Sarah Houghton’s Top Technology Trends

I am unable to attend ALA Midwinter again this year, but here are my top technology trends. Someone can read them in a big booming voice so it will sound impressive 😉

IM reference goes mainstream
After reading the existing studies showing that co-browsing is of limited value in many chat reference situations and thinking about how much money they’re spending on their web-based chat products, libraries will begin to re-think how they offer live online reference to their users. More and more libraries (as has been the trend for the last year) will adopt instant messaging for online reference, either in addition to or as a replacement for their existing expensive and bloated web-based chat products. A year ago I and a few others were called shortsighted and sometimes even “stupid” for pointing out the negatives of web-based chat. We were also called “extremist” and “too youth-oriented” for promoting instant messaging. Today, over a hundred libraries offer reference services via instant messaging, and I know of at least a dozen libraries who have dropped their web-based chat systems for IM. IM is going to continue to get bigger. It’s not going away.

Increasing technology staff
Libraries need to invest money in technology staff. New positions need to be created to keep up with the ever-growing demands on our technology staff: electronic resources managers, virtual reference coordinators, technology support, webmasters, systems analysts, etc. What may have been one full time position’s worth of work five years ago has now ballooned into two or three positions’ worth of work. Staffing will change to accommodate this…slowly, but it will change. I don’t think that positions will be moved around to accommodate this need for new staff—I think whole new positions will be created.

Take what we can from 2.0 and run
Library 2.0, Web 2.0, Librarian 2.0…what does it all mean? I agree with Thomas that over the next year we’ll be sorting through what these terms actually mean for our libraries, and picking and choosing from the concepts and ideas to implement the best of the best in our libraries. There are many concepts included in Library 2.0 (interactivity of information, taking the resources and services to the user—not the other way around, collaboration between the public and the library) that can be interpreted in many ways. It’s not just about technology. It’s about making ourselves relevant and desirable to a public who all too often don’t know the services they’re paying for and therefore don’t vote for our bond acts. We’ll come up with a short list of actions (I predict that that list will appear on Michael Stephens’s blog, Tame the Web—the guy’s known for his useful top ten lists).

Automated tagging
Tagging is useful. Its usefulness has been proven on sites like Flickr and Technorati. But tagging manually is a pain in the rear. Somewhere some great big awesome code monkey (probably someone with library or at least metadata training somewhere in his or her background) is going to figure out how to automatically tag things. Lots of things: blocks of text, links, *gasp* maybe even bibliographic records. The tagging won’t be perfect, but will it be good enough to serve our users’ needs? Then what? What happens to cataloging? Do we MARC and tag? I say yes. MARC, expensive and decrepit dinosaur that it is, isn’t going away. We still need controlled vocabulary…at least for a little while longer.

Opening up Library Computers
Okay. This is an exact duplicate from last year. But I don’t care. It’s important, and it’s happening (very) slowly. But it’s picking up speed. Most public and school libraries have the public use computers locked down for security reasons. This could mean having certain drives locked, disabling downloading and installations, having very limited software, disabling ports, and having few if any peripherals (scanners, speakers). While we claim that our public use computers help to bridge the digital divide (which they do by providing internet access & perhaps word processing), we need to do more. I predict that change in this area will pick up speed in the next year as libraries hear more complaints from users, talk to their schools about what tools students need, and do some serious self-analysis about how we’re absolutely not bridging that digital divide we’re pretending we’ve bridged. It’s more like we’ve thrown one solitary rope across a ravine and are asking folks to traverse hand-over-hand to the other side until they’re blistered and sore. Let’s build a real bridge—preferably of stone or metal construction, eh?