Shanghai Welcomes AI-Powered ‘Smart Libraries’

Located in Changning District, Shanghai’s first AI-powered library is a symbol of the city’s focus on cultural development

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3:33 PM HKT, Wed August 9, 2023 1 mins read

At Changning Library in downtown Shanghai, visitors are greeted by a digital human who can hold conversations, recommend new books, reserve seats in the library, and more.

The avatar, named Xin Ye, is equipped with an advanced recommendation algorithm. Once she scans visitors’ library cards — or faces — she uses borrowing records and reading history to identify books they would enjoy, which can be delivered to their reserved seats via robot.

a reporter interacts with the xin ye ai interface at changning library

A reporter tests out the Xin Ye AI human interface at Changning Library. Image via Weibo

The AI staffers and book delivery robots at Changning Library are part of the district’s larger plan to bring its public cultural spaces into the 21st century.

“Culture and reading both promote and influence each other,” Changning District posted on its official WeChat account. “We want to create a new method for urban reading that suits Changning, is age-friendly, walkable, and full of reading opportunities.”

“There’s even a special reading and discussion space for readers to learn about traditional Chinese culture and our intangible cultural heritage.”

a delivery robot at Changning Library

A delivery robot bringing books to readers. Image via Weibo

Since the first upgrades were implemented last fall, Changning Library’s new AI functions have been used more than 20,000 times.

The avatar Xin Ye and book delivery robots aren’t the only additions. All the books have been supplied with RFID chips, which helps the robots find them. The chips also make it possible for each book’s exact location to be represented on a screen by each bookshelf, making it easier for humans to find them, as well.

a digital bookshelf

The digital bookshelf connected to the RFID chips. Image via Weibo

The library has also installed contactless smart bookshelves, where visitors can pick up books checked out online ahead of time.

Zhu Jianwei, the head of the Changning District Culture and Tourism Bureau, told SHINE News that the ‘smart library’ approach will eventually be expanded across the district, if Changning’s initiative is a success.

a "story store" in changning

A "story store" in Changning. Image via WeChat

Beyond libraries, the district’s plans to jump start reading also include building a “story store” on Yuyuan Road to showcase Changning’s history, upgrading the popular Tsutaya Bookstore, and partnering with cafes and museums to create more public reading spaces.

Cover image via WeChat

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