Past Technologies: 8-Track Tapes and Ultrafiche

No, 8-track tapes and ultrafiche are not making a comeback. They’re two of the many technologies that have passed on during the past three decades. We had a fascinating trip through technology history, looking at equipment like the Atari player, Apple Lisa, punched cards, Xerox 914 copiers, 8-inch floppy disks, and the Polaroid Cataloger’s Camera from Dan Lester who is about to retire from Boise State University (next week, actually, on Halloween—he started working there on April Fool’s Day and thought it would be appropriate to retire on Halloween). The lessons learned from looking back at technology history are very useful in making decisions today, and Dan gave us the benefit of his more than 30 years in the library technology industry.
How can we choose which technology to adopt? Technologies can be put into three categories:
  • Failures: never widely adopted for marketing or technological reasons,
  • Transitions: widely adopted but replaced after a few years, and
  • Successes: widely adopted and used for at least one technology generation (a decade or more).
 For example, 8-track tapes, ultrafiche, and zip drives were failures; film photography, audio cassettes, floppy disks, and dialup Internet access can be considered transitional (interestingly, Dan considers e-books in this category but that could be passionately debated); and digital photography, CD-ROM, DVDs, the Internet, and Google are among the successes.
When change is imminent (isn’t it always?), we need to consider the reasons for changing, and perhaps more important, the reasons not to change. Will the technology last? (Because of this consideration, it’s important not to be the first adopter of a new technology.) Will the library staff resist change, and will the users be fearful of the new technology?   To bring about change, the proper environment must exist. You must be willing to fail; the participation of other libraries or consortia must be considered; and you must get a long-term commitment from management. Being a first adopter has an increased risk of failure, but so does being the last.
Here are Dan’s predictions for the future:
  • Devices will become smaller, within limits.
  • Wireless connectivity will become even more widely used.
  • Battery life will improve.
  • Amazon, Google, and others will inspire, lead, and threaten us.
  • The concept of “the library as a place” may disappear.
  • And there will be other changes that none of us can predict!
 Dan’s philosophies and things to think about:
  • Everything is temporary.
  • Never buy No. 1 of anything.
  • Try to be on the leading edge, not the bleeding edge.
  • Even sacred cows can be turned into Filet Mignon!
  • The “saving money” reason for trying something new is almost always bogus.
  • Do bad decisions really matter in the long run?
  • Be a shark. Move forward or die.
  • See no. 1 above.
Thanks, Dan, for sharing your wisdom and insights gained from long experience. Enjoy your retirement, and we will look forward to reading your stories and insights on your blog (which also has the complete presentation).
Don Hawkins
Columnist, Information Today and IL 2008 Blog Coordinator

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