February 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Getting “Phygital”: Embracing the Space Where Digital and Physical Intertwine | Editorial

I like to learn new words and am now thinking about one I first heard this summer: phygital. To the ear, it sounds a lot like fidgeting. But it looks like what it is, a compression of the words physical and digital to indicate when those two worlds combine, intersect, or are integrated. The reference to this as a trend was among the many interesting insights offered by Elliot Felix, a strategy consultant at brightspot, at the “Re-think It: Libraries for a New Age” design conference at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, MI.

While the various meanings of the term phygital have been percolating for a few years, they are most completely expressed when it comes to tech innovations around product development (such as the integration of digital engagement into store environments or objects) and marketing strategies. Nonetheless, it resonated with the mostly academic librarians in the room in Michigan and applies to the ongoing push-me pull-you involved in what we at SLJ and sister publication Library Journal have been calling the “digital shift” for some years.

To explore the transition in program strategy and practice, we’ve offered a free annual virtual event, returning again October 14 around the theme of “Libraries Connecting Communities.” We’ve witnessed massive change and deep creativity in program and space design as librarians in all settings have striven to develop responsive services and take best advantage of digital developments. The results are increasingly complex learning environments that can feel downright phygital.

So, while the shift is real, it’s also become more and more apparent that it’s less about a clear directional change than it is about taking advantage of what digital and physical offerings bring. Importantly, despite major media’s emphasis on one format (ebooks), say, over another (print), the future is less and less likely to be a rejection of one or the other than a smart integration of what’s possible. (This tension is explored in this month’s feature story on the state of the school ebook market “Getting to E.”)

A case in point is Kristina Holzweiss, who is celebrated on our cover as SLJ’s 2015 School Librarian of the Year. In keeping with the suddenly prevailing linguistic creativity, she has coined the term libratory to name her vibrant environment in the Bay Shore (NY) Middle School. This portmanteau (another term that sent me happily to the dictionary) of library and laboratory reflects the deep integration of exploratory learning in her library space and in the programs Holzweiss offers. There, hands-on learning meets digital content and social connectivity. Similarly, the two finalists, Lakisha Brinson and Sally Smollar, deftly navigate the terrain between and around both digital and physical offerings. In each case, I’m inspired by how passion meets up with experience and ongoing creativity to foster stellar library service.

Words matter, and as I continue to explore the new world that emerges each day, reflecting on the concept of being phygital has given me a new way to see potential. Too often, it seems, we focus on making a choice between physical and digital, when really we are always moving between them and increasingly never leaving either realm. Responsive library service should take advantage of the strengths of each and the power of them combined. It offers me new direction in understanding the true complexity of the work today and ahead as we continue to embrace the intersection of the digital and physical layers of our lives.


Rebecca T. Miller

This article was published in School Library Journal's September 2015 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Rebecca T. Miller About Rebecca T. Miller

Rebecca T. Miller (rmiller@mediasourceinc.com) is Editorial Director, Library Journal and School Library Journal.

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