Tech expert discusses transformation of 21st-century library

In this photo, Mark S. Valenti, president and CEO of technology consulting firm The Sextant Group, speaks at the Homer Babbidge Library's Class of 1947 meeting room on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2015. (Jackson Haigis/The Daily Campus)

Fiber-optic networks, 3-D printers and entire functioning production studios are among the innovations to be introduced in libraries in coming years, said president and CEO of technology consulting firm The Sextant Group, Mark S. Valenti. He spoke at the Homer Babbidge Library’s Class of 1947 Room Tuesday morning, addressing how technological changes could fundamentally alter how we utilize libraries.

“Most older libraries were built to be warehouses,” Valenti said. “It’s a challenge to adjust something like this to a collaborative space.” 

Valenti presented his colleague John Cook’s idea of “The Four C’s of Library Technology: create, consume, collaborate and conference.” The general trend came out to be a move from the library as a “consuming space to a creating space.”

Valenti derived his expertise from The Sextant Group’s work in over 30 major libraries across North America, including the Santa Clara City Library, James B. Hunt Jr. Library at North Carolina State University and Calgary Public Library.

“What you can expect over the next five to ten years is that the folks who come to school here will have had a significant increase in available bandwidth,” Valenti said. “And their expectations of what they can do when they’re on campus are going to be pretty significantly different. And if you’re the library, you’re going to be a wholly different resource for them.”

Valenti noted that bandwidth - the amount of data that can be transmitted in a fixed amount of time - has quintupled in each of the past few decades. Recently, the introduction of Google Fiber to Kansas City offered seven years of Internet to businesses and residences in the city for a $300 fee, Valenti said. Google’s competitors, particularly Cox Communications, have followed suit in other areas.

This huge increase in bandwidth is rapidly making its cost irrelevant and instead challenging what is actually done with the available data, Valenti said. These changes are accompanied by advancements in large monitors that allow for users from multiple devices to view and interact with programs.

“We in my business used to think about visualization in the realm of the hard sciences… but we’re well beyond that now,” Valenti said. “What our friends at Calgary Public Libraries have found is that big data and big visualization now extend across all disciplines.”

The University of San Diego used such technologies to analyze stylistic trends and relationships in manga artwork. Researchers at Calgary used HD visualization to discover alterations made to ancient texts. Thespians at different venues have used interactive monitors as “virtual sets,” Valenti said.

“That kind of technology is something that will be a university-wide or an enterprise-wide resource that causes people to come to the library,” Valenti said.

Valenti showed images of classrooms that could double as production studios “at the drop of a hat” and a similar introduction of recording and editing studios into libraries.

Print books and other physical resources are moving away from the libraries themselves and into outside storage, managed often by robotic retrieval systems, Valenti said.

“The faculty were up in arms about serendipitous browsing,” Valenti said. “Turns out that lost volumes went down dramatically, a couple of percentage points, because a robot takes better care of books than people do.”

Toward the end of the discussion, Valenti touched upon slightly more distant innovations, such as holographs. He predicted they would be mainstream within three years.

Vice Provost of University of Connecticut Libraries Martha Bedard attended the presentation.

“I have been to the new NCSU Hunt Library he showcased and saw how it transformed that campus and how people work together and learn, experience content,” Bedard said. “As we move from thousands of volumes of print journals to electronic we are freeing up space to innovate in these ways.”

“Do I think these will come to UConn in the foreseeable future?” Bedard continued. “I am optimistic.  I think we must, and will.”