Smart speakers and voice assistants for librarians

Aaron Tay considers the potential uses of Google Assistant and Alexa for library and academic services and concludes there is still plenty of room for innovation.

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Summary - my thoughts about Google Assistant and Alexa Skills

I've been living in a home with two Google minis and using them a fair bit for over a month. What I've found is while they can be handy, my initial main use of them was to play music. After I setup some home automation, my use of it expanded obviously. The thing I noticed is that even in the privacy of my own home, I use them less than I expected.  While the voice recognition of Google assistant in Google home mini was excellent (I estimate 95-98 % accuracy for me), it still wasn't 100%. At times, even projecting my voice, Google Assistant didn't seem to catch what I said (possibly a Google Home might do better than a mini?) and there was always some time delay between where Google Assistant recognised my voice and did the action to turn on a light.

I'm not sure about the potential of currently deploying Google Homes or Amazon Echos in the library. The main issue is that I don't think currently people are comfortable using voice commands except in private places (I hear use of them while driving in cars is popular, as this is also often where your hands are occupied on the steering wheel) much less somewhere like in a place like the library.

Can you imagine carefully projecting and enunciating your voice in a public place like a library to ask for opening hours? I'm not sure.

I also suspect currently a smart speaker alone isn't sufficient, and if you do want to use it as a kiosk system you need something like Echo Show or Google Assistant equivalents of, the Lenovo Smart Display and the JBL Link View which comes with a screen as well.

Imagine asking a question on what books are available on topic A and getting all of the responses in voice. A screen to display things would be great isn't it? Or a question on directions when displaying a map would be the best answer. For personal use where you have set it up, Google Home would just pass the instructions to your phone's screen but in a public setting you can't currently link up with your user's phone this way.

That said, smart assistants do seem to be reaching critical mass and as they improve more of them will be in our users’ homes. Creating a library smart assistant with the right blend of functionality might be a good idea.

Well a good idea if you don't need to worry about privacy implications...... :)

This article is an edited version of a blog post that originally appeared here


Aaron Tay is Library Analytics Manager and Research Librarian at Singapore Management University.


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