Alexa. Open Parks Libro. (2.0)

Sep 10, 2020

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 voice-based app supported by the Iowa State University Library, students and staff can access library information through natural conversation. Parks Libro is available as an app for Android™ and Apple™ smart devices, and also available as a skill in the Amazon Alexa Skill Store.

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 related to library services.”

In addition to simple FAQ information, Parks Libro allows patrons and students to:

  • search materials owned and/or licensed by the Iowa State University Library
  • check on the status of items currently checked out or on hold
  • check on the open hours of the library

The Parks Libro technology contributes to the university’s strategic plan for existing and emerging technology, offering easy access to computers, scanners, printers, cameras and more. When installing the Parks Libro app, users can determine if they want to connect Parks Libro to Amazon Alexa. When connected to Amazon Alexa, Parks Libro can take advantage of Amazon Alexa voice recognition technology. But for users not interested in setting up an Amazon Alexa account, ParksLibro can function using its own voice recognition technology.

For users of other Amazon Alexa technology, such as Echo devices, the Parks Libro Alexa skill can also be activated and accessed from those devices. The Parks Libro interface also provides an option for chat-type text based entry.

A Parks Libro installation and user guide is available on the library’s website.

Future development of the platform will depend on how students and staff interact with the information. “We hope both first time and experienced smart assistant users will try Parks Libro. The Parks Libro app has a built in feedback button, and we encourage early adopters of Parks Libro to provide feedback and their ideas for future enhancements,” Davis said.

While Parks Libro can currently be installed as a native application or in conjunction with Amazon Alexa, the underlying technology can be adapted to other smart assistant platforms like Apple Siri and Google Home, and Parks Libro will soon be available to connect to those technologies as well.

For the development of Parks Libro, Iowa State partnered with ConverSight.ai, 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 for patrons to both emerging and established technologies.

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