Magazine article Online

Bridging the Other Digital Divide

Magazine article Online

Bridging the Other Digital Divide

Article excerpt

There is a digital divide. Not the one between the technology haves and have-nots, though that is very real, but rather one between the physical world and the online world. These two worlds often have little meaningful connection. Until recently, the only initiative librarians have taken to bring these worlds together is to advertise their library's website somewhere in the physical space or to encourage users of virtual services that the physical space is open, welcoming, and full of great stuff to explore with comfy chairs from which to do it. Oh, and of course, good coffee.

There is great value, however, in bringing the physical and the online closer together. This convergence is a trend rapidly gaining momentum in the world at large. For example, do users sitting in your library reading a journal know that they can access the most recent issue, newer most likely than the one they're holding in their hand, via the library's ejournals holdings? Further, is it easy for them to make the leap from print to online? Would they need to know to ask? It's really all about leveraging, in the physical space, the insights we've gained from our experiences in our online world, as well as with our electronic products and services, in order to provide users a high-quality, low-friction experience.

This trend toward a convergence between the physical and the virtual encompasses a number of different tools and technologies. To an extent, it includes what's called the Internet of Things, physical objects tied in some way to the online world. However, it's both bigger and smaller than that. Bigger in that we're not talking about just connecting things to the internet, but rather leveraging all the work we librarians have put into our electronic universes in our physical spaces. And smaller in that many of the tools and techniques to foster this convergence are more evolutionary than revolutionary. We have knowledge, resources, information, tools, and experiences from online that we can and should exploit offline. We've invested a great deal of time, effort, and money in and for these, so how can we maximize our ROI with them?

A number of practical tools and approaches exist that libraries can implement now, quickly and easily, to make this convergence real. Merging the physical and online worlds isn't as futuristic as it first appears.


An early and familiar example of adding intelligence to physical items is the use of RFID (radio frequency identification) by libraries for their physical collections. RFID has been around for years; it works by encoding information onto a tag that's then placed on or into a physical object, in this case a book. The tag broadcasts information about itself that can be read by an RFID reader. For library books, that's usually title, author, call number, and collection location. Many libraries use RFID, but as in the commercial world, it functions best as a tool for security and inventory control.

While efficiencies in these areas are welcome--and certainly being able to more quickly and easily locate a misshelved item is good service--users only passively benefit from the technology. Additionally, there's the cost factor. Individual RFID tags are by no means expensive in and of themselves, but they're not free either. And touching every item in your physical collection? That takes a lot of time and effort.

Though RFID doesn't quite get us to convergence between the online and physical worlds, there are some interesting things being done with the technology. A company called Violet (, most famous for its very cute Nabaztag RFID reader, offers a product called Book:z, special RFID-tagged books such as Cinderella or Goldilocks and the Three Bears that, when shown to the Nabaztag reader, begin reading themselves out loud. Pretty cool.


A technology that comes closer to the frictionless convergence of online and the real world, however, is QR, or Quick Response, codes. …

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