In today’s libraries, digital services are as normal a part of library services as traditional book lending. Being a low threshold location for many, people come to their public library when they have questions about digital services or problems with their devices. Library collections are naturally offered in both physical and digital forms. The current public library act of Finland, which came into effect in 2017, states that public libraries have a duty to promote and support life-long learning and versatile literacy skills. This means that public libraries also offer new technologies for the citizens to test and use. Versatile literacy skills means, in this sense, not only the ability to read and write, but also the ability to use new technologies and, thus, work as an active member of a functioning society.
A virtual space for digital services
However, digital library services can be more than just help and support, technical devices, and collections. The Oulu region libraries in the northern part of Finland began to ponder how they could reach the youth who are already living in a largely digital world. As digital learning environments are already common in schools, leisure time entertainment is widely digital, and many services are increasingly channelled through online services, the library also needs to reach the youth through online digital environments. Oulu City Library is building a “fifth floor” to the library, which is a digital extension to the library services. One of the ideas is to find ways in which to offer the library’s traditional services, for example, book talks and user guidance to library services, in a digital space as an addition to the traditional manners offered in libraries.
The aim of the project is firstly to reach, in particular, the young library users and potential users who normally spend their time in digital environments. The second aim is to make this kind of service model known to the librarians who have worked with libraries’ traditional services in the physical space before. This means that staff is trained to have adequate skills to produce online contents. There was also a larger plan for the project to map out what service the region’s libraries already provide online and what kind of services could be done through digital platforms. Through this, there was also an idea of sharing the contents so that other libraries would not have to create the same contents all over again, but rather use the material on a shared platform.
Hugely positive response to AR teaching
The two main services that were produced were contents for reading promotion and guidance for the use of libraries. The materials were collected to a single web platform and is now being used independently by the young library users, as well as the library staff when giving book talks and courses in library use. New technologies were also piloted as part of the project. For example, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) tools were utilized in teaching the library use. High school students responded very positively to the use of AR technology in teaching the use of libraries. The students used mobile devices in getting through a digital AR path- solving problems related to the use of libraries. An idea behind this was that when VR and AR technologies are really breaking big, public libraries will be better prepared for it and not only then just looking into the possibilities of using such technologies.