This week, we interview Carl Gustav Johannsen, writer and researcher of library innovation in Denmark. He shares insights on new concepts in the library world and how self-service library technology can help offer a better service to modern users.

How implementing new library technology can get more visitors to the library

example of modern library technology in Seattle Public Library

Source: Seattle Public Library

1. Can you tell us and our readers a bit about yourself?

I am an associate professor at the Royal School of Library and Information Science in Copenhagen and my research is within the service development in libraries, library innovation, and user studies. I have recently made some presentations and lectures about innovative, new features in public libraries in Denmark that help offer a better service to patrons.

2. How are the libraries’ services used nowadays? Is the demand for digital services bigger than the one for the library’s primary services?

Yes, it is an interesting thing here. Of course, people can also have access from home to the virtual library but the library environment is supporting and emphasizing the calm atmosphere where you can reflect and concentrate on reading and other activates. Also, in a modern library, users have access to all kinds of electronic and internet services and also to meeting facilities inside the library during the working hours or even after. All the fundamental primary services like delivering books or picking up books are easily used due to the implementation of innovative technologies that automate these services.

3. Are there any services that patrons would like to see in libraries in the future?

I am not sure. There are companies that offer additional services to libraries, besides the normal library system. For example, there are big screens in libraries that can be used to offer different kinds of information and also to inspire users to find certain books. So, when a user enters the library, the system will know something about his or her preferences and it will show on the screen interesting information for him/her on that particular preference. For example, if a user has an interest in a certain book theme, then the system can automatically suggest similar books.  That’s one of the future perspectives of library services, a personalized interaction between the system and the user. So, there is this combination of interactive big screens with the information stored in the library system about the user.

4. Can you tell us more about the concept of an open library and what is the difference between an open library and a more open library?

The open library concept is a special new feature in public libraries which is focusing on libraries‘ prolonged hours. It is a very technical solution, offering a combination of different technologies and it is a very good example of how technology can offer better access to library services. This year I released a new book, where I consider the challenges of this approach, its pros and cons, identify international experiences, and discuss best practices. (You can find more information about the book here

A more open library means that the library has some open hours with staff, when you can get the staff’s help and some extended hours where you can visit the library with no staff available. I don’t think it is a good solution to have libraries which are not staffed at all so the best thing is the combination, where you have for example 30 hours per week with staff and then maybe 50 hours per week unstaffed. So more open would mean to extend the visiting hours.

5. We know you are a promoter of strongly digitalized library services, but we are wondering how are these new features helping libraries offer a better service to the users?

For example, instead of having the library open 20 hours per week you have it 80 hours or even 100 hours. Well, this is an essential service improvement, I think. Additionally, these innovative technologies ensure that it is safe for the users to enter the library or to log into the library. There are various kinds of technology involved in this new solution but their most important benefit is that you can visit the library and use the various services pretty much when it suits you.

The concept is very much appreciated by the users. For example, here in Denmark you could go to a library at 9 p.m. and see that there are young people studying and other people reading in the library. I think it is very much appreciated by the users in many other countries. And it is also documented by several representative surveys.

6. How is this concept perceived by librarians? I know it can be a controversial topic nowadays.

Yes, it is very controversial in many countries but mostly you have the local politicians and library leaders who are in favor of this new concept and users as well. But then, there are some librarians who don’t like the open library because of the fear they will become unemployed by implementing this kind of service. I am not that pessimistic, I think the open library will emphasize the need for libraries, especially in the small communities. So, I don’t think this combination of staffed and unstaffed library services is dangerous to the community. In many cases, for example in Sweden, it showed that the resistance from the staff has disappeared after the open library concept was implemented. I think this modern concept will give the library a more central position and role in the community and it will be an advantage for the staff.

7. Are there any drawbacks that the library would face when wanting to implement this kind of innovative technological solutions?

Yes, I think there has been a big fear that when the users enter the library and there is no staff present, maybe they will destroy something and vandalize the place. It is a widespread fear, but according to experiences gained until now, the few cases of vandalism should be no reason to worry. In many cases, it has been a surprise for the libraries to see how successfully the concept works. Usually, it has something to do with the concept of social capital that the people want to protect in their local community.

8. Do you have additional comments or advice for the libraries struggling with their activities and looking for technology as a way to offer a better experience to the users?

I think it is very important for libraries to have a very careful planning process and that they involve the users in different ways. This is crucial for the future success of the library. Also, they need to analyze the users’ needs via surveys and find out what kind of opening hours would be relevant. For example, opening hours during the night is not in particular demand by the users of public libraries. Also, if a library has different branches it should be careful in selecting which branches need this option.

Interested to read more of Carl’s work? You can find a list of his research here.

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