Welcome to Our World

Welcome to Tech Tips for Every Librarian, your monthly guide to cost-effective, easily implemented, and otherwise eminently doable technology solutions for your library. Yes, we said your library, and we do mean that! No matter how small, how isolated, or how short on staff or time or money you are. Tech Tips will contain technological solutions you can use. Recognizing that the majority of libraries are small libraries. Tech Tips will give everyone ideas for using technology for maximum impact–with minimum outlay.

While writers about technology in libraries often make assumptions about your technological know-how and technical background (or just pretend that you have a good deal of money to throw around), we work from none of those presuppositions. If you are in a small library or a cash-strapped institution, or if you just have little technical experience, you are reading the right department in CIL. We will explain straight out what you need to know, what you need to do, and where you can go for more information. We will show you how other similarly situated institutions have been successful with a variety of projects. We will talk about ways to better serve your patrons–and you–with the judicious use of technology. Throughout, we will focus on using various methods to stay current, to keep you and your library relevant, and to make an impact.

If, on the other hand, you are one of the lucky ones who has the resources to implement large-scale, costly projects, we will show you, too, how to find some alternatives. We believe that “simple” is sometimes better and that “easy” frees up your time for other initiatives. Every librarian today can benefit from learning new ways to save money and from reading ideas about making an impact with technology; and any project, including the ones we will be outlining here, can be expanded when you have the resources to do so.

Every library and every librarian needs to find creative ways to implement technological solutions, no matter how small. We so often let technology intimidate us when, in a 21st-century library, we need to recognize technological solutions for the tools they are. You can complete an amazing number of projects with just a $5 screwdriver; you can make simple technology tools serve you just as well in your library. Sometimes we rush out to invest in a costly set of specialized equipment or software or we focus on the flashiest solution; here, we look for alternatives and recognize that small steps can have a big impact.

Recognizing technological solutions as a set of tools to help us meet our libraries’ missions helps free us from technolust. The question becomes “How can we best meet our patrons’ expectations and use technology to meet our goals?” rather than “How can we buy the newest and the coolest?” Our related concern becomes “How do we use technological tools to keep ourselves current and relevant as librarians?” We will help you find some answers.

Rachel’s Introduction
I spent my time as a librarian working in smaller public libraries. Somehow I always ended up both working with technology and bemoaning the fact that we lacked the resources, time, and expertise to do more of the “cool” things that we saw bigger institutions tackling. Sometimes I was successful in finding ways to scale down larger projects or in finding alternatives, and sometimes time (and a little bit of patience!) solved the problem for me as technology dropped in price and complexity. In some cases, unfortunately, the “cool” remained hopelessly out of reach. In any of these scenarios, though, I always felt the lack of connection to peers in similar circumstances, and I felt overwhelmed by reading about technology implementations in larger institutions. I hope that this department helps to bridge that gap.

My original background is in reference, although I have been both a systems librarian and a computer services department head. I am basically an “accidental systems librarian,” as I have written about elsewhere. So trust me–if I can understand the projects and ideas that Michael and I will be covering here, you can too! I firmly believe that, no matter your original background, anyone with a willingness to learn and an enthusiasm for possibilities can be effective working with technology in libraries.

Michael’s Introduction
I’ve worked at a medium-sized public library for many years. I started my library career in the Audio Visual department, and did a few years’ service at our main reference desk. Then, for a while, I was bead of my library’s R&D area for technology before returning to school. I have also worked with a lot of librarians at workshops and in-service days. It fires me up to work with librarians and to get them thinking about how to best implement technology in their libraries–especially technologies that don’t break the bank!

I actually was lucky enough to witness the advent of Internet services in my library and in libraries in general in the ’90s. What a time it was! Now, tools are available to allow all of us to have some high impact with low cost, and that is what we will be writing about here. “Remember the return on investment,” I’ve said many times (to any librarians who will listen to me!). Let’s look for ways to roll out some darn cool stuff in libraries without breaking the bank. You are automatically assured a higher ROI! What you get back from technology projects–well-planned, researched, and implemented projects–can prove to be very important the next time you seek to add new services.

All of this talk about new Web site techniques–“Web 2.0,” blogs, instant messaging, wikis, digital rights management, iPods, RSS, audio content, and any other “hot” technologies you may be reading about–can be overwhelming. Sometimes we act so cautiously with the unknown–in this case, all things tech–that nothing gets done. Some librarians even admit to being “frozen” as the pace of change in technology and user expectations increases. There are resources available to help you make the right decisions (see sidebar) and to supplement the thoughts, advice, tips, and more that we’ll be presenting here. Never stop learning and improving. Never be afraid to try something new as you seek innovative ways to meet the needs of your users.

I look forward to writing with Rachel and to offering pathways that any readers can follow to success.

This article originally appeared in Computers in Libraries magazine January 2006, published by Information Today Inc.