Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The physical and virtual converge

Trends in the online world are being mirrored in the physical world, creating a convergence.

So this is my theory of convergence. Not to be confused with other convergence theories out there - of which I was surprised to learn there are many. The online trend towards the social and the customisable is being mirrored in the physical world. With the increase in the use of mobile devices, Web 2.0 and social networking has developed in such a way that people expect to interact and engage with the physical world in the same way as the online world. Clients are expecting more opportunities in the physical world for sharing, tagging, interacting and engaging with their surroundings and surroundees.

There are ways that the divide between the physical and the virtual can be bridged with such things as: mobile devices, QR codes, RFID and augmented reality. However, we can go further to enable online communities to remain engaged in the physical world by tapping into what and who people know and how they share what they know. For example 'information commons', or group study spaces have been built into library design with an increasing use of casual, modular furniture that is movable and hence, customisable. These spaces allow casual interaction in the library and create a social space to see and be seen. In a way, breaking down the traditional boundaries between 'work and play'. So what should we do to develop this growing convergence?

  • We need to latch onto the 'gift economy' (Us Now film - quite long) and create physical and virtual peer-to-peer learning.
  • We need to embed the virtual in the physical by using QR codes in printed library information with links to multi-media content.
  • We need to personalise the library experience by using RFID to customise the delivery of services and resources
  • We need to customise the physical space by allowing tagging and notes through the use of augmented reality.
While these ideas may seem vague, I have very concrete ideas about how they could be implemented. I believe the convergence of the physical and virtual has begun and we must act now to develop the type of responsive services our library clients expect. Could this mean the end of Dewey? If the physical is to mirror the virtual (e.g tagging & folksonomies), then perhaps so.


  1. Augmented reality is just so exciting. I cannot wait to start playing around with it – and also seeing how students engage with it. Perhaps this convergence of online/physical will help build a sense of community in the library that we’ve all been talking about at work.

  2. I agree. I think it will lead to a sense of community in the physical library but only if we recognise that some changes need to be made if this is to be encouraged.

  3. Hey Sophie, I'm enjoying reading your blog and I'm glad you're putting your ideas out there. It is an exciting time for us all to be involved in shaping our future in libraries and we need to hear more from everyone who is involved.
    Thanks for the link to my blog. I've been very slack of late. I guess the immediacy of Twitter has taken over, but I do want to get back to writing longer thought pieces like yours.