Top technology trends: ALA Mid-Winter 2008

Here, listed in no priority order, is a set of top technology trends/predictions for fellow librarians to chew on during the ALA Mid-Winter Meeting, 2008.

  • The use of Linux as a server platform as well as a desktop platform will increase – The latest version of Windows seems to have gone over like a lead balloon. Institutions still have server-class needs. Add these two things together, and you will see more IT shops considering and adopting Linux for their operating system. At a much slower pace, Linux will increasingly appear on user desktops because retailers are selling dirt-cheap computers with Linux pre-installed. Ubuntu, a particular Linux distribution, gets rave reviews for its user interface. Clean. Easy to use, and easy to learn. As Linux becomes more predominant, so will the concept of open source software, and that is an additional ball of wax that has already been mentioned numerous times.
  • Open access will grow, I hope – H.R. 2764 was put into law this past month. In it was a provision mandating recipients of NIH grants to submit their articles to PubMed 12 months after publication. This ought to bring a flood of content to bare. We can only hope that a precedent will be set and more content will become open access from publicly funded sources. If this comes to fruition, then this will be a boon to acquisitions departments. “How can we collect, archive, and preserve this content for the long haul?” Remember, “lots of copies keep stuff safe”, and it is foolish and antiquated to think it is more efficient to keep digital things in only one place; it behooves libraries to collect and index this content. The stuff that will last for decades (if not centuries) will be the stuff that is duplicated over and over again.

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  • Social networking spaces will mature a bit more – For the most part, humans are social beings. We seek out groups of others, not just individuals but entire societies. If this is true, then it is natural for social networking communities to exist. Ironically, they are nothing new. How many of you remember Usenet or even dial-up bulletin board systems? The difference now-a-days is the proliferation of the Web browsers instead of modems. There are may social network places: MySpace, Linked-In, Facebook, etc. Each of these function but Facebook, with its ability to allow people to create programs for it through its application programmer interface (API), will probably grow faster than the others. Yes, the addition of the API provides more functionality, but more importantly, it harnesses the power of networked people the same way the development of Linux harnessed networked people. Centralized authorities may be ideal (more or less) when there is not a lot of communication between large groups of people. Consider the governments of the Middle Ages. When communication and accessibility channels are flattened the work of the whole group comes to bear more effectively. For these reasons, social networking spaces will continue to grow. The environment is ripe.
  • Blogging will continue to effect the way we communicate – Blogging most certainly was cutting edge two years ago. The blog-o-matic such as bloglines.com was in vogue. The technological infrastructure to make a blog happen was cheap, if not free. It was cool to have a blog. While it is still cool, I see many blogs going by the wayside and not getting updated. I believe this is true because people realized the time commitment a truly successful blog requires, namely, having something to say on regular basis and knowing how to say it in writing. Yet, the good (and prolific) writers who blog will exert an influence in the way we think and share ideas. I have been told that the following sounds very librarianish but I still think it is true. One of the powers of writing is that it transcends both space and time. Something can be written in the here and now but communicated with somebody across the globe three years from now. Very powerful. Blogs amplify this power.

Finally, the entity that has made all of these things possible has been our network of globally accessible computers. Each one of those words (“network”, “globally”, “accessible” and “computers”) packs a wollup, and combined into a single thing represent a huge change in the way we live and work. Let’s call that the understatment of the decade.


Eric Lease Morgan
University Libraries of Notre Dame

January 7, 2008

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