Dead or Innovative Technologies

How can something be both dead and innovative?  Michael Sauers, who is sitting next to me, suggested that probably means not at the same time.  I thought maybe it really means “deadly innovative”.  With a slate of speakers like this, it will certainly not be dull and boring!  (Notice that this is an executive level session–the speakers got overstuffed chairs!)

(L-R) Marshall Breeding, Amanda Etches-Johnson, Steve Abram, Aaron Schmidt, Darlene Fichter

(L-R) Marshall Breeding, Amanda Etches-Johnson, Steve Abram, Aaron Schmidt, Darlene Fichter

I wrote the above while waiting for the session to start, and it was certainly anything but dull and boring!  It was fast paced, thought provoking, forward looking, and controversial in spots.  Here are some brief summaries of what the panelists said.

Marshall Breeding noted that he is not so much a mover and shaker but a survivor.  He certainly is a survivor–he has compiled a remarkable record of attending all 24 CIL conferences!  He has this view of library technology:

  • Take a pragmatic approach: adopt technologies that support the strategic mission ofthe libraries.
  • Help libraries be better libraries
  • Have a long view of the impact of technology on libraries

Libraries are good at taking the technology of the current and applying it to the reality of their last generation and calling it next generation!  We do not have a great track record at moving forward at the pace of change.  The transition to electronic content has been underway for a decade, but we still lack effective tools to manage them effectively.  We continue to cling to hopelessly ineffective tools.  Some of our technologies should be dead but in clinging to them, libraries are being held back.

  • Dead technologies:  Mainframes and proprietary platforms, text-based interfaces, any non-Web interface,  interfaces designed to make librarians happy
  • Dying:  Client/server computing, standalone library automation, and Web 2.0, which we have shoved into a silo.  It’s an add-on.  Web 2.0 applications often take users away from a library’s website.
  • Emerging and innovative:  Web-based computing, cloud computing, service-oriented architecture, shared automation implementations.  Rich internet applications that make our users happy.  Socially aware enterprise-level library automation.  Library automation frameworks built from the ground up as collaborative applicatins.  Social interaction cannot be an afterthought.

Amanda Etches-Johnson looked at 5 technologies and asked the audience whether each one was alive or dead.  The results are interesting.  Only one is alive:

–Many blogs are dead, but engaging, authentic blogs are alive and well.
Twitter is dead.  The corporatization of any social network kills it!
Information architecture is dead.  It is all about user experience right now, not building that great taxonomy.
Second Life is dead.  There’s nobody there.
Usability is alive and well.  It can be as simple as doing testing with users or writing content that users understand.

Aaron Schmidt speculated on what the future might look like.  He sees a promising future for RFID technology.  We are entering a post-desktop world and moving into mobile devices and the age of ubiquitous computing.  Soon everything will communicate with RFID, but nobody knows yet what the human interface will look like.  Many things are going from analog to digital, so there is a lot of  money to be made.  RFID chips now cost pennies instead of dollars and it will be possible to integrate them widely into applications. 

We can access a huge amount of information from the Web.  Information is going to multiple places as devices can synchronize themselves.  A new markup language, EEML (Extended Environments Markup Language), is  forming to monitor data, track positions, etc.  Everything potentially has a URI–the challenge is what are libraries going to do? 

Darlene Fichter noted that the mass media revolution has become the personal media revolution, and information will become a media age.  She knows 3 things:

  1. Technoogy can hurt you sometimes. (Don’t walk across the street while Twittering.)
  2. The forecast is cloudy.  Unpredictable things could happen when you pull books off the shelves.  Are all clouds friendly?  Do we watch them?  Cloud computing will be like a tornado for libraries.  Cataloging should be a service in the cloud.  Why do we have local catalogers?  What about one database to rule all?  Google Scholar will be gone if the economy continues like it is because it won’t generate enough revenue.  Some vendors are moving into this space and are developing article databases.  How many computers will we need in cloud computing?
  3. These technologies must die:  Windows Vista, power cords and adaptors

Steve Abram gave his usual fast moving talk covering lots of ground and providing advice for libraries who want to survive in the future.  He thinks that some of the service practices at the Hyatt (the conference hotel) can be used as a model for what libraries should not do to provide good service, such as:  keep the bar closed all day, never make eye contact with customers, keep the coffee counter closed most of the day, and staff should move as slowly as possible–backwards in time if possible.  He thinks the Hyatt’s motto could be:   “Putting the frown in our logo every day”!

Stephen’s points to ponder:

History has shown that every time we have a recession, we create a new economy.  We’re now entering an information economy.

What is the deadest technology for libraries?  The attitude that “We don’t want to evolve because we want to wait for the climate to change.”

Watch the kids and their toys.  They’re doing interesting things, and they’re different.

Are we going to a totally build-it-yourself world?  Imagine Ikea merging with GM! Maybe cars will be delivered like this:

The "IKEA car"

The "IKEA car"

So when journalism goes away, will you be ready to assemble your own books and newspapers–like this? 

Do-It-Yourself Newspapers

Do-It-Yourself Newspapers

If we’re going to worry about the container and not the knowledge,  we’re in trouble. 

How do your community surveys do?  Do you offer podcasts?  Are your content displays innovative?  Can you circulate books from  anywhere,  like  the parking lot, nursing home?

How do we support kids as they grow up?  The people in charge of leading school organizations are the least knowledgeable about the 21st century?

How do we get the confidence to cope with change?

We can only lock up our computers so far, and we cannot control the way people are using their computers. 

How are our libraries evolving?

How do make sure we know that there’s an elephant in the room and we have to address it?

There are many routes to the future–what’s  your bread and better?  Do you create a user experience?  Does knowledge get created?  It’s not about storing stuff.

Don Hawkins
Columnist, Information Today and CIL 2009 Blog Coordinator

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