New Year's Technology Resolutions for Public Libraries

New Year's Technology Resolutions for Public Libraries.

For 2004:

  1. Start a blog for your web site, and concentrate most of your news there. If possible, put the blog posts on your home page (either make it a blog or display headlines using RSS) so that your new information gets maximum exposure. I'm not just hyping blogs – it truly will make it easier for you to keep your site more current and dynamic, and there are ways to do this at no additional cost.
  2. Provide remote access to as many of your databases as possible, preferably using the patron's library barcode number as the autho key rather than some inane autho/password combination required by the vendor. A standing offer for SLS libraries: we'll implement scripts to help you with this – just email me.
  3. Start investigating wireless networks because you need to offer wireless access for the public to use with their own devices. Even if you don't think you will implement it this year, you need to understand what's involved because you will offer it at some point in the future and it's best to be prepared when that time comes. I know some people will argue that not all public libraries need to offer this service, or at least not any time soon, but you can only make an informed decision if you understand what's involved.

    Example: a couple of weeks ago I was interviewed for a forthcoming article in the Chicago Sun-Times about technology in libraries. The paper sent a photographer to get a picture of me for the article, and we met at the Thomas Ford Memorial Library to do this. The photographer was a gadget guy, so he was particularly interested in hearing about ListenIllinois and wireless access. He was thrilled to learn that the TFML offered free WiFi, and he was even knowledgeable enough to ask why there were no signs highlighting the service, specifically any warchalking symbols. In fact, he said he was willing to sit in his car in the parking lot when the Library is closed to use it because it would save him a trip downtown. TFML isn't his home library, but it hadn't occurred to him to go to public libraries for this service instead of Starbucks. Now, he'll try us first and Starbucks second. Which is a good thing, because we'll have definite image problems (okay, worse image problems) and major credibility issues if people can get wireless access all around town, except at the library.

    Is this guy on the leading edge of the bell curve? Sure. But that just means that the larger number of people that make up the camel's hump of the bell curve are on the horizon. You don't have to provide wireless access today (although you really will have patrons that use it, just like TFML does, even without any marketing), but you do need to start thinking about it.

  4. In the same vein, you need to start thinking about online, real-time reference. In Illinois, there are consortia you can join to make the strain on your resources easier, and this is increasingly true in other states as well. Instant messaging and chatting are moving beyond Generation Y and are becoming a norm, making this a valid channel for library reference here and now. To again use the Thomas Ford Library as an example (I like using them because they are a relatively small library surrounded by larger libraries), while I was waiting for the photographer to show up, Rick was “on” the virtual reference desk for MyWebLibrarian, and he received two help requests within about a half hour. This was a little before lunchtime on a weekday when school was out of session.

    Again, think bell curve. You don't have to implement it tomorrow, but you do have to understand what your options are, even if you just throw up an AOL Instant Messenger link for specific hours each week, just to get your feet wet. (In fact, this is exactly what TFML did before they joined MWL.)

If your library is already doing all of these things, congratulations! Of course, you can't rest on your laurels (and hey, if you're doing all of those things are you marketing them in appropriate ways?), but those would be resolutions for another day…. [The Shifted Librarian]

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