Ottawa libraries to become more tech-savvy

Librarians have been known to wander around looking for lost faces and book lovers in need of guidance. Now, the City of Ottawa’s business technology plan for 2014 outlines changes to the library that would bring in new technologies and give tablets to the librarians on the floor.

The plan allows librarians to help customers even while away from their desks. The main branch of the Ottawa Public Library is currently testing devices such as tablets to increase employee mobility. With a tablet in hand, a librarian can roam around branches while maintaining access to library software. He or she is also able to respond to phone calls while on the move.

The business technology plan proposes that library provide access to new technologies and instruction on how to use them. New types of software and equipment on the public network are to be purchased and installed, such as Mac-based computers with video and music editing software and 3D printers.

“The traditional library is changing in that technologies are being used for both service delivery and service offerings,” says Danielle McDonald, CEO of the library. She says she considers service delivery as the recent implementation of radio frequency identification (RFID) tags to replace barcodes, automated checkout stations and the employee tablets. Service offerings include more technology-based programming like computer classes and instruction from librarians, she says.

Libary manager Jennifer Stirling, who is also in charge of system wide services and innovation, says the tablets are meant to provide better support for customers, as well as more flexibility within the library.

“So that would mean, similar to being in a store, that if you’re in the stacks or you’re somewhere in the library and need help, the librarian can help you where you are,” Stirling explains.

She says these new developments are listed in the library’s 2014 operating budget, which is were approved  by the library board  on Nov. 21 and city council on Nov. 27.

The library has been allocated $997,000 in its draft 2014 budget to address operating and capital pressures. Under e-services, it says that $127,000 is to go to book collection and to supporting improved e-services through mobile devices for staff and increased availability of computer programs, software and the new 3D printers.

The library has yet to implement the use of devices for the librarians on staff. “We hope to pilot something in early 2014,” says McDonald.

With the increased use of personal communication technologies, the role of the librarian is changing, say experts. Although the library still focuses on encouraging literacy, the concept of literacy has evolved to encompass more than just reading and writing.

For example, the library plans to create areas where people can go to learn how to use the different technologies it has to offer. Creative lab spaces will give customers the chance to take the knowledge gained from the library and apply it to create something, says Stirling.

That project would be piloted at the Nepean Centrepointe branch and feature a variety of programming, seminars and workshops.

“The makerspace (creative lab space) initiative is in the works,” says McDonald. “Our plan is to open the space in March.”

Stirling says the library’s priority is to teach new skills. The innovations are designed to promote “transliteracy,” which the business technology plan describes as the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms and tools.             

“We are in the knowledge business,” says Stirling. “It’s just an extension of what we’ve always been doing, which is providing opportunities for learning and life-long literacy.”