Top Technology Trends

Rick Roche's "From the Bottom" Technology Trends

1. In many smaller public libraries, especially in rural America, the challenge is still to get enough PCs for the public to use and keep them up-to-date. Librarians everywhere should continue to support and applaud efforts by state governments and private foundations, like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to help these libraries.

I was a bit surprised when a recent survey from the Illinois State Library asked how many computers with 286 and 386 processors we were using. We have not had one for eight or nine years, but they are still out there in small public libraries. Help is still needed.

2. Even libraries that are able to afford an adequate supply of PCs, may have trouble affording commercial databases for their public to use, even though the public is beginning to expect access. Small libraries have to focus on providing general purpose databases that give them the coverage of many subjects. They will never have all the databases that the larger public libraries have, unless the state libraries step in.

In suburban Chicago, there are haves and have-nots when it comes to databases in libraries. Luckily for me, the area community college library has many databases that I can access remotely with the library card that I got as a taxpayer. I urge our clients who needs databases to get that card. Many are not willing to make the 45 minute drive to apply for the card. You can not get the card remotely.

Local libraries have tried to go together to swing deals with the vendors, brokered by our library consortium, but with different budget cycles and different database needs, it is difficult to negotiate. I wish the Illinois State Library would do more for us, but it is struggling financially itself.

3. Every library should try to set up a free wireless network. For the cost of a PC, several dozen people with laptops can be given access to the Internet. The local Internet providers may not like this idea.

4. Every library should try to network its printing. We resisted for a long time because it is so handy having the printers beside the PCs, but the cost of ink cartridges were rising every year, as more people wanted more printing.

I have urged people to save documents electronically, but few have. The number of prints made in our library has dropped since we networked the printing, as some people do not want to walk to another desk.

5. Smaller libraries should not purchase management systems for booking their PCs. For the price of the software, the libraries can buy several more PCs and make more people happy. Staff can manage the bookings. The human touch still works well our library.

6. Even small libraries can take part in virtual reference and instant message reference. IM may be the better answer for libraries with tight budgets, as it is nearly free (other than staff time). There are also fewer technical problems than virtual reference. Library users are please by the efforts, and your clients get access to help from the bigger libraries.

7. Borrow when you can. Our library is having a teen gaming program tonight using equipment from the neighbors. Real neighbors, not nearby libraries.

8. Small libraries should continue to watch the larger libraries. In some ways, the world is getting flatter, but there are still some hills to climb.