Commentary / Opinion

Protecting libraries with the IoT

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Here in the UK, libraries as we know them are facing profound challenges. Uncertainties about the future of print contribute to discussions around the perceived declining value of traditional book repositories. Meanwhile, ever-reducing public funding is forcing many libraries to make cuts to their services, or close altogether.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. For many communities, libraries remain vital resources, providing access to a wealth of knowledge, free computer use, and community activities. And technology, far from doing away with the printed word, may be able to support it. Perhaps the IoT can help libraries – by optimizing use of space, enhancing the visitor experience, and preserving valuable rare collections through smart room management.

Head count metrics: understanding visitor patterns

With limited space and lots of things to store, it’s important to make best possible use of the available space. To do that, we need to understand how visitors are actually using it. How many people are using the workspaces and study areas? What times of the day are the busiest? Which are the most popular stacks?

Proximity beacons, deployed in a grid system, could help build an indoor positioning system that can track visitor movements, and answer all of these questions. With 25 or 30 beams spread through the building, it would be possible to measure the number of visitors, what they browsed and which parts of the library were busiest at which parts of the day. This information could be wirelessly sent to an accompanying app, and displayed as a dashboard to library staff.

Having access to metrics like these could not only help library staff optimize their space or improve signage to hard-to-find areas, but could give them much-needed evidence to demonstrate that libraries are still widely used.

Community activities, based on your interests

Beacon technology could offer library visitors other benefits, too. Such as making them aware of activities, workshops, classes or offers based on their interests. Not only does this highlight the extensive range of services on offer, but it could help newcomers to the community reach out to others who share the same interests.

The iBeacon app, for example, sends location-triggered information to visitors about library offers and events. So someone browsing the horror section might receive an alert about a Halloween-themed book reading in the library the following weekend. Someone spending a lot of time in the cooking section might receive an alert about an upcoming cookery demonstration.

QR codes and RFID tags

Then of course, there are the books themselves. It would be fairly straightforward to turn a printed book into a connected object, by instrumenting it with an RFID tag. The tag could wirelessly communicate select information, such as whether the book is available or checked out, for instance.

Meanwhile, anyone stuck for a new book recommendation could scan the QR code of a favourite novel, to see suggestions of other titles they might enjoy, based on the book they have scanned.

Protecting rare collections

Larger or more specialist libraries could use the IoT to help protect their rare collections by monitoring and controlling the conditions in which they are stored. Humidity, temperature and light sensors could measure the conditions in rare books rooms in real time, remotely adjusting them according to preset limits to preserve the precious artefacts within.

Learn about IBM’s work to preserve culture through technology

IBM has often worked with cultural institutions, using technology to preserve and protect historical manuscripts, sculptures and other precious resources. To learn more about our work in technology and the arts, read this article on preserving culture through technology.

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