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TL v64n1: Technology
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Viewpoint: Technology 

David Ratledge 


Technology and Library Spaces

David Ratledge

We are all familiar with technology that is implemented and used in library spaces, but what about technology that is a part of library spaces? This can range from relatively simple and low-tech integrations to the very sophisticated. The following are examples I find particularly interesting.

Whiteboard Paint
This turns any paintable surface into a dry-erase board. Instead of individuals and groups limiting themselves to using small paper easels or wall-hung boards they are able to use entire tabletops or even all four walls of a room for brainstorming, sketching out ideas, and note taking.

Magnetic Paint
This is a similar idea to whiteboard paint, but instead of creating a writing surface it creates a magnetic surface. It is more accurate however to say it creates a magnetic receptive surface as there is nothing magnetic about the paint. Instead, it contains iron particles that magnets can stick to. The magnetic receptive paint is applied like a primer and then regular paint (for color) is applied on top of it. Using multiple coats is usually best as that ensures the greatest density of iron particles. It will never equal a solid metal surface like a steel board or refrigerator, but it is workable for lightweight objects. Be aware that using stronger magnets does not improve the “sticking” power.

Digital Signage & Directories
A digital signage system uses one or more static or interactive screens to display news and event information such as upcoming speakers, book signings, building areas under construction, and so on. Local time and weather information, state, national, and international news, or television feeds may also be included as part of the content. This type of library space technology can range from the simple and relatively inexpensive to the complex and very expensive. Digital directories are a type of digital signage that provides facility location information such as where to find individuals, departments, specific rooms, call number ranges, and so on. Digital signage and directories are flashy and have a “wow” factor to them, but also serve the practical purposes of being easy to control and update as needed.

Public Display of Library Usage Statistics
One of the most impressive integrations between technology and library space I have encountered is the public display of real-time library usage statistics such as door counts, items being circulated, searches conducted (with the actual search terms displayed), and maps of inter-library loan transactions and web site traffic at the Case Western Reserve University’s Kelvin Smith Library in Cleveland, Ohio. This information display does an excellent job of bringing together and communicating in an aesthetically pleasing and easily accessible way just how much and what kind of use the library is getting.

A video about the Kelvin Smith library’s information display can be found here:

A web version of the display can be seen here:

There are other examples not touched on here from the now common compact shelving to the still futuristic-seeming robotic retrieval systems, but I believe these are sufficient to show how integrating instead of just placing technology in library spaces can help make those spaces much more inviting, productive, and interactive.



David Ratledge is Associate Professor and Head of Digital Initiatives at The University of Tennessee Libraries, Knoxville. He can be reached at 






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