by Project Consultant Christopher Foster CTS and Senior Consultant Jim Viviano CTS

Norfolk’s Slover Library. Santa Clara Library for the 21st Century. The iconic game-changing James B. Hunt Library at North Carolina State University. Wherever you look, emerging technologies in colleges and universities around the world are transforming the way faculty teach and students learn by creating innovative, collaborative environments for producing, consuming, and sharing information, and providing more access to information resources than ever before.

Technology has shifted the focus of libraries from archives of reading and research materials to spaces where interaction among groups and a sharing of ideas and experiences happen. Developments in mobile and wireless technologies and user friendly “always on” networking environments have set the stage for learning, research, visualization, collaboration, and conferencing for students, teachers, staff, patrons, and visitors alike.

Five key trends are driving this transformation in how technology can change a library space.

City of Norfolk Slover Library, photo courtesy of Newman Architects

1. Collaborative Environments
For some people, Starbucks is the “Third Place;” for others, the library is “The New Third Place.” A variation on the original concept, the library offers an opportunity for people to come together — to meet, work, and explore in collaboration. Not home, not work, it’s “The Third Place.”

“Many of the library projects in which I have been engaged have changed from the standard shelves and volumes of books in favor of an active and collaborative environment for the students,” says Senior Consultant Aaron Barber CTS. “The trend is to include multiple small group rooms within the library commons for group study and collaboration, utilizing content-sharing hardware and software systems. Yes, the overall environment has gotten louder. Gone are the days of an entire library being a quiet area of respite in favor of an active environment with food and beverage services. In some cases, the library has actually become a second student union.”

North Carolina State University Hunt Library, photo courtesy of Hummingbird Media

2. Content Creation and Production
Many libraries now include video and audio production, graphic design labs, and editing stations. This content creation for media and technology, education, career, and arts studios (not to mention the “i-Gen” technology-focused millennials) includes self-contained media studios, workstations with laptop or BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) connectivity, installed video and audio production software, high-definition flat-screen monitors, provision for full-range audio playback either through loudspeakers or headphones, streaming and archiving platforms, and, cloud-based data storage access.

As a popular destination, libraries offer digital production and recording capabilities for creating, producing music, film and video. Digital studio equipment is increasingly inexpensive, easy to maintain and these spaces are typically wildly successful.

Senior Systems Designer Ed Dukstein CTS-D says, “The Library is no longer just a repository of printed information with videos, films and audio sources. It’s still a research hub, but now resources stretch across the globe. Libraries are becoming a place to generate all kinds of content — multimedia, virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed media. A true hub of information, both housed and exported, we’re seeing one button studios where students and faculty can generate video content. They include full-blown television, VR and AR studios, Lightboard studios, and cutting edge technology.”

Aaron Barber adds, “Content creation and production is where I have seen the most movement in new technology offerings on campus. What better location for small video recording studios like One Button Studios, single person lecture capture, editing booths, maker spaces and other content creation services? All of these services for the community are now centrally located, available at all hours with onsite support staff.”

At the Slover Library, there is a TV Production style environment, including a green screen where users can produce and edit their own videos, graphics, and photography. High schoolers can come here to do their projects and build a video rather than a traditional report.

City of Norfolk Slover Library

3. Research Database Creation and Management
Library Research Databases provide access to information containing scholarly and professional articles, as well as reports, statistics, case studies, journals and publications. By employing an organized method of indexing the resources a user can easily locate high-quality, relevant outcomes.

The increased amount of online research reports and the digitization of existing reports gives users the ability to access a huge amount of data. The information is not just text, but other types of media as well — audio, video, still graphics and interactive media. By having such a large amount of data accessible to the masses, it is critical to strategize how the information will be stored, cataloged, maintained, retrieved and viewed. One role of the new librarian is to instruct how to research and access data, and help sort out what is relevant and irrelevant.

The next step in managing data is the ability to globalize and share this information across different organizations. This ability to collaboratively work toward common goals and projects is viewed as especially important for libraries with limited resources, as they can join a consortium and provide all the same research of larger universities.

At the Slover Library, the community can access a vast digital collection of history, including scans of books, photographs, audio and video files, documents, and other artifacts. The Sargent Memorial Collection (SMC) provides resource materials for individuals conducting local history or genealogical research, offering a wealth of historical data, genealogical research and census information from the City of Norfolk, the State of Virginia and surrounding states.

University of Calgary Taylor Family Digital Library, photo courtesy of Tom Hickerson

4. Visualization
Visualization technologies range from simple graphics to big data interactive imaging, tapping into the brain’s ability to rapidly process and understand complex sets of information graphically. Libraries have become an essential resource for data visualization providing a capability not found anywhere else in the community.

The “Code+Art Student Visualization” contest at North Carolina State University annually invites students to create visualizations that give visitors a taste of the possibilities that await them inside libraries. The University is particularly interested in “massively responsive” web-based work that can be displayed on the Hunt Library video walls. See more here.

Principal Tim Waters CTS and his team designated an advanced visualization lab for the University of Oregon Science Library. This 50 million pixel visualization display designed in collaboration with university scientists frequently encountered conflicting goals and priorities for the project. Waters said, “Astrophysicists wanted to study high-resolution images of galaxies far, far away. Neuroscientists wanted to flip through high resolution slices of brain scans. Computer scientists wanted to design and render 3D visualizations based on a multitude of data sets, and social scientists wanted to spot patterns in behavioral trends plotted on an X, Y, Z coordinate system. They sorted out all of the requirements and determined segmenting the groups into two primary user experiences would be the best approach.”

Two high-res computer workstations are now the main human interfaces – one Windows machine, the other Linux. Waters added, “The visualization lab yields a fully immersive experience for all of the wide range of uses, and more. I was particularly entranced by a basic Google image search. The space is a bright, trendy, student-centric learning commons and our Visualization Lab is at the heart of the main study and collaboration floor, with daylight harvested from skylights and windows looking into a garden courtyard.”

Confidential Client, photo courtesy of Don Parenta, IVCi

5. Virtual/Augmented Reality
Imagine being able to take a field trip to ancient Egypt and visiting the pyramids all from the comfort of your library’s virtual reality studio. The library has always been an information portal, and now with virtual and augmented reality, students and faculty alike have a passport to experience the world as close to first-hand as possible and still be back in time for their next class.

Virtual reality offers an opportunity to explore current and alternate realities in ways that just in the last few years were not available. Emerging technologies for libraries also include augmented reality for building information and wayfinding, 3-dimensional and immersive displays and projection for collaborative and content creation, 4K display and projection for content playback, personal hot-spots, gesture based computing, flexible and form shaping displays, and wireless speakers. Systems such as mesh computing offer ways of delivering greater speeds, reliability and capacity. In addition to users being able to use the technology, many library makerspaces and labs are being utilized as classrooms and instruction spaces on software designing and developing virtual worlds.

One of The Sextant Group’s current assignments is a medical school with a library component slated to open in late 2019. The library staff is very progressive and forward thinking, and is currently utilizing Virtual/Augmented Reality in their facility. The biggest challenge actually involves what technology will be available two years from now. Will they still be wired? Will there still be head-worn devices? How will content be developed? What emerging technologies will impact content creation? As the team works through all of these questions, the owner and technology team’s decisions—and how they were reached—will be foundational to the next project’s benchmarking.

At The Sextant Group, we are quite proud of our many exciting library projects. We call them “ours,” but of course we were merely members of teams comprised of talented and creative professionals, including architects, engineers, library consultants and owners. Please contact us for additional information about other team members.

Trends into Practice: Forward Thinking Library Projects

About The Sextant Group
Founded in 1995, The Sextant Group, Inc. is one of the largest independent technology consulting firm of its kind in North America. With over 1800 projects for more than 600 owners in 44 states and 11 countries, The Sextant Group serves global corporate, higher education and healthcare clients from offices across North America. The Sextant Group has corporate headquarters in Pittsburgh, with offices that include Atlanta, Boston, Columbus, Denver, Los Angeles, New York, Omaha, Phoenix, Raleigh and Washington DC. For more information, visit