Supporting Scholars with the Internet of Things and Digital Assistants


Siri, turn on the lights. Ok Google, tell me a joke. Alexa, read me a bedtime story. With new gadgets coming out at such a rapid pace, it’s hard to keep track of it all. This new world of the Internet of Things (IoT) devices along with digital assistants are changing how people interact with computers and each other. These devices can play music, set the temperature, cook dinner, and even water the grass. With all the home and dorm uses is there a place for this technology in the library?


Let’s first explore what the Internet of Things means? Merriam-Webster describes IoT as “a networking capability that allows information to be sent to and received from objects and devices using the Internet.” In other words, these devices can communicate with people or other devices directly.

Some libraries have used these devices for environmental monitoring, which allows for the control of lights and temperature in their space. This alerts staff about issues while providing cost savings. In addition, libraries have used proximity beacons to track movement in the library to gather information on which areas are most utilized. IoT devices may not fit well in every situation because of their privacy concerns. However, these tools can be helpful as library staff is increasingly required to provide additional data on usage.

Digital Assistants

Similarly, there has been rapid growth in digital assistant usage. With Amazon, Google, and Apple leading the charge, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) have never been more top of mind. As device prices continue to fall, more people will begin to experiment with digital assistants increasing the opportunity for these tools to become woven into their lives.

How Libraries Can Use Skills

The question is how can libraries and librarians get more involved? A good place to start is to create a skill. A skill is an app that allows users to perform actions with voice-activated control through Alexa. Helping the digital assistant boom, skill creation has a very small barrier to entry. There are tools that allow individuals to create their own skills in just a few clicks. Let’s walk through a simple example. I will focus on Amazon’s digital assistant, Alexa.

First, you’ll need to sign in or create an account at Once in, you’ll see ready to go templates or you can create your own. Does your institution record lectures? If so, you can create a skill using the university template that will pull in your latest lecture. Once set up, it’s as easy as asking “Alexa open …”

Some schools have taken the digital assistant to another level. Creating skills that allow students to book appointments with a librarian, check hours of operation, and even search library databases.

Looking Forward

I agree with the sentiment that this technology is not for everyone. With that being said, it is critically important to understand how people are changing the way they interact with computers and devices. The more we understand about this new interaction, the better prepared we will be to support future scholars.

I hope this has provided you with something to think about during your next team meeting on patron engagement or cost-saving measures.

I think it is now time to say, “Alexa, end this post…”

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