How can library workers in small, rural, and tribal libraries understand their technology well enough to troubleshoot common problems, make decisions about future technology needs, and advocate for improvements to their broadband connectivity?
The Toward Gigabit Libraries Toolkit is a free, open source learning, diagnostic, and advocacy resource funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The kit’s Creative Commons license allows users to remix, adapt, and build on the work, making it a powerful starting point for training in library organizations.
The toolkit’s aim is to empower library workers to diagnose and fix technology problems. During the pilot process, our project team sought opportunities to involve both technical and nontechnical staff in site visits. This pairing yielded two powerful discoveries: The toolkit can encourage stronger bonds between library workers and technical support staff, and it can lead to the formation of teams of subject matter experts with complementary skills from different agencies and organizations.
A site visit in Nebraska started with a group discussion of the library’s technical challenges. City government had installed several Wi-Fi access points, but library staffers weren’t sure of their locations. We used a tool called a Wi-Fi stumbler to detect a signal coming from a ceiling covered in acoustic tile. One team member grabbed a chair, popped a tile loose, and found the hotspot.
When nontechnicians try to communicate with technical staff, they are often frustrated. Some simply give up. This communication breakdown prevents libraries from maximizing technology applications for their communities.
Underlying this disconnect is the perception that technology is too difficult for laypeople to understand. I argue that few technological concepts exceed the grasp of an interested layperson, at least at a basic level. Further, it is important for staff members at all libraries, regardless of size, to understand fundamental concepts in order to make wise choices about technology. This toolkit helps those without technical expertise learn these concepts and features a glossary of common technical terms.
Our team discovered that even in libraries where technical staffers were available, they rarely spoke with other library workers. In these cases, simply sitting down together to work through the toolkit instantly created a shared understanding of essential concepts and vocabulary. Naturally, once library staffers improved their technical understanding, the conversations quickly escalated from assessment to troubleshooting. Some pilot libraries reported that the toolkit visit gave them their first opportunity to sit with their technical support folks and actually speak the same language.
The process of troubleshooting can be mysterious. When users discover that technology troubleshooting is a mostly linear process that can be diagrammed and shared, mystery turns into mastery.
While the toolkit itself proves to be an excellent way to inventory the network, assess status, and troubleshoot, the real path to action is developing a broadband improvement plan. After completing even a small part of the toolkit, many libraries will find areas for improvement.
During site visits, our project team saw that some libraries that qualified for the federal E-Rate program simply didn’t know where to start in identifying their broadband service and equipment needs. Working through the toolkit resulted in a tangible, actionable list of equipment and service needs. With the toolkit’s planning template and a common language, you can identify your library’s action areas. Learn about the Toward Gigabit Libraries project.
Adapted from “Using the Toward Gigabit Libraries Toolkit,” Library Technology Reports vol. 57, no. 8 (Nov./Dec. 2021).