Alexa. Open Parks Libro.

Sep 26, 2018

Want to know which of your favorite author’s books are available at Parks Library? Curious as to events taking place this week? Questions such as these have required a phone call or a visit to the library’s website. Not anymore.

Through Parks Libro, a new voice-based platform introduced by Iowa State this semester, students and staff can access library information through natural conversation using Amazon Alexa on an Echo device.

“Offering Amazon Alexa for checkout means another tool is available to the community to access the library. It’s a step toward making technology and library services inclusive and readily available to everyone,” said Dean of Library Services Beth McNeil. “Members of the campus community can check out an Echo device with the Parks Libro Skill enabled and access information about materials, hours and events. Additionally, users can become more familiar with the technology and the device itself.”

With the growth of smart assistant technology happening so rapidly, students and patrons want to connect to library information through voice, said Greg Davis, assistant director for assessment and planning at Iowa State University. “Parks Libro gives patrons another way to get information about our library,” he said. “For example, we know we have over 10,000 visits to our library hours webpage each year, so that is an obvious FAQ. Parks Libro will provide users an alternative and convenient way to ask questions instead of connecting to the library website.”

In addition to simple FAQ information, Parks Libro allows patrons and students to search the library’s catalog by book title, author or genre, inquire about upcoming events, and learn about other materials available in the library.

The introduction of the Parks Libro Alexa skill fits into the university’s strategic plan for existing and emerging technology, offering easy access to computers, scanners, printers, cameras and more. This semester, the library has added Echo devices to its list of technology available to patrons, and the Parks Libro skill provides one more interesting thing they can do with them.

“We hope students familiar with smart assistant technology will use the library’s Echo devices,” Davis said, “but more importantly, we hope students who otherwise wouldn’t have access to smart assistant technology will be able to use the library’s Echo devices to directly engage with the technology and learn more about it.”

Future development of the platform will depend on how students and staff interact with the information. Patron engagement with Parks Libro will allow us to do user testing, which will guide our future development efforts.

While Parks Libro is being initially deployed as an Alexa skill, the underlying technology can be adapted to other smart assistant platforms like Apple Siri and Google Home, and Parks Libro will may soon be available through those channels as well.

For the development of Parks Libro, Iowa State has partnered with ThickStat, Inc., an Indianapolis-based company that develops voice-based platforms such as Libro for libraries and ConverSight for businesses.

These kinds of projects help the library understand the speed of adoption for smart assistant technology with key academic library applications and help determine where to best spend time and attention with locally developed solutions like Parks Libro. For many technologies, there is a digital divide between those who have access and those who don’t. The Iowa State University Library strives to provide easy access to both emerging and established technologies to patrons.

Contacts:

Greg Davis, assistant director, assessment and planning, 204 Parks Library, 515-294-2445

M. Monica Gillen, communications specialist, 302 Parks Library, 515-294-1442