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Media and information technology plays an integral role in the design of 21st century public learning environments.

Media and information technology plays an integral role in the design of 21st century public learning environments such as museums and libraries. Facilities and relevant technology systems must be strategically designed with users at the centre as they explore and search, extract and collate, collect and visualise, annotate and share, save and transfer a diverse range of media formats including text, sound, graphics and video.

A core competency in providing inclusive and meaningful access to technology-mediated library assets is Interaction Design (IxD). Closely linked to service design, IxD aims at designing frameworks to guide people’s interactions with information, media, systems, and service personnel.

Requirements for strategic Interaction Design are pervasive throughout an integrated media technology ecosystem and cannot be looked at in isolation.

The many IxD questions in the context of public library design to be answered include:

  • How are visitors registered and contacted before, during and after their visit?
  • How do visitors explore the library assets to find what they need (onsite and offsite)?
  • How can meta information become part of responsive and personalised way finding?
  • How can architectural space be furnished with digital data?
  • How can we facilitate encounters and knowledge sharing between people with similar goals and interests?
  • Will visitors’ devices be integrated into the digital ecosystem of the library and if yes, how?

  • How do visitors collect and transfer digital media?
  • How can visitors’ usage data benefit their learning progress, social interaction, or help procurement.
  • How can visitor generated content (from a simple “like” to a university thesis) feed back into the media system.
  • How can technology facilitate oral history playback and recording?
  • What role will library staff play and which services will be taken over by automated systems?
  • How will the logistics around lending, returning, scanning, sorting, etc of media work?
  • How will the media archive be managed and linked to other archives?

Bridging the digital divide in public libraries in South Africa

Media and information technology has shaped our world like no other technology since the invention of the light bulb. Through distributed and diverse access to information and media, the world’s cultural, business, science and technological networks have grown exponentially over the last decades fuelling development even in the most remote places. We are calling this development “the information age” or better: “the knowledge economy”.

It is the very same media and information technology, which has taken over certain roles of the classic library to a degree that, some claim, libraries could become obsolete in the near future. However, the information technology age has brought about 2 other terms which have great significance for South Africa’s socio-economic development over the next decade.

“Digital divide” describes the exclusion of disadvantaged groups from the “Knowledge economy”. Key hurdles to accessing media technology for large parts of South Africa’s people are foremost the cost of devices and data. The other hurdle is digital literacy, which, however, through the gradual introduction of simpler interfaces such as touch, and diverse media formats and tools from video to Google translate, seems to be diminishing.

Redesigning public libraries can address the digital divide not only by providing access to digital information, but also by providing access to media and information technology, exposing patrons to the latest tools and devices which are otherwise not available to them.

“Leapfrogging” describes a powerful means of turning a developmental challenge into opportunity. A good example for such an opportunity is the explosive spread of mobile information technology in Africa, which has not only overtaken other, technologically more advanced parts of the world, it has also statistically manoeuvred desktop computing into the “historic domain”, a trend which has global significance. All of a sudden, Africa has “the cutting edge”, inventing cell phone based payment systems and mobile healthcare for remote areas.

Opportunities for “Leapfrog” innovation can be nurtured through creating a library environment which curates media assets and technology tools with respect to the most immanent needs of the communities serviced.