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Experimenting with Technology

by M Ryan Hess | Library Services Manager - Digital Initiatives, ryan.hess@cityofpaloalto.org on September 12, 2017

Sitting in the heart of Silicon Valley, Palo Alto (CA) City Library is taking the lead in exploring the future of library services. As part of our mission to “inspire and nurture innovation, discovery, and delight,” the library explored how cutting edge technologies like robots and 3D design can be applied in libraries. Generous support from a Pacific Library Partnership Innovation Grant made this effort possible.

The first experiment was designed around a telepresence robot known as BEAM. With five branches, the BEAM makes it convenient for librarians in one location to remotely greet and help customers at other locations via a laptop or mobile device. The library conducted an observational study at three different branches and gathered data on 300 customer interactions with the BEAM. Data returned from the survey is very encouraging:  82% of customers felt very comfortable with the BEAM. Customers also showed interest in the technology by asking many questions about the BEAM and it served as a strong tool for engagement.

The second experiment involved a 3D design coach program. The library built a 3D design work station and  recruited two volunteers from Palo Alto High School to serve as coaches who led one-on-one sessions on using software like Sketchup and Blender. The 3D coaching sessions turned out to be a big hit in the community. All sessions were booked quickly with minimal advertising. At the end of the program, the coaches helped with the design of over 20 models, many printed on our 3D printers.

The last experiment involved a NAO humanoid robot, which we named “Dewey” for obvious reasons. Dewey is probably the most popular technology the library brought out this year, not just among kids and teens, but also among adults. One potential we explored was in holding robot programming sessions involving the NAO robot’s drag and drop programming editor, where basic coding concepts can be introduced to the public. The library held one tutorial program (http://git.io/nao123) and verified that customers from a wide range of age groups were interested in such programs. Dewey was also coded to tell stories and carry out dance routines.

Our experiments culminated in a final Community Conversation we billed as “Meet the Future.” Using the Harwood Institute’s methods, the event was designed to gather the community’s thoughts and feedback on the three technology experiments at the library.

Check out this video one of the City’s summer interns produced to highlight/report on the project:  https://youtu.be/1QWDuiV-fe8.

Want to know more about our technology programming? Email me at ryan.hess@cityofpaloalto.org.