Twelve Techie Things for Librarians 2005 (Updated)

In lieu of looking back at 2004, I thought I’d look ahead at some things librarians need to be aware of as we move into the middle of the decade. These are the things I would want a knowledgeable, tech savvy staff to be aware of and consider for their libraries. In strategic planning, long range plan meetings and the like I would hope an “in the know” librarian at the table could speak about these things.

These are culled from various blogs, presentations, discussions and pondering. For your consideration:

User-Centered Technology Planning

“Technology is a is only a tool.” (Thanks Sandra Nelson!) Do not let your technolust guide planning for technology in your library. Don’t let the staff do it either. Focus on user needs.

I talked to some great folks and wrote about it here.

Proceed carefully. Make good decisions. Ponder these and the bigger implications AND unintended consequences: RFID, WiFi for the Public, MP3 players, Web redesign, public use document stations. Optimise tech in your library for users and staff.

Toolbars for Library Users

So what if every library or library consortium could supply a customizable toolbar for their users to download and install? Like this: (Via Rob)

It should include all the cool things Jackson does: links to library information, “talk with a librarian” access and a search box. Wow! Maybe a library could distribute it via the web and on a welcome CD/DVD when someone gets a card (PL) or enrolls (academic). I would also hope it would come from the Open Source movement (see below) and libraries could share it and improve it as it grows.

RSS Feeds from the Catalog and Library Web Sites

I nearly fell of my chair when I read that Seattle Public Library has integrated RSS through their catalog — after falling out of my chair back in November when David King told me Kansas City Public was using RSS on their pages.

Attention ILS Vendors: follow Dynix’s lead and integrate now (especially you there, Innovative, who vends SJCPL’s Catalog). I would love to subscribe to feeds based on some favorite authors or genres or newly added DVDs.

Attention Web Development Librarians: Be aware — RSS is the new big thing. It’s going to change the way folks get their content. Yeah yeah, you say, not everyone is using it. Guess what? The fact that CNN went live with feeds this week (Thanks Steven) speaks volumes. When folks realize how easy it is to monitor content and have that content shoot into their reader, libraries had better be ready! I would love to see a library offer feeds for all of their news and marketing!

Converging Devices and Storage

(Inspired by Jenny Levine and Roy Tennant, two people who inspire me everytime I encounter them.)

Jenny always makes me think when we chat or I read her stuff. She’s been saying “convergence” for some time now – and boy do i get it — especially after upgrading to a Treo 600. Devices are serving multiple purposes — look at the Treo (IM, E-mail, phone, SMS, etc) or even the iPod Photo (music, calendar, contact lists, photos and heck yeah – presentations!).

Roy Tennant speaks and writes about digital storage. An iPod has 60GB of space. Are we ready for those devices to be attached to our public PCs for transferring data? I heard this many times in 2004. Are we guilty of dumbing down our public machines so much that they are useless? Can users do everything they may need to do or want to try? Can they burn a CD? DVD? Plug in a USB storage device? Download free tunes somewhere?

Case in point: A young person heads out to a library and wants to search the catalog en route via his converged device…and then maybe download 30-40 BIG PDFs for a research report onto their iPod… can they do it at your library?

Presence (Social Software and Tools) & Collaboration Part I:

CJ inspired me and David King wrote about this and it struck a chord. I would like to see more librarians present in the social realm of the web: via IM, via social networks, via online communities, via their own blogs or collaborative blogspaces: weighing in on issues and showing off what cool folks are doing in this game. Share your photos — I want to see pictures of your wedding or travels or whatever as well as your libraries. That’s community and I love that aspect of the plugged in life.

IM is not just for saying ?How R U? anymore. Folks are using it ? holding meetings, asking questions and collaborating. Libraries are using it as a virtual reference tool. Look at what Aaron has done and Sarah….

IM me. SMS me. E-mail me Comment at flickr on my silly images. Stop me in the hallway at the Washington Hilton at CIL and let’s talk! I love it!

Presence (Libraries as Space…& a word from our sponsor) part II:

The other type of presence, in my mind, is that of a library’s presence in its locale — virtually and physically. we need to build great web sites but also great buildings that draw people in. We need to ask them what they want in the library and put those things there.

We need to brand and logo our services and advertise!! Make the library the place to be — whether it’s coming in the front door or typing in a URL. I also think that a consistent message across all channels of communication within a library makes the message so much more clear.

Electronic Resources & Federated Access (and a rant about Promotion)

Public libraries are in a unique position. How do we spend our budgets to best serve such diverse user populations? At the University of North Texas the online resources are HUGE and deep because it is a research institution. In fact, I’m irked when I can’t get full text access to a journal. What do public library users expect? General databases like MasterFile? Full text of some of the big names? For sure if use supports it.

What do your patrons want? Have we even asked them? The reference librarians get a general idea of what people are using..they should be involved in the process but also understand the constraints of budgets and the “big picture” of offerings.

Evaluation is very important. User interface is key. If a database is hard to use — who will use it? With federated searching, however, that interface takes second place to the metasearch interface. That one had better be mighty fine as well!

Budgets are tight. A product had better be GOOD, needed and easily incorporate into data structures already in place at any given library. Web-based is good — a product that works in all browsers with ease is better. The best justification and use of leased databases is seeking every opportunity to incorporate access into the library’s presence: via federated searching for the web, via promotional materials and via a well-trained staff that can instruct the public as well. These things build on each other. Databases that costs thousands of dollars are useless unless the public know about them.

No technology-based initiative can succeed without 5 key steps that Richard Dougherty put in his article in LJ a few years ago about virtual ref that I always quote: staff, technology, training, promotion and policy. If one of these fails, the project is likely to derail or not reach full potential. If we build the best Web site and hide our resources , who will find them?

Transitioned Technologies

Jessamyn and I had a wonderful conversation a few weeks ago after she blogged about my techplan/lust article. We got to bantering about Dead Tech and tech that is just transitioning. We pondered how some technologies have changed…

E-Mail: It’s not dead. It isn’t going to die for a long long time. Jessamyn said “People in my town don?t even have e-mail yet.” So, I?m all about the new stuff, but don?t forget the power of turning folks on to a Yahoo! Account in your library so they can e-mail friends and relatives.

HTML (Coded by Hand, Baby!) : “Ewww?why HTML?” my students ask in L401 at IUSB. Well, guess what, some of those commands come in very handy when editing raw blog pages with Bold or italics or inserting IMG SRC for posts. I use em all the time, even though MT will upload files as well.

Virtual Communities for Librarians

There are wonderful Web-based Communities of practice out there… waiting for librarians! Visit webJunction and look at all the cool stuff they offer. I have also spent a little bit of time (and need to spend more) at — a project from Steven Bell (who turned me on to it) and John Shank. According to bell and Shank, a Blended Librarian is:

An academic librarian who combines the traditional skill set of librarianship with the information technologist?s hardware/software skills, and the instructional or educational designer?s ability to apply technology appropriately in the teaching-learning process.

Well… I think many public and special librarians are assuming that role as well. For two years I had an incredible fellow on staff at SJCPL with me who had a Masters in Instructional design. Ka-Ching! He brought such a high level of training and development to the staff that would rival the offerings of larger institutions! Big libraries might consider a position such as this to insure the development and delivery of training! Pair that with an MLS and watch out!

The site offers a lot of discussion and insight into this new role with an academic slant

In a nutshell: do not miss the chance to join and participate in a virtual community. There are resources there. Helpful people. Stuff you can download and use. We are not in this alone folks!

Open Source Software

My Institute class this semester is all about OSS. It fascinates me that the Evergreen project out of Georgia is working toward an OS ILS. Yes. Please. What would the big companies do if their was an open source option for library catalogs and libraries didn’t have to wait for the features they want?

Watch this one. Closely.

Digital Content & DRM

Companies are sniffing around libraries — offering e-content — audio, etc. Look at all the details. Look at the money involved. Look at how the future may play out for the formats. And for Goodness sake look at the implications of digital rights.

New Devices…New Uses…

I am aching to see a library do something with the iPod. I think that would be incredibly cool and innovative. A library with a digital art collection could circulate the entire collection on an iPod photo with the cables to display the art on a television!

BONUS: Put the most value in your number one asset: A well-trained, tech-savvy, friendy staff who do not bristle at change and who embrace each new curve on the tech rollercoaster.

I’m just saying: the best librarians balance the traditional skills with an eye toward the wired world. I’m tickled with librarians here at SJCPL who have seen the Internet roll in (pre 1995) and have adapted, learned and embraced each change.

How can we ensure an effective techie staff:

Make tech/info literacy a priority
Offer opportunities to learn and attend learning programs
Give folks a chance to play with new stuff
Include them in decision-making


make sure library administrators are on board as well. A staff working under someone afraid of their PC will not thrive in the tech-savvy 2005 and beyond.

Let me know what you think….