What is your Library doing about Emerging Technologies?

LITA presented a panel at ALA’s 2010 Conference that posed the question, What is your library doing about emerging technologies?

Bohyun Kim, the Digital Access Librarian at Florida International University, moderated the discussion with the aid of slides that posed questions for four groups of panelists.

GROUP 1:

  • Elisabeth Leonard, Associate Dean for Library Services, Western Carolina University
  • Frank Cervone, Vice Chancellor for Information Services, Purdue University Calumet

I stepped into a packed room as Elisabeth Leonard tackled the question, “What are emerging technologies and how should they be adapted for libraries?”

Leonard suggested that as librarians we should “think through the eyes of our users.”  She argued that emerging technologies depend on the target user.  In other words, context matters.  Leonard stated that social networking sites (e.g., Twitter and Facebook) are not emerging technologies for today’s youth.  For them, social networking is a way of life.  Leonard paused for a moment and added that the reverse could be argued for another user group.

Frank Cerone stepped in and argued that social networking sites are not emerging technologies for any user group.  To discover emerging technologies, Cerone suggested that libraries look to the commercial realm for inspiration.

Kim opened the discussion up to a question from the audience, and someone asked, “You’ve been talking about emerging technologies and what they aren’t, so what exactly is an emerging technology?  What’s an example of one?”

“3-D television,” Cerone said.  He added that libraries could include 3-D TV in group study rooms.

“I consider 3-D a ‘leading edge technology’ rather than an emerging one,” argued Leonard.  Leonard proposed discovery systems as an example of her definition of an emerging technology.

GROUP 2:

  • Amanda Margis, Web Services Children’s Librarian ,Warren-Newport Public Library
  • Danielle Whren Johnson, Digital Access Librarian, Loyola/Notre Dame Library
  • Darcy Del Bosque, Emerging Technologies Librarian, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
  • Elisabeth Abarbanel, School Librarian, Brentwood School, Los Angeles
  • Rebekah Kilzer, Emerging Technologies Librarian, Drexel University Libraries

The next group of panelists brought new insights to the panel as they addressed the question, “What are the daily tasks and skills required of emerging technologies librarians?”

Before answering this question, Amanda Margis explained that the idea of “emerging technologies” was not included in her job description.  Instead, she sought out emerging technologies because she saw a need, and a recent reorganization provided her with time to devote to this endeavor.

Meanwhile, Darcy Del Bosque explained that her job description has changed five times within a four-month time frame. Del Bosque said that her daily tasks and skills had changed with each revision, but her default role had become the fixer of “stuff that breaks.”

Elisabeth Abarbanel’s experience as a school librarian provided another perspective of emerging technologies in educational organizations.  Abarbanel explained that the librarians and teachers at Brentwood in Los Angeles work collaboratively to bring emerging technologies to the classroom.  She added that, for her users, an emerging technology might be RSS feeds.  For Abarbanel, an emerging technologies librarians should be flexible, involved, and have a knack for publicizing and promoting ideas.  “Do not be afraid to bring a new vocabulary to your institution,” advised Abarbanel–suggesting that librarians need to exude confidence in order to get others excited about new technologies.

Upon entering her role as the Emerging Technologies Librarian at Drexel University Libraries, Rebekah Kilzer performed an environmental scan of the library by taking note of technologies that had already been implemented.  She also talked with her colleagues about their expectations of and suggestions for emerging technologies at their libraries.

Kim posed the question, “How can librarians stay current when it comes to emerging technologies?”

Margis explained that librarians can stay up-to-date on technologies by listening to voices outside of the library.  Margis said that she subscribes to the tech feeds of Mashable, Lifehacker, and Wired.  She also recommended the blog In the Library with a Lead Pipe as a good place to look for tech tips.  Margis dropped a few more names, including ReadWriteWeb, Non-profit Tech Blog, and Museum 2.0.  Margis concluded, “If you want to stay up-to-date, play with the technology… Even if you don’t have it, just get your hands on it… Experiment, test, and reevaluate.”

Danielle Whren added to Margis’ comments, and said, “Go to conferences for non-library things to see what library is missing.”

It seemed to me that the entire panel was saying, “Think outside of the biblio-box!”

Kim asked, “How do u assess emerging technology projects?”

When it comes to assessment, Del Bosque said that you can’t spend your time looking at what other libraries are doing.  Look at your local population.  “How are u going to define your success?” she asked.  For example, some libraries might define success based on usage while others might be concerned with information retrieval.  “Try usability testing, surveys, and focus groups,” Del Bosque said.  These simple and low-cost research methods can help you define your project.   Upon implementing a new technology, Del Bosque asks, “Where do we fit in the life cycle of the project? When is someone else coming in?”

GROUP 3:

  • Cynthia Johnson, Head of Reference, University of California, Irvine
  • Jacquelyn Erdman, Web Services Librarian, East Carolina University
  • Kathryn Munson, Assistant Access Services Librarian, Southeastern Louisiana University
  • Marissa Ball, Emerging Technologies Librarian, Florida International University

Group 3 addressed management issues in their responses to the question, “How does your library organize the responsibilities of emerging technologies?”

Cynthia Johnson said that her emerging technologies position took on a consulting role, since UC-Irvine has a web services department and a team of developers.  Jacquelyn Erdman has the benefit of working with a full committee that has an ever-changing group of members.

As the Emerging Technologies Librarian at Florida International University, Marissa Ball explained her team-based approach of bringing new tech tools to the library.  Ball realized that if she got the early adopter types to test out new tech tools, then they would share their knowledge with others.  Through this method of peer-to-peer training, Ball’s team has found uses for tools like Jing and LibX for instruction and collection development.

Next, Kim asked, “How clear is your library’s vision on emerging technologies?”

Due to budget restraints, Erdman said that her team at East Carolina University decided to host an in-house conference that focused on emerging technologies.  Erdman and her colleagues shared tech tools and tips.  The conference gave library staff a new set of tools to increase productivity and communication.

In order to clearly state your library’s vision for emerging technologies, Kathryn Munson suggested a different type of strategic planning.  Munson said that you should document what you are doing, what you aren’t, and why.  She stressed the importance of keeping your timeline in mind throughout the implementation process.

Johnson said that her library’s vision on emerging technologies is clear, since it mirrors that of the mission and vision of the university.  Johnson combined forces with the educational technologies and web services departments at UC-Irvine in order to accomplish certain goals.

Additionally, Johnson explained how her expectations of user’s needs were far different than the reality.  After setting up the library’s Twitter account, Johnson watched as it evolved into a virtual suggestion box.  Johnson welcomed this unforeseen use of Twitter.  Despite the suggestion box that had lived at the library for years, user feedback flooded the library’s Twitter account.

You never can predict how emerging technologies will be used by others, said Erdman.  You need to consider users from the lowest to the highest level of ability and become friends with the person who is the worst or most resistant to new technology.

GROUP 4:

  • David Ratledge, Associate Professor & Head, Library Technology Services, University of Tennessee
  • Gwen Evans, Coordinator, Library Information and Emerging Technologies, Bowling Green State University
  • Rebecca K. Miller, College Librarian for the Sciences, Virginia Tech

Group 4 responded to the question, “How should libraries assess and take risks?”

Gwen Evans works with Computer Science students at Bowling Green State University in order to develop her library’s technological offerings.  Over the years, Evans has devised a system of overlapping schedules–allowing seasoned students to teach the newbies.  Although, the CS students have developed some amazing technologies, Evans said that she maintains a conservative attitude about production.  Still, “failure has to be built in.”

Evans  stressed that libraries confirm that they have the resources to take on a new project.  Where is your team of librarians?  Or, developers?  Who is going to see the project through and offer support for its life cycle?

Rebecca Miller pointed out that librarians can suffer from a case of “technolust.”  Librarians can easily get wrapped up in the “tech arms race” and forget to think about the cost of project’s entire life cycle.  Miller said that when it came time to decide which social media elements to bring to her library, she took a survey of students at Virginia Tech.  She said the decision boiled down to the question, “What can we not afford to do?”

David Ratledge responded, “Your users might be on Facebook, but, do they want you–the library–on Facebook?”

At this point, I was nodding.  As a twenty-something who signed up with Facebook back in its college-kids-only days, I don’t think that Facebook is everybody’s platform.  In addition to asking their users about their favorite social network sites, libraries need to ask their users, Do you want us on your social network?  Why or why not?

Evans said that her team hosts brown bag technology lunches that allow staff to get their hands on new software and tech products.  The brown bags give Evans a chance to hear her colleagues’ thoughts on emerging technologies and their potential for Bowling Green’s libraries.  Such feedback also helps Evans better understand what her colleagues expect from her as the Emerging Technologies Librarian.

After a few last thoughts from the panelists, Kim wrapped up the session.

You can view the PowerPoint slides from this LITA presentation here.  If the author has made an error or omitted an essential piece of panel advice, please leave your feedback in the Comments.

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