A collision of two worlds

I often said in the past that as an academic library we need to ensure that our physical services work alongside and complement our digital services.  I have also talked a lot about delivering the same experience on line as we do in the physical world. People aren’t always comfortable talking to a member of staff and of course people aren’t always comfortable interacting digitally. It’s important that we give our library users the choice, let them interact with us and our services in a way that works for them at a time that works for them.

This isn’t new and I think we are doing that now, as are most other academic libraries.  We allow online book renewals and inter-site transfers, we provide a large amount of online support material including videos, self-help databases, online chat and online courses.  This is all great but these two worlds, the physical that you can see hear and touch and the digital, the one that is online, in a computer system, buzzing around a network are still very separate. They do work, they do complement each other but they are parallel and often have little interaction.   So is this an issue?  I think maybe it is, because people are increasingly living their lives in these two worlds.  The key thing for me at the moment is that there are people, not just in the younger generations who are starting to not make a distinction between them.

Have you ever lost your phone? What’s the first thing you do?  For me, it’s panic! It’s like I’ve lost a limb, I break out in a cold sweat.  On a recent holiday I spent almost as much time checking that my phone was still in my pocket as I did checking that my two children were still with us.  So why is this? Probably because that small digital device is so much more than just a phone.  It’s a camera which has catalogued just about every moment of the holiday, it’s a SAT NAV, it’s an encyclopaedia and it’s a link to people back home.  This digital device is like a portal that I use to travel between worlds, it’s like Star Trek.  It’s so connected to my physical world that I feel like I can’t live without it.

Because of this, an attitude of ‘don’t think just share’ is adopted by many these days, me included.  We can share photos, sound, and video very easily and very quickly.  I certainly did whilst on holiday.  People could experience where I was and what I was doing without being there.  My physical world very quickly became part of someone else’s digital world, whether they liked it or not.  I joked at a recent conference that my colleague and co-presenter @mike_ewen didn’t need to go on holiday this year because he just came along with me in my digital world.

So, it’s very easy to take your physical world and have that become part of someone’s digital world, even if they are 4000 miles away. For many of us these worlds are colliding at an alarming rate, the boundaries have blurred, disappeared or just become irrelevant.   Why is this important for us at an Academic Library?  It’s important because people are coming to University already unable to distinguish between the physical and digital worlds, it’s a new era, people are learning in news ways traversing these two worlds as they do so.  When we develop our services we need to ensure we take into account both worlds and treat them as one.  We need to develop our services and our spaces with the lines blurred and our worlds collided.

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