Futureproofing Your Library

Stay on track with tech

May 1, 2018

Dispatches, by David Lee King

Our world is going through some major technology upheavals. The way many of us do simple things like reading a book is changing, and these transitions affect libraries. What once worked may not work anymore.

Most likely your library still has traditional customers who ask questions at the reference desk and check out physical books. You also have a new breed of library customer who brings in any number of electronic devices and expects those devices to work with your library’s technology. They want to plug into your public computers. They want to connect to the library’s Wi-Fi network. They want to upload and download content from their device to Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube. They want to download ebooks, digital audiobooks, and music. And they want to recharge their devices.

Libraries need to figure out how to serve this new subset of their customer base. If we aren’t successful in making this technology transition, patrons who have transitioned already will simply bypass the library by finding answers (though not always the best ones) through Google, purchasing books through Amazon, or downloading music from iTunes.

Technology affects our traditional users too. The books, magazines, and newspapers they love to read are moving to digital formats. Library staff must be ready to help these customers find their news and entertainment sources in online and digital formats.

If your library’s budget allows it, buy some of the new tech tools and let staff members learn hands-on.

Here are some things you can do right now to futureproof your library.

  • Scan the horizon for emerging trends. Following a trend watcher will alert you to emerging technology trends that might affect the library profession. Some organizations to follow include the American Library Association (ALA)’s Center for the Future of Libraries, District Dispatch (the ALA Washington Office blog), and The Digital Shift (a blog on new media). Many individuals within the library tech community publish blogs focused on emerging technology; by following these key players you can quickly update your knowledge on the latest trends. Some bloggers to follow include Jason Griffey at Pattern Recognition; Aaron Tay at Musings about Librarianship; and Jessamyn West at Librarian.net. Attending conferences, such as ALA Annual, the Computers in Libraries conference, or a local technology seminar, is also a good way to learn from many technology-oriented people.
  • Train customers and staff. Teach your staff how to use consumer technology tools so that you can successfully help your library customers. For example, train staff on new ebook apps. In today’s world, patrons might receive iTunes gift cards with instructions to visit an app store and install the OverDrive or Hoopla app on their device. Afterward, they might visit the library for help. We need to know how to search for and download an ebook in our collection and become familiar with multiple ebook databases and devices so we can help customers interact with our digital collections. We don’t have to be experts on every device someone brings in, but we do need to capably help our customers get started.
  • If possible, set up a technology petting zoo. If your library’s budget allows it, buy some of the new tech tools and let staff members learn hands-on. This will allow them to see how a new device works before they encounter it for the first time with a customer.

Having no plan for staying on top of technology change guarantees failure and irrelevance. Instead of that bleak outlook, let’s learn to ride these technology changes as they happen and be ready and waiting for our customers when they come to us with new tools and questions.


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