Smart Speaker Skills for Library Management

library

Voice technology is already an integral part of daily life affecting how people live, work, and entertain themselves. Smartphones, voice-powered personal assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant, streaming media services, ride-sharing, and navigation apps are built on AI foundations. A recent Voicebot report found that 85% of Americans are already using voice tech products. Smart speakers in use today are designed to help people accomplish tasks quickly and accurately.

The business world is changing in the new knowledge economy and in the digital age, libraries of all types are undergoing drastic changes. Libraries have had a long tradition of resource sharing and networking. These have been greatly expanded by the rapid development of digital technologies. 

For a librarian, the logical question to ask is: What library and academic services can be supported on smart devices? In this post, let’s take a quick look at how voice tech can help libraries and explore a library-related Alexa skill that is currently available.

Many of the questions at a library reference desk are repetitive, such as: how to print, where the study rooms are, and so on. Utilizing a voice app allows the library patron to ask questions 24/7 through an easily accessible website and it allows the library to provide consistent answers to routine questions. Voice transcripts can also be text mined to learn how library patrons are asking questions, and this information can be utilized in marketing or in updating library websites.

Some libraries are installing smart speakers for patrons or educating their users regarding their upcoming events and schedules. Let’s delve a little deeper.

Library innovation through voice tech 

The library assistant at the Old Worthington Library, USA is a smart speaker.

It’s a smart assistant, which officials have added to the library’s website to answer a few of the most common questions their users come in with, as well as to help them get started with their research. The speaker can tackle things like “where can I print?” or “what databases do you have about computer programming?” Anything it can’t answer gets automatically reverted to the librarian.

Worthington Libraries has two Alexa Skills and an Action for Google Assistant; all focused on library events and programs for patrons. Both the interactive Alexa Skill and the Action for Google Assistant allow library patrons to ask questions and find out what’s happening at any Worthington Libraries location. A Daily Flash Briefing Skill for Amazon Alexa allows library patrons to enable one or more feeds for different age groups in their daily news briefings. 

Once enabled, the users can search for library events at any of their locations. Here are a few sample questions: What’s happening today at Worthington Park Library? Are there any events for teens this weekend at Northwest Library? What’s going on tomorrow at Old Worthington Library? 

Amazon Alexa answers the questions with specific information regarding program titles and times at the branch requested. All events, from children’s storytimes to adult book clubs, are available at the user’s request. 

The above-mentioned skill is just one example of how libraries and technologists are experimenting with voice technology to aid the users in their research.

How can a voice skill help the libraries?

A voice skill is suitable for both large and small libraries especially of all types such as institutional, public, and digital libraries for managing their circulation and stocks. They can be used to augment and bridge gaps in library services and are meant to enhance, not replace, face to face communication or interaction. It can walk patrons through basic tasks like renewing items online, ordering materials, and searching for materials in catalogs and databases and for few following use-cases.

1. Refine information search through personalized responses

Voice assistants allow us to do a variety of tasks hands-free, which is a major reason many people like using them, especially in libraries. Voice search is revolutionizing the way people search and access information. Its popularity has risen manifold mainly due to ease of use and speedy responses. It is predicted that by 2022, 60% of the online searches will be Voice AI-powered.

Some reasons for the rising popularity of Voice AI include:

  • Useful when we are tied up with other tasks
  • Voice AI yields search results more quickly
  • It saves the user from the effort required to type long phrases 

2. Transformation of libraries

Communities expect libraries to offer a more user-friendly experience, with better integration across the spectrum of services that is comparable to commercial services and that keep up with the technological change.

As Google becomes the most sought-after information resource, conventional information sources like libraries are faced with the challenge of keeping their services relevant and helpful for GenY users. The millennial wants accurate, updated information quickly.

Libraries need to answer the following questions while upgrading to voice interfaces to meet these expectations:

As a library,

  • What kind of user experience do we want to provide?
  • What is the purpose of this experience?
  • Whether education, for exploration or content creation?
  • Can we engage better with users in new ways (such as design thinking methods) to ensure that users’ expectations are met?

Voice technology can assist a reference librarian to provide expert reference services, or activities that mostly revolve around reading materials, staff, and users. In practice, voice apps can answer routine library-related questions such as; “can I renew my reservation”, “where can I pay my overdue fines”, “do you have the latest Pan Macmillan novel?”. In doing so, voice apps can free up library professionals to deliver more value-driven library services and programs for their communities. Such systems can drastically improve the productivity of libraries. The reference and information retrieval process can be greatly enhanced by using voice AI.

How about having a voice skill for the library?

A voice app can answer basic, always-asked questions. A library skill could answer a variety of questions, like:

  • Questions about hours, locations, and upcoming events. Maybe it could even capture event registrations.
  • With a good API, a skill could tell a customer when their books are due or can even fetch information regarding the fine payments.

How can libraries incorporate conversational systems?

  • Learn it: As it’s a new technology, figure it out so you can help customers with it.
  • Teach it: Show customers and patrons how to use the app-based voice assistants. Hold a class on setting up and using an Amazon Echo.
  • Make your library the center of your community- Combine the best of your physical environment and innovative voice-enabled solutions to deliver modern library services and attract new patrons.
  • Knowledge partner: Integrate with knowledgeable partners  to create your skill.