By Guest Blogger Sarah Blackburn-Lancaster of the Valparaiso Community Library
Back in March, I had the privilege of attending the Computers in Libraries Conference in Washington, D.C., thanks to a scholarship from PLAN. It was an eye-opening experience for many reasons: I got to visit our nation’s capital (imagine that being spoken in a Forrest Gump impersonation); I crashed an electric scooter, breaking my wrist, which was as embarrassing as it was painful; and I learned a lot about the technology that is emerging in libraries. The most fascinating to me, though, were the humanoid robots.
Some of the new tech was super fun and totally rad! The Roanoke County Public Library in Virginia actually has a four-foot-tall robot concierge (it actually does more than just greet people and answer basic questions, but that’s the best description, in my opinion) named Pepper! Pepper, in addition to being absolutely adorable, provides patrons with directions and answers the standard questions about the library. The staff also have started allowing teens to program the robot in order to teach young people how to code.
In the vendor area, Misty, a toddler-sized robot, rolled around charming anyone who came by. Far from being creepy or appearing as a threat, Misty made everyone tilt their heads and say, “Aw!” More importantly, though, Misty is equipped with an advanced camera that is used for 3D mapping. “She” can detect changes in environment, be a mobile version of a smart assistant/speaker, and has useful applications in eldercare. “Her” applications in libraries have been outlined as a greeter, item runner, and game host; however, librarians being the creative geniuses we are, there are probably many more opportunities for Misty to be involved!
Then there’s Dewey from the Palo Alto Public Library. Dewey is more of a bot of the people. The staff at Palo Alto utilize this mid-sized robot mainly with children and teens. Dewey is involved in story time, playing games with the small children like “tickle-the-robot,” and he is also the programming subject for the teens and young adults who come in to the Robo Dojo. We got to see some of “his” mad dance skills in the handler’s presentation, and they were awesome.
Seeing these robots at the conference and hearing about their presences enriched the lives of the patrons who visited their home libraries really struck a chord with me. Most people, especially here in Valparaiso, will probably only see technology of that sort in movies or on television. These pieces of equipment are costly and require advanced understanding of coding to operate correctly, so for the everyday person, they’re not accessible. Except in the public library! Getting to see and interact with these machines was thrilling for me, and I immediately imagined how incredible it would be for our patrons to see them in action. Libraries truly are the great equalizer, bringing opportunities that might otherwise only be available to a few select individuals to everyone who walks in the doors.
It really is an exciting time to work in our field.