I recently came across the NMC Technology Outlook for Australian Tertiary Education 2013-2018, which lists twelve emerging technologies which are likely to have an impact on higher education in Australia over the next five years. The technologies discussed in the report are:
- Learning Analytics
- Massive Open Online Courses
- Mobile Learning
- Social Media
- 3D Printing
- Information Visualisation
- Location-Based Services
- Flexible Displays
- The Internet of Things
- Virtual and Remote Laboratories
- Wearable Technology
I won’t go into all of them in relation to their impact on libraries, but there are a couple that I’d like to discuss.
The first of these are Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs. These free courses with thousands of students have taken off in recent years, and cover a very wide range of subject areas, including librarianship. Although academic librarians are unlikely to be asked to provide a training session on how to use the library as part of a MOOC, there are other roles which we can play. These have been discussed at an OCLC seminar, and in an ARL Issue Brief. Mostly they involve copyright and licensing issues around course materials.
The next technology I’d like to look at is 3D printing. It seems there’s a been a proliferation of “makerspaces” being set up in libraries around the world. Most of the examples I’ve heard about have been in public libraries, rather than academic libraries. Some Australian libraries which have installed a 3D printer include the University of Melbourne, Town of Victoria Park, Helensvale, and Grote Street. I’ll admit I’m a bit ambivalent about libraries providing 3D printers for their patrons. There has been a bit of discussion and debate about this issue, with Hugh Rundle and R. David Lankes providing differing points of view. I certainly empathise with Hugh’s perspective that librarians shouldn’t blindly introduce new technology simple because it’s new and shiny – there should be a sound evidence base for why the technology is needed. I also see where David is coming from – these tools can allow for new ideas and knowledge to be developed and created, which is one of the core functions of a library. From an academic library perspective, I think the library is the right place on campus for 3D printing to be made widely available (I’m not suggesting it’s the only place – researchers will probably want their own printers in their labs). This is because the library is one of the few “neutral” spaces on campus – it’s not owned by a particular department or faculty. It’s a space where students and staff from all disciplines can meet and collaborate. In the context of 3D printing, an engineering student may have the technical knowledge to operate a printer, so they may be able to assist a design student to create a prototype.
Finally, I’d like to touch on location-based services. Several museums and libraries, such as MONA in Hobart and the State Library of NSW, offer apps which provide visitors with information about exhibits relative to the visitors’ location. Louise Prichard delivered a presentation at Information Online earlier this year about the development of the SLNSW app (slides available here, summary available here). I think apps like these could be adapted for use by academic libraries. For example, when a patron first enters the library, the app could display a map of the building, with directions to where the patron wants to go. If a student is at the print station and needs help to use it, the app could bring up the instructions for how to print. The app could also be used to provide a self-guided tour of the library for new students and staff.
These are my brief random thoughts about these technologies. I’ll try to revisit this post in the future to see if these technologies have become as widespread as predicted.