The search for the next big thing
For those unfamiliar with the library field, librarians have a strange relationship with technology. On one hand, the library field has been quick to follow new trends of audio and video technologies. Even as we speak, my library is moving towards Blu Ray and expanding web based technologies such as eBooks and downloadable content such as movies and mp3s. We are working on bringing the library and the patron closer together through the internet with an online calendar, databases, and other remotely accessed sources.
On the other hand, it wasn't long ago that libraries were playing catchup to one of the biggest technologies, the internet. When the internet was emerging as a means for global communication, the majority of libraries balked at the addition of computers. Books, it was said at the time, was the main mission of the library. The internet was something that fell outside of that mission. Eventually, obviously, the massive amount of information exchange was too much to ignore. The internet rewrote the mission of the library in terms of the mediums that it could be expressed in. Combined with the linking of broadband communication networks and global information resources, literally a world of knowledge was brought to the simplest library setup.
At work today, I was sitting at my desk and scrolling through LISNews when I stumbled upon this article. While I try to pick apart some of the underlying technology being used there, it was only on the way home that I really thought about what part of my job entails: finding the next big web technology that the library can use. Ok, it's not exactly my job description, but it is something that my reference and committee work seem to demand. It's something that certainly interests me since I'm a gadget and technology oriented guy.
As of recently, Facebook and Twitter are the hot fads that some libraries are making their presence. I'm on the fence about Facebook for a couple of reasons. Our library system filters it out due to some major behavioral issues that were arising from it (we had patrons of all ages monopolizing our computer resources for it and straining the system). So, to have the library on Facebook while filtering it presents a kind of hypocrisy. Plus, with the number of applications and other addons, it feels like it could go spammy very quickly. (This same argument could be used for MySpace, another site we filter as well.)
I think my problem with Twitter is that I haven't been able to integrate it to my life, so I'm not sure how it would fit into others. I have friends who use it and then use LoudTwitter to post a days worth of Tweets to their blogs (a neat way to bring all the messages together). In looking how it is being used in the media (specifically, CNN), I think it runs the risk of generating too much output. With the low character count of a Tweet, it works well for the Facebook style update but not a full on discussion level conversation. Granted, an outlet like CNN would be looking for something that is short so that it can be evaluated for on air use quickly. But I think we lose something if we come to rely on 140 characters or less to get our points across. To me, in larger exchanges, it turns into information overload.
In looking at reader sites such as GoodReads and LibraryThing, I see something good but not a means for the library to hook into it. The current round of automation doesn't make exporting into one of those sites an option; and in the overall scheme of things, I don't see it in the spirit in which the site is intended. As they stand right now, they are perfectly lovely reader's advisory since it offers a fellow booklover's review of literature that might be taken more to heart than a librarian consulting a resource like Novelist or pamphlets generated by one of my wiser colleagues in the system.
A site like LibraryElf represents something that should be integrated into the next round of library automation: it will send you a text message reminder of library holds, due dates, and reserves. (Currently, in our automation system (Horizon), we can send emails to patrons for holds and reminders for due dates.) But while that represents a future integration into library automation, it does not in fact create an library/patron interface now.
As I look at these sites, for me it still begs a question: what's the next big technology thing for libraries? What is the next connection out there that will integrate what we do into the lives of our patrons? Or make the access of library resources that much easier? I don't think libraries will fall behind the same way they did when the internet emerged as I stated in the anecdote at the start of this post, but I want to be on the forefront of the next library technology trend. I'd like to think that TextMarks from Blake's article and invention would be a technology available now to utilize, but I always come back to the same thing: what's the next big thing?
With such lofty library philosophical musings like that, I can rest assured that my job will never be dull.
(Cross-posted at Agnostic, Maybe)