Keeping Up with Technology

Finding the Web sites and technology resources that appeal to your learning style and level of understanding takes some patience and some trial and error, but the long-term payoff is huge. The wild proliferation of online educational resources will seem overwhelming at first, but it's also incredibly empowering. If you’re a visual learner, there are video lectures, slide shows, photos, graphs, charts and diagrams. For the auditory learner, there are millions of podcasts and streaming audio files. If you prefer hands-on experimentation, you can find countless step-by-step tutorials. Moreover, you can create a learning experience that mixes all these different styles.

Why Investigate New Technology Resources?

  • Understanding your patrons. MARC records, article databases and other library-centric technologies take so much time and energy that it’s easy to forgTet about the constantly changing digital culture outside our walls. However, just as library selectors read a wide variety of book review sources to correct for their own biases and preferences, library technologists need a broad, diverse array of inputs in order to understand what patrons are doing and what they expect from us. Some of the following resources are library-oriented, but most of them come from the wider technology community. These books, magazines and websites are setting trends, influencing your patrons and shaping their expectations.
  • Better patron service. Of course, the outcome we’re all aiming for is better service to patrons. The professional development resources, such as the following ones, are full of great ideas about new programs and improvements to existing programs.
  • Cost savings. There’s a low-cost or no-cost alternative for almost every category of software now, and in terms of reliability and usability, the free software sometimes exceeds the proprietary options. The following resources will keep you up-to-date as technologies that used to be expensive become affordable for small and medium-sized organizations.
  • Research skills. As librarians know better than most, research is the foundation skill. It’s the skill that lets you develop other skills. There’s nothing more frustrating and wasteful than trudging through web site after web site because you have no idea where to go for a particular information need. Spending an hour now and then to look at the following resources and will save you time later on when you need to troubleshoot a computer, look up product reviews or absorb some new ideas.
  • Communication, dialog and collaboration. New technologies let you learn from your patrons and learn from your colleagues. This idea has been repeated ad nauseum lately, but it’s true nonetheless. Moreover, the library is a place for patrons to connect with each other, both online and offline.
  • Work can be more effective and efficient. The buzz about collaboration, dialog and “Web 2.0” obscures the fact that technology is still getting better and better at supplementing our faulty memories, organizing our messy lives and automating our boring, routine activities. Every day brings four or five new applications for managing time, recording expenses, organizing information resources, etc. The resources in Places to Learn About Technology will help you find the productivity tools that best suit your situation and your working style.
  • Outreach, advocacy and demonstrating impact. Web-based software has democratized outreach and marketing in ways that would have sounded laughable and far-fetched 20 years ago. Online photos, blog postings, videos and podcasts let you tell stories about events and services at your library, but more importantly, these technologies let patrons demonstrate their enthusiasm and preach on your behalf. When someone creates a blog post, a comment, a Flickr photo or a YouTube video to proclaim their love for the library, it has a bigger impact than anything you or a marketing firm could ever come up with. However, you have to find these library advocates, give them access to online tools if necessary, respond to their ideas, and take your lumps from time to time. In other words, you need to be as responsive to bad feedback as you are to good feedback. To know where your patrons are and what they’re saying about you, you have to be plugged into the digital culture, and the following resources will help with that.

Key Actions

  • Understand and take advantage of the many different ways you can find out about new and emerging technology. Be sure to review our Places to Learn About Technology tool.
  • Subscribe to five RSS feeds. If you’re looking for library-related RSS feeds, this list from Meredith Farkas is a good place to start. If you’re looking for general technology blogs, the Top 100 list at Technorati is a good source. They’re not all about technology, but most are. If you’ve never used RSS and have no idea what it is, we recommend RSS in Plain English from the folks at Common Craft.
  • Subscribe to a tech magazine. Make sure you’re skimming at least one tech magazine every month. To start with, grab a copy of five or six tech magazines from your own serials section and see which ones appeal to you. Then subscribe to the one or two that you like best. If you don’t have a lot of tech magazines in your library, see Places to Learn About Technology for some suggestions, or visit your nearest bookstore.
  • Designate at least one computer as your test machine. This should be a PC that you feel comfortable messing around with, so your primary work computer is not a good choice. Nothing beats hands-on, interactive learning, within reason. In other words, you shouldn’t treat your live web site as a personal learning lab.
    • If possible, find an old computer and turn it into a sandbox that you can use to play with different types of software.
    • Another option is to look into virtualization software. Virtualization programs let you install and explore multiple operating systems on a single machine, and they let you switch easily between the different operating systems. In other words, it turns one computer into many.
    • Talk to your IT department before you start playing with virtualization, and make sure you have enough power and memory on your PC to support this software (the memory requirements are quite heavy).
    • For more information, see Virtualization 101 on TechSoup.

Stories from the Field

I always think it’s useful to get outside. I get emails from various hardware manufacturers and they’ll have webcasts trying to sell you something, but a lot of times when they do these Webcasts or Webinars, they will have a 15- or 20-minute introduction to the subject in general about a problem you’re confronting, say how to do backup efficiently for low cost and with the least amount of hassle. Now, of course, again they’re going to try and sell you their product because they think it’s the best, but what I found, is that again they’ll give you really a good grounding in understanding what the problem is and what some of the various solutions are. And once they start to get into their sales spiel, a lot of times I’ll not pay as much attention because what I really wanted was to understand do I know all the challenges? Have I thought through the problem that we’re facing and what’s their opinion on some of the solutions? I mean when you get into the larger vendors like Cisco or somebody or Microsoft they’ve got so much free material, archived Webcasts, white papers, all of those type of things that really provides just great background for many of the problems that libraries may be facing as far as technology infrastructure or implementing new solutions and those type of things. If you’re looking to find out what other people are using, again I think almost every vendor, whether it’s a hardware or software vendor, especially the larger ones will have some type of resources oriented towards small and medium businesses. Some of them also will have small office/home office markets, and I think, depending on the size of your library, those are great places, too.

Chris Jowaisas
Texas State Library, TX

The Southern Maine library district started a little IT group of librarians who are not just doing IT. It may be the assistant director who does IT. They’re just trying to get the people that handle IT together so that they can see what problems they share and what they don’t, so they just get together four times a year and just talk. I actually just went to the last one in PC reservation systems. I went ‘cause they were sharing information about that and then they were sharing information about open-source. And the library that was hosting it was a small library whose tech person is a volunteer high school student, and he just installed OpenBiblio on a Mac to run their catalog, and so he was talking about his experience with that.

Janet McKenney
Maine State Library, ME