In the latest film iteration of the classic H.G. Wells story, The Time Machine, the main character travels into the future and enters a library staffed by a “reference robot.” That and all the other popular images of robots from films and literature were in the back of my mind when I read Jaina Shaw’s intriguing article in the Winter 2015 issue of YALS, titled, “Libraries are for Making: Robots.”
In the article, we learn about Westport Library’s innovative use of robots, which are not being used to replace human staff, but instead are a creative new tool to attract customers to the library, teach teens programming and provide informal learning experiences.
What I found especially interesting was Shaw’s account of the interactions between the teens who volunteer and the robots they work with. She relates that her teen volunteers, when introduced to Nancy the robot, became frustrated when the robot failed to “jump to it” when commands were given. All those preconceived notions about what a robot can do were challenged by the reality. The teens now have a wonderful opportunity to learn the programming code that commands the robot’s actions. Even more fascinating, to my mind, is the psychology of human interaction with artificial intelligence. Expectations are challenged and learning includes programming, team building, critical thinking, and troubleshooting.
Kudos to the staff of Westport Library for their groundbreaking work in introducing robots to libraries!