Libby was the first robot employee at the University of Pretoria that worked in the library assisting students with any library-related inquiries.
Upon returning to campus with the library fully functioning again after the pandemic, Libby seems to be missing. It is clear that even a robot, like any other employee, was affected by the pandemic. It can of course be confirmed that Libby did not get COVID-19. Mr Isak van der Walt, the manager of the Department of Library Services’ creative laboratory, said: “Libby had to be removed from service during the pandemic, primarily because the method to invoke a response is based on the physical touch of the robot’s head. Due to the possible spread of the virus, we had to avoid any scenario where Libby’s physical casing is touched”.
Van der Walt did, however, confirm that Libby was making virtual appearances on online platforms while she was off work. Nikashni Pillay, a final year education student who had the opportunity to interact with Libby in 2019, had the following to say: “I was amazed by her capacities as a robot”. It’s a feeling many new students will have when they see Libby for the first time as Libby is the closest thing some students have had to experiencing the futuristic world of technology which is often portrayed in movies.
Students will be seeing more of Libby, since the library’s IT unit is currently in the process of introducing a Libby chat box to the library website, which will be released sometime during the year. This will be an exciting new way to interact with Libby and see her capabilities.
While waiting for that new feature to be incorporated, Libby was back at work on 19 April and is ready to interact with students once again.
Illustration: Sanele Zulu