2010 Horizon Report & Libraries

I was debating whether or not to invest valuable time in reading the 2010 Horizon Report on emerging technologies in higher education until I found out it was on the agenda for an upcoming meeting of a campus IT committee I am a member of. Thus, my decision was made, I had to read it. So, read it I did. I’m guessing most everyone that is interested in the report has already at least read about it, but just in case, the six technologies they focused on this year were (time to adoption in parentheses):

  1. Mobile Computing (1 year or less)
  2. Open Content (1 year or less)
  3. E-Books (2 to 3 years)
  4. Simple Augmented Reality (2 to 3 years)
  5. Gesture-based computing (4 to 5 years)
  6. Visual Data Analysis (4 to 5 years)

While the report does list a lot of good reasons for these technologies in higher education, they do not focus on libraries. Instead of repeating or rebutting what they said for higher ed as a whole, lets look at this from the academic library perspective.

Mobile Computing: People who talk to me on a regular basis about library technology probably know I’m a bit of a detractor of this whole mobile computing bandwagon as it relates to libraries. Certainly there are some who think it is the next big thing, so maybe I’m wrong. Heck, there are whole conferences devoted to mobile computing in libraries. Basically, I see mobile computing as a time-limited market – especially when it comes to libraries. I do see a reason to make some of the core pages of the academic library Web site (hours, contact information, maybe the catalog) but I don’t see a need for special iPhone apps or anything like that. I heard Joshua Kim present a Webinar the other day and he said that the demand from students for mobile community has been highly over-estimated by many information technologists. I agree.

There are reasons to be skeptical. But even if I were less skeptical about students wanted to use the library from there phone while they were hiking, I think a bigger reason into to invest too heavily in this is that mobile devices keep on improving. By the time that there is 1) interest from users, and 2) applications that they want to use, the devices will basically be able to do anything a laptop can, so it won’t be necessary to design services for mobile computing. What is and will remain more important is to design Web-based services and resources using open standards and make sure that they are accessible and limit the sue of propitiatory formats and applications whenever possible. If this is done, the mobile problem will most likely take care of itself. HTML5 may help with this.

Open Content: What I found interesting about the 2010 Horizon Report’s section on Open Content is that they were focused mainly on open courses, and maybe to a lesser degree on open lectures. Here in the library-world we seem a bit more focused on open access journals. There has been a lot written about the latter from a library perspective, even something by me, so lets look at open courses from a library perspective. What does it mean? How should libraries be involved? I’m still trying to figure that out. Certainly librarians can create open “courses” on searching databases, evaluating resources, etc., but should libraries be involved in curating open course materials, entering them into the library catalog or discovery layer? I can see some strong benefits to this, but would faculty want us to be preserving materials? What about faculty that do this outside of official mechanisms? I don’t think there is any technical reason why libraries couldn’t be involved, but there may be policy and staffing issues. This is something that I think librarians need to keep on their radar screens.

E-books: It is interesting that the report said e-books are two to three years away while I know that many academic libraries have been providing access to e-books for a while. What was also interesting about the report was when they were provide examples about e-books and libraries they seemed to focus more on recreational reading than academic reading. Obviously e-books are here. What will it mean for libraries? I’m not sure longterm. One thing I am wondering is how the market will go? If we are purchasing e-books, from company X and they are hosting, what happens if they go out of business? What about privacy? E-books are here, but there are still a lot of policy and access issues to be addressed.

Simple Augmented Reality: I’m not really sure what role academic libraries can play here. We can make library tours, and maybe provide access to equipment, software, and/or space. But at this point I am having a hard time seeing where libraries fit in except on the fringes. That’s okay though, we don’t have to be involved with every new technology. That said, I’d be interested to see what library specific applications others see for augmented reality.

Gesture-based computing: Gesture-based computing is another one that I’m not sure where an academic library fits in. Like augmented reality, I can see libraries playing a role in provide equipment, software, and spaces, but library-focused uses are not as obvious to me. Maybe in four to five years they will be. I would say, the one technology in this area I’m interested is the newly announced Apple iPad. While multi-touch screens are not the end-all and be-all of gesture-based computing, they do have there place. It will be interesting to see if libraries look at innovative ways to use this product (and the competitors that are sure to come if it proves successful). Personally, I can see us lending these out instead of or in addition to laptops or netbooks, but library-specific applications for gesture-based computing seem less likely. However, what I can see happening is the development of gesture-based hardware and software designed to help those with disabilities. I think that is one area librarians should keep an eye on.

Visual Data Analysis: I think the area of large data sets is one area where academic libraries could play a large role in the future. Will they is another question. While there are some academic libraries involved with large data sets, I am not sure that librarian-involvement is wide spread. Large datasets are going to continue to both grow in size and number. Will libraries be involved with maintaining and preserving them? I would hope so. This would allow researchers to focus on there research and I believe that libraries have the knowledge and ethics of preserving information that they would be a good choice on campus to put this responsibility. Whether that will happen though is unclear. While libraries are a good choice to me, there are other campus entities that may also step up to the plate like campus computing or the division of research. Libraries need to keep vigilant about this field and any mid- to large-sized activity make sure that at least a few of the librarians are aware of the issues of preserving and maintaining datasets so that they can speak knowledgeable about the subject when approached. I am not sure if we have to lead the way, but we need to be prepared to be at the table and to offer ideas and solutions. As far as for visualized data analysis, I just see that as an outgrowth of data sets. Researchers need tools to access datasets. If libraries are involved with helping to preserve and maintain data, they will be involved with providing visualization tools and instruction


  1. Jonathan Rochkind said,

    January 29, 2010 at 01:01:23

    Library use of augmented reality?

    I would seriously doubt it’s worth spending resources on now (i don’t even think that current geolocating tech is up to this level of granularity), but here’s a neat thing that comes to mind. Augment walking the stacks. You hold your doohickey up to the shelves you’re looking at, it tells you what call numbers are there (no need to stoop and read the spines in poor light), and also tells you what the subject/discipline of that LCC/DDC range is. If you tell it what title you’re looking for, it looks up the call number, and simply directs you there: more the left, warmer, warmer, there it is!

    Of course, that would also require libraries to keep better track of exactly what book is where on the shelves than they usually do. Really more science fiction than anything worth spending time on now, but, gee, it would sure make finding books in the stacks, or browsing the stacks, easier.

    Also, I agree with you on mobile on library services.

  2. ecorrado said,

    January 29, 2010 at 09:01:53

    Jonathan: Interesting idea, but for it to work, I think we would need to have it RFID vs. geolocating base (or some combination of the two). Not only because of granularity, but as you said, to make sure books are in the proper order/place.

  3. Jonathan Rochkind said,

    January 30, 2010 at 14:01:37

    Yeah, you’re right, it would take a variety of tech and workflow that we don’t have right now. but it’s kind of cool science fiction! We’ll see if we still have open stacks at all by the time it becomes more feasible.

  4. Kate said,

    January 31, 2010 at 18:01:18

    I found the projection for e-book adoption interesting too since (a) many colleges and universities are using them already, (b) there are rumors of a $100 Kindle on the market by the end of the year, (c) the Nook, and (d) the iPad.

    I would push e-books up to 1 – 2 years.

  5. Panlibus » Blog Archive » Talis News for Academic Libraries February 2010 said,

    February 12, 2010 at 06:02:42

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