often leave without ever receiving help or reaching out to a librarian for assistance. Now, imagine an intervention tool that permits patrons to find their way through the library using a basic cellphone application. These patrons may not want to talk to a librarian initially, but the mapping application may help them get near a book and then allow them to ask for online assistance, easing the patron into an in-person reference interview should they still be unable to find the item needed.
How could such an app exist?
IoT makes all of this possible through wayfinding beacons. When IoT networked beacons are placed as checkpoints throughout the library, navigation becomes as simple as following an arrow on a digital map. Depending on complexity and computing power, these beacons may even provide information such as hot, new authors from a particular section, suggestions based on a patron’s past check outs, or an option to notify the reference team that the patron needs help in one particular section of the library. Whereas patrons often struggle with traditional signage-based wayfinding, or even overlook the signs entirely, IoT-mediated digital wayfinding is straightforward, intuitive for a generation already accustomed to GPS navigation, and radically simpler than attempting to decipher confusing shelf signage.
Aeris and Your Library
IoT networks are varied in type and capability and can be customized to meet your library’s specific needs. Cellular and Wi-Fi connections are appropriate for large and small libraries alike, and even book mobiles may be able to use cellular connections to maintain their IoT connectivity while on the road. Whether your library serves hundreds of residents or thousands of college students and academics, Aeris is here to help you create a targeted and feasible IoT rollout plan with a network that you can rely on. To give patrons an intuitive library experience, quickly help them find exactly what they're looking for, and keep them coming back, contact us today.