Taming Technolust: Ten Steps for Planning in a 2.0 World

I am the guest columnist for RUSQ’s Accidental Technologist this summer. The very cool thing is the full text of the piece is up and online at the RUSQ blog. Please take a look and let me know what you think. I wrote this last January while the snow and wind were raging outside my window – I’m glad it doesn’t seem super dated by now.

http://www.rusq.org/2008/08/18/taming-technolust/

Here are some of my favorite parts:

A fact: new technologies will not save your library. New tech cannot be the center of your mission as an institution. I’m still taken aback when I hear of libraries spending money for technologies without careful planning, an environmental scan of the current landscape, and a complete road map for training, roll out, buy in, and evaluation. When the latest technology hits, are you keen to add it to your library, boosting the coolness factor? For example, buying every librarian on your staff an iPhone as a way to improve reference services is probably not going to be a wise solution. You may have some happy librarians, but that type of technolust does not well serve the organization.

Some of the Ten Steps:

3. Be transparent. Communicate and make decisions via open meetings and weblogs. Michael Casey and I advocate for transparent libraries based on open communication, a true learning organization structure, and quick and hon-est responses to emerging opportunities. “Transparency–putting our cards on the table–allows us to learn and grow, and it lets our community see us for all we are, including our vulnerabilities.”4 This is incredibly important for management and administration. You are the ones that need to set the standard for open communication within your institution—walk the walk and talk the talk. I’m reminded of a talk I did at a larger, well-known library system, where five minutes in the director stood up and slipped out the back door. The staff took me out for drinks the night before and one said “we hope she stays to hear you. We can’t do anything without her approval and everything we put out on the Web is vetted through three departments.”
Pilots and prototypes are great if they are just that. Don’t call it a pilot project if it’s already a done deal: signed contracts, “behind the scenes” decisions to go forward, or a “this is the way it’s going to be” attitude will crush any sense of collaborative planning and exploration for the library. It’s a slippery slope to losing good people to other institutions.

5. Spot trends and make them opportunities. Scan the horizon for how technology is changing our world. What does it mean for your AV area if iTunes and Apple are offering downloaded rental movies? What does it mean for your reference desk if thriving online answer sites are helping your students? What does it mean when Starbucks or Panera Bread becomes the wi-fi hangout in town for folks looking for access? Read outside the field—be voracious with tech magazines like Wired and Fast Company. Monitor some tech and culture blogs. Read responses to such technologies as Amazon’s Kindle, and ponder if it’s a fit for your users and your mission. Being a successful trendspotter is one of the most important traits of the twenty-first-century librarian. Be aware, for example, that thriving, helpful virtual communities, open-source software platforms, and a growing irritation with what integrated library system and database vendors provide libraries could converge into a sea change for projects like Koha and Evergreen. Who knows how close we are to that tipping point, but trendspotting librarians will be far ahead of the game.

8. Plan to plan. Instead of willy nilly emerging technology projects, plan to plan. Create timelines and audit progress. This takes project management skills, something LIS educators (like me) should be teaching in depth! We need expertise in bringing projects to completion. Your “Digital Strategies Librarian” or “Director of Innovation and User Experience” should have impeccable management skills and be able to see the big picture. How do you find that person if you don’t have one? Evaluate current jobs and duties of your library staff. What can be done to streamline workflows and free up hours for new duties and new titles. Find who is suitable, then guide projects and people well. Have effective meetings with action items and follow up. I spent more time in meetings when I became a manager in my former job than practically anything else. Planning projects focuses creativity. Meandering meetings sap creativity.

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