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Libraries an underestimated tool for Smart Cities

Smart cities usually rely on digital innovation to create the biggest impact with the smallest digital insert. While this is a crucial part of what makes smart cities ‘˜smart’ , this reasoning is mostly based on assumptions, and, there are other components at work as well.

In the context of smart cities, libraries seem irrelevant and obsolete, representing a function that technology seems to have left behind. Who needs a library in the age of the laptop, tablet, smartphone and internet? However, the excessive emphasis on digitalization has the danger of ending up helping the city users who need the least intervention anyway.

Several citizens, however, do not have the prerequisites to access digital services, and, ironically, it is those citizens, usually the most vulnerable ones, that have the greatest need of smart city services. In the UK, national statistics show that 10% of households have no internet access at home, and only 66% now have access to a desktop computer or laptop. Moreover, these statistics probably represent a significant underestimate.

Smart city plans usually include impressive, innovative structures that increase accessibility, such as kiosks or information hubs. These also have the disadvantage of neglecting the people that have the greatest need for access to the smart city’ s digital services. “To encourage citizen health and independence in the smart city, we need to build a foundational understanding of what constitutes minimum viable access.  Properly funded, open and trained library spaces remain a culturally significant baseline, or safety net, for struggling city users to engage safely and competently, with the information-centric world that we need to keep up with.’

“With the appropriate resources, libraries have the ability to help users learn to engage with and manage information at varying levels of comfort ‘“ from accessing books, to printing benefits claims on a local computer, to ordering a replacement mobile phone, to giving children a warm, supervised place to read while training for work.’

Libraries are currently under threat because they are viewed as obsolete. The UK has experienced a £66m cut in library spending over the last year, with 105 libraries closing between 2016 and 2017. The realization of the smart city potential of libraries can revitalize them and turn them into a crucial means of providing inclusive access to smart city services.

The original article, by Hannah Kaner, can be found on City Metric.