A Technological Update for Libraries

Ottawa Community News | Picture credit see below (1)

I came across an article recently about the High-Tech Makeover one branch of the Ottawa Public Library was soon to undergo.  As an avid reader and library-lover, it all sounded fantastic to me:  Elmvale Acres was the latest branch in the system scheduled to receive radio-frequency equipment and self-checkout kiosks.  “Library users will be able to place their stack of books, magazines, DVDs and CDs in the kiosks.  The materials, which have already had their barcodes replaced with radio-frequency identification (or RFID) tags, can be scanned in the blink of an eye and recorded on the user’s library card.”  Reading this made my inner book worm do quite the little happy dance.  What more could you ask for?  Free books, movies, and magazines open for you to borrow whenever you want and made to be done incredibly easy.  Nothing could possibly be wrong with this.

And then the punch in the gut that proved to be the biggest wrench in the plan:  “The multimillion-dollar system-wide retrofit…” A multi-million dollar renovation is a lot of money, and for a library?  My inner devil’s advocate smirked, mocking my too-early excitement.

It is a sad but true fact that libraries are becoming less and less frequented as technology improves.  Libraries were originally created as places for people could go to share and gather information.  But now?  If you want to read Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or find out all there is to know about the red-eyed tree frog you don’t have to go to the library to check out an original copy or open an encyclopedia.  All you need to do is type a few words into your phone or on a computer and the information is right there, instantly at your fingertips.

People still go to libraries; it should come as no surprise that most libraries have their “usuals”, just as all businesses do.  But it’s hard to say most libraries are seeing many outside of this normal group.  Even college libraries have reached a point where most students only walk through the doors if instructed by a teacher or to study; a meeting place where the books contained within the walls are hardly read.  So while RFID technology would certainly improve the way a library operates, is it really worth it to spend so much money on the technology?

Video rental stores have become obsolete since the popularization of Netflix and other programs that allow users to watch movies and TV shows without ever having to leave their home.  With the growing use of E-readers and online books, are libraries next to become obsolete?  Even if libraries do stay around for decades to come, is it really worth the money to invest in RFID, or would the tax dollars be better spent elsewhere?

At Radianse, we are so confident that you will achieve a return on investment, we guarantee it.  But if we started implementing out system in libraries, could we really guarantee this return on investment?  It’s hard to say.  The benefits are there, no doubt, and it is easy for anyone who has stepped foot inside a library to see the value RFID would bring.  But with libraries being frequented so much less, it could be possible (and sad to say even likely) that the money spent on a system would not end up being worth the benefits it brings.

Maybe the idea of libraries in general needs a major overhaul, more than just making them more up-to-date with technology.  Perhaps a library featuring tablets and plush, comfortable chairs by a fireplace to read by.  Or maybe a green library with a futuristic twist.  Making libraries “cool” again and really showing the benefits they offer in a new way could be enough to make them thrive again.

So what do you think?  Should all libraries go through a technical upgrade, or is it simply not worth the money?  Send an email to carolyn.riel@radianse.com to let us know what you think!  Or for more information give us a call at (603) 994-2200. We’d enjoy hearing from you!

(1) Ottawa Community News | http://www.ottawacommunitynews.com/news-story/5914491-elmvale-acres-library-getting-a-high-tech-makeover/

(2) Library Journal | http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2015/09/buildings/lbd/upclose-rooted-in-nature-library-by-design-fall-2015/#_