05 May 2009


Kathryn Greenhill [Emerging Technologies Specialist, Murdoch University, Perth, Australia] has written wonderful piece on 21 reasons why learning about emerging technologies is part of every librarian’s job. She writes, “This list is designed to provide context and motivation for library workers to find time in their day for their own learning – either as part of a formal workplace learning programme or as self-directed professional development.”

1. Performing core business better: Our core business is linking information and people. There are new and better ways to do this and we need to know how.

2. Increased productivity: [Our work] can be made easier using emerging technologies, but you need to know how to use them.

3. Gaining international perspective: Your network of professional contacts does not have to be restricted to your own country. New tools make “communities of interest” easier to form.

4. Finding out what other libraries are doing: Printed journals and conferences are no longer the best way to find out about the successes and failures in other libraries. With blogs, wikis, podcasts--all harnessed into your aggregator via a subject search, you can keep up and have an avenue to discuss these things with professional colleagues.

5. Understanding all formats of information: Users will ask us about these information sources. Are we serving them well if we say “sorry I only know about information in some formats?”

6. Trend watching: Tools are constantly evolving and changing. What starts as a seemingly pointless diversion can become a potent information source when it reaches critical mass or people discover a new use for it. (eg. twitter). We need to be there watching this and understanding it.

7. Repurposing our traditional skills: Tagging, metadata, data-mining, indexing - new technologies need our skills.

8. Understanding technical background when dealing with vendors: If we don’t know what can be done, for free, using new tools, then library software vendors can continue to sell us “solutions” that are inflexible and costly.

9. Being prepared for when a tool moves out of early adoption phase: What a few early adopters are using now, others will use in 18 months time. If we learn about them in their early phase, we will have a good understanding how to use them when our users expect our services to incorporate these.

10. Understanding the redefinition of our core business: The definitions of some core concerns of librarianship are being re-negotiated - copyright, plagiarism, scholarship, authority, privacy and recreation. We need to be in among the conversations on sites where this is happening.

11. Managing our tech-savvy workers: We need young, tech-savvy, passionate, clever library staff to deal with the changes, and we need to know enough to manage these people and get the best out of their new skills.

12. No-one else knows your users as well as you do: Many new web tools are very simple to use and learn. A thorough knowledge or your clients – their needs, preferences and ability tends is not easily learned. Nobody but you will be able to assess how these new tools can serve your clients – but you need to know what the tools can do and how they work to do this.

13. Fun: If staff are given permission to have fun and be creative as they learn in a supportive environment, it can lift workplace morale.

14. Providing better service to our clients: If we know how, we can offer better service to our users, where they are and using their preferred tools. (e.g., SMS output of item location records to their mobile device via Bluetooth)

15. So we can tell the IT department what we want: If we feel overwhelmed by web-based technologies that are now only available in beta, imagine how it feels if your job has been to set up software, protect a network and standardise operating environments.

16. Our professional users are required to keep up: In academic and special libraries, our users are required by our organization to keep up to date with technology in their fields. To support them, we need to know what that is.

17. Many user interfaces have become “pseudo-standards:” The tools we will use from now on aren’t old standards like AACR2 and LCSH. The best tool for the job shifts and changes daily with our users’ needs. We need to learn general flexibility and skills to adapt to this.

18. Can’t predict the future–-so experimentation is insurance: Without crystal balls, we don’t know for sure what will be widely used. We need to try and assess many services to find what works for our users.

19. Crowds are fickle: Good quality tools with easy user interfaces may not be favoured over early established tools with a critical mass of users…and the crowd may switch. This happened when a mass of people migrated from bloglines to Google reader as their preferred aggregator. Today’s unused startup may be the Next Big Thing.

20. Collaborate better: Libraries have a culture of sharing resources and ideas with each other. Emerging technologies enhance this.

21. Experimenting increases skills: When Windows was first released, it came packaged with a game of Solitaire. People needed to learn how to use the mouse interface and to put in several hours of repetitive movements to get good at it. Solitaire turned out to be the fastest, most efficient way to educate the workforce. Some seemingly pointless sites teach us new interfaces.

Download the paper from http://librariansmatter.com/blog/2009/05/05/why-learning-about-emerging-technologies-is-part-of-every-librarians-job-educause-australasia-2009-presentation/

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