The other day, I bought a new electric toothbrush. I looked online at the various types available and found a toothbrush with a bluetooth connection to an app on a smartphone, so I could record how often and how well I brush my teeth!*
Such a networked gadget is what the Internet of Things is all about. Objects that are a part of our life, which can be connected together (networked) in order to make our lives smoother or better in some way. ‘Smart parking’ in your car, ‘smart watches’ and even the ‘smart city‘ are all a part of what we call the Internet of Things. There are some obvious ethical issues about all the personal data, and information professionals working for companies handling such data will need to be aware of those. But what about libraries themselves?
OCLC’s newsletter from February this year focused on libraries and the Internet of Things (let’s say IoT!), and it has some great perspectives. First of all, there are ways in which IoT technology can help libraries, eg with inventory control (through RFID), smart books and assistive technology. And there are opportunities for libraries to support adoption of IoT gadgets by our users. Against the benefits, we have to weigh ethical concerns, the cost of the technology and of training staff in its use.
More examples are included in the newsletter, which also reminds us that the “things” are not necessarily smart: instead, it is the platforms that are smart, eg the app that the toothbrush connects to. And when single use platforms connect with each other (eg the toothbrush app’s data goes to my health insurance company), then we have all sorts of other opportunities and concerns. Such linked data (or Linked Data with capital letters to show how it is an important concept!) could turn a whole library into a “thing”, in the Internet of Things.
Linked Data is a way of presenting data such that other systems can automatically read it and query it (yes, it uses metadata!). The example in the OCLC newsletter is that Wikipedia’s data is increasingly linked and is used as an authoritative source for the Semantic Web. Thus it seems that a good Wikipedia article describing your library could help to make it into a “thing” that search engines and other platforms can be aware of, bringing your library to people’s attention in an appropriate way, through the tools that they already use.
Libraries have a vast pool of data themselves: what if this (or some of it) were to become linked and a part of the Semantic Web? OCLC’s WorldCat Works has already provided bibliographic descriptions of resources. Metadata afficionados may like the way that Richard Wallis of Data Liberate describes the WorldCat Works data, or to look at OCLC’s developer network. I haven’t found any examples of uses of the data but perhaps I wasn’t looking hard enough, or in the right places.
There are some other great examples of “things” and smart uses for them, plus thoughts about the future of public libraries in a blogpost/slideset from Lee Rainie, as well as consideration and references from the American Library Association.
It seems that many librarians are waiting to see what the Internet of Things will turn out to be: how much is just hype and how much will really affect libraries. I’m pretty sure that smart gadgets are becoming more pervasive though, and that the IoT will have a profound affect on the wider information profession. It made me think: What networked “things” do I want in my life, and what data will I allow them to capture or share, about me?
*I didn’t buy that toothbrush, however: I went for a more basic, although electric model. And note that I didn’t labour over a pun relating to my (pearly white) teeth and bluetooth!