By Meredith Farkas | April 15, 2005
I’m sure there are people who think that technology is the be-all-end-all and that every bleeding-edge technology should be implemented in libraries. But I don’t happen to know any of those people. The “tech-savvy” librarians I know are interested in better meeting the needs of their patrons with technology. Apparently, Chuck has met a whole different group of librarians or he wishes to see the library world as a “them-versus-us” paradigm. Here’s my quick answer to Chuck’s rant, entitled Primitivist OR Luddite AND Librarian.
You have to be an innovator or you are a dinosaur. Libraries that aren’t playing with the latest tech are backward centers of uncoolness.
I agree wholeheartedly that in the library world you have to be an innovator or you are a dinosaur. But I don’t think that just applies to technology. It’s also about improving programming for children, teens, and adults. It’s about reevaluating the library’s print collection in terms of how it is meeting the needs of the entire community (and not just white, middle-aged, wealthy folks). It’s about finding new and better ways of teaching information literacy that respect the fact that not everyone learns in the same way. Technology can help with that, but it isn’t the only solution. And I’ve never heard anyone argue that it is.
The catalyst for today’s rant are a few items on “innovation in libraries” that Jessamyn posted on her blog, Librarian.net. These conversations usually entail talking about how libraries are resistant to technological change, usually with the blame being placed on librarians who aren’t “tech savvy.”
I guess he means George’s post and my post, which weren’t critical of librarians for not being tech-savvy, but for not keeping up with their patrons. Many un-innovative public libraries I’ve been to are disinterested in reaching out to hard-to-reach groups (like teens, minorities, Spanish-speakers) with programming and marketing. They’re perfectly happy serving the limited population who visit the library and don’t want to think about why other members of the community are not visiting the library. Lack of technological innovation is only one (important) sign of a lack of interest in library innovation.
Do you want to talk about innovation in libraries, especially public libraries? How about this innovation: chuck all of the tech crap, fire the webmasters, settle on the current version of the OPAC software and get back to providing books and printed materials to readers.
How are users to find the print materials they are looking for these days without a good, usable OPAC? Wouldn’t it be great for users to get lists of books at their library on subjects they’re interested in from their RSS reader? Many of these technologies are designed to make it easier to find books. How many people leave libraries empty-handed because they’re looking for something interesting to read and can’t find that just browsing the shelves?
My philosophy about library services is simple: give the patrons what they want. If that’s technology, great! If it isn’t, that’s fine too. But I think people like Chuck think they know better than their patrons. They think they should give patrons what they think the patrons should want rather than what the patrons actually want. Librarians should never think that they know better or that a one-size-fits-all approach works at all libraries. We need to know our service population, understand their needs and wants, and constantly reevaluate what we are providing to them.