Ethan Ohs

In 1929 my grandmother, who was ten years old at the time, was sent to rural Japan to care for her ailing grandmother. My family were farmers – both in the United States and in Japan. The farming techniques used on the family farm in Japan were dramatically different from the modern fertilisers and petrol tractors the family used on the farm in Washington State. My grandmother shared stories of farming techniques in Japan that had not changed in centuries like collecting fertiliser from the family out house and scattering this across the fields; planting and harvesting by hand; starting a pine needle fire to cook rice; and washing clothing in the local stream.

Fast forward nearly 90 years and I am sitting in my home office, conducting a live interview over the internet with Deb Miles from the Queensland State Library Service, listening to how Deb and her team are inspiring library staff and preparing children for a future where technology continues to be a major influencer in our daily lives.

Deb described one of her team’s first forays into coding, using Ozobots to create a farming game for the future. In this game, children are farmers who need to use fully automated machines to tend their fields. They programme these machines (the Ozobots) to travel across a map to plant, tend and harvest their fields. Could this be the future of farming technology? Will farmers be our next generation of coders?

Listening to Deb speak about the game instantly made me think of how vastly different farming techniques are and the dramatic shifts in technology that have taken place in the last century. It was an important reminder of a lesson I learnt as a teacher – we are preparing most children to fill jobs that do not yet exist.

I wasn’t familiar with Ozobots before I met Deb. They are small toys that read lines drawn on a page. They will follow the lines that have been drawn and you can programme them to do different things by changing the colours of the lines.

In the game, participants create codes to move the Ozobots around. The rules are simple and the game has been designed to evolve as people play it and staff are encouraged to think of adaptations.

Thinking back to my grandmother’s stories I realised how the purpose of farming hasn’t changed for millennia, however the way we do it is constantly evolving. In the same way, the purpose of libraries – a place where anyone can gain information and knowledge – is still relevant in today’s world, and that just like the future farmers of Australia need to think about how farming will evolve in the next century, library staff need to think about how and what knowledge and information will need to be shared with people to ensure we continue to fulfil our purpose.

The interview with Deb was done as part of the Innovation Network – a community created by and for public librarians to encourage sharing and help inspire library staff to continue to help libraries evolve to the changing needs of our communities in the UK. If you are a public librarian and are interested in joining our conversation please contact Ethan Ohs