Category Archives: technology

How academic libraries annoy academics

Here’s a story I’m telling because I think libraries need more allies in the academy. As a librarian-slash-researcher-slash-professor I have these weird insider/outsider (or emic/etic) experiences with academic libraries from time to time. In these experiences (here’s one from last year) I can absolutely rationalise why libraries as institutions are behaving the way they are, yet I am also acutely aware of how these behaviours serve to irritate and even alienate academic faculty members based outside the library. The faculty members where I work my research-librarian job value librarianly expertise. They also pretty much never set foot in any of the libraries on campus, to my knowledge. I think this story exemplifies the reasons behind this behaviour.

A little while ago, I  got a revise & resubmit decision on a manuscript under review. As part of the revisions, I needed to find a couple of citations  for something I’d written. I knew what source I wanted to use, and checked the book’s availability in the OPAC. Its status was “available,” so I schlepped across campus in the rain (of course) to get it. However, the book was not on the shelf.

I logged into the nearby library computer terminal to verify that the book was still supposed to be available. This process took me 4 minutes of standing there waiting for the login to load, authenticate and update software. I checked the record. It still said “available.” I second-guessed myself and figured maybe I’d just missed it, so I decided to go back to the shelf and look again. In order to do this I had to log out of the computer to protect my private library account information that I’d had to input as part of the 4-minute process to check the book’s availability status. Back to shelf. Still not there. Checked all carrels and book trucks on the floor. Nowhere to be found.

So, in an attempt to be helpful, I logged back on to the computer terminal and eventually clicked the “report a problem” button on the record’s display. In the form provided, I explained that the book, while listed as available, was not on the shelf, and that given that I didn’t find it lying around anywhere on book truck/carrels or anything on the floor, it might merit placing a trace on the book so it could be found and/or be labelled lost/missing and replaced. I added that it’s was a fairly hot new volume, so I was sure I wouldn’t be the only one looking for it.

Then I logged out and left the library, of course getting caught by the gates on my way out because any public library books in my bag trip the academic library gates all the time and vice versa.

Got back across campus to my desk. Electronically, without leaving my seat, and using Google rather than a library database, I found an openly-accessible article or two that would suffice. Then I received an email from the library, thanking me for reporting the missing book and informing me that requests to have books traced have to be made in person at the circulation desk at the appropriate branch where the book should be located.

Are you kidding me?

I was feeling pretty patient, if disappointed, up until this point. But, first it’s raining (not the library’s fault!). Then, the book that’s supposed to be available isn’t there (these things happen…). Then the dinosaur computers suck 10 minutes of my time logging in and out to verify the status of the missing book and report it missing (okay, this is getting annoying and why does the library still use computers with floppy disk drives in them?). And now you want me to walk back across campus in the rain to go wait in line at the circulation desk to tell you the information I already reported to you? (This last bit is where I run out of rationales…um, perhaps someone frivolously made up and emailed fictitious trace reports once upon a time?)

I didn’t file the report. Sorry. Maybe the next person who fails to find this “available” book will do it. Not me. I have work to do. I’m on a schedule. I’ve already located two freely accessible substitute resources online and ordered a copy of the book I wanted from an online book retailer.

This is why people who have the means to do so avoid going into the library. Because the library is stuck in archaic systems that suck time. And those systems are presented as normal. When you’re grant-funded, or you’re racing the publications clock for tenure, time is money. Spending half an hour or more wandering back and forth around campus with nothing to show for it, all because electronic systems of communication aren’t yet in this century, is not normal to everyone. And it’s certainly not normal for the most productive faculty members on our campuses – those whose voices could be the most meaningful as allies.

I want my faculty colleagues to be advocates for our university library. So I do what I can to give them warm fuzzies about it, pointing out new acquisitions in their areas, noting that online access to the Journal of Important Stuff is brought to their desktop by the library, etc. But some days the library doesn’t make this easy for me. Some days I’m afraid to tell them too much about the library, in case they actually try to use it and have an experience like the one above.

I absolutely know there are budget constraints, time constraints, people-power constraints and bureaucratic time-suck constraints on academic libraries. I can explain why any given problem with the library systems might exist. But I can’t make archaic systems less frustrating and more worthwhile for people who have the option to avoid contact with the library most of the time. And those are the same people I really want out there speaking for the importance of the library. What a conundrum.

I’ve been sitting on this post, mulling it over for a while. I haven’t worked in a library in almost 5 years. Maybe I’m off-base here. Maybe academic libraries aren’t concerned with how the power faculty at their institutions perceive them. Maybe it’s all about the students and the have-nots of academia these days. Maybe it should be. I dunno. I do think libraries are missing out on opportunities to win powerful allies, but perhaps this is a deliberate move? Maybe you readers have insight to share?

-Greyson

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Filed under academic libraries, advocacy, funding, technology, The Profession

Online consultation on metered internet: Need we say more?

Now that the NDP, the Liberals, Green Party and Conservative Party(including the PM’s office and Minister of Industry) have all suddenly come out against the CRTC’s usage-based billing ruling, the CRTC has announced that they will be reconsidering and are seeking comments/submissions. Online.

It almost feels like I could end this post there, as conducting an online consultation about whether the public should be rationing their Internet usage is irony enough, is it not?

But I suppose I should post the consultation details:

  • Notice #2011-77 is here
  • It asks specifically for comments about the billing practices for wholesale residential high-speed access services, so they’re concerned here about the impact on small ISPs who get their bandwidth from the big guys, not necessarily on the impact on the public/consumer, libraries, Internet cafes, Netflix or innovation in Canada
  • In order to comment you have to register by Feb 22 and submit commenst by March 28.
  • This is what they’re looking for, in their own words:

Comments are invited on:

i.   How best to implement the following principles with respect to large incumbents’ wholesale services used by Small ISPs;

a.   As a general rule, ordinary consumers served by Small ISPs should not have to   fund the bandwidth used by the heaviest retail Internet service consumers.

b.   It is in the best interest of consumers that Small ISPs, which offer competitive alternatives to the incumbent carriers, should continue to do so.

ii. Whether the Commission should set a minimum threshold level for the sale of bandwidth by large incumbent carriers to the Small ISPs and, if so, what should it be;

iii. Whether it is appropriate to hold an online consultation as part of its review; and

iv. Whether it is appropriate to hold an oral public hearing as part of its review.

I encourage you to submit something. And to keep a copy, in case it gets lost the way my copyright consulatation submission did, because if you keep a copy it can get found the way mine did, too. Here’s the first example I’ve seen of someone (Jason Koblovsky) posting their UBB submission.

Technically you can submit comments via mail as well, but you have to dig to find out where & how. “Regular” people who might want to comment will presumably go the website and click on the “submit” button, fill out the online form, and be done with it. I wouldn’t be surprised if the CRTC went ahead with point iii above and held a full-on online consultation process, complete with streaming video from Nik Nanos et al.

Fortunately, you don’t have to worry about how much bandwidth uploading your submission will eat up. Yet.

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The metered Internet threat to innovation & access to information

Remember the early days of mass public access to the world wide web? Back when AOL was king, noisy dial-up modems were par for the course and having any graphics on a webpage was super-fancy? Remember in 1993 or so, when you’d connect to the Internet, download your email as quickly as possible, disconnect to read the text and write your responses, then connect and send your pre-written emails as quickly as possible? It’s the type of scenario today’s kids would find baffling and hilarious: clunky, unwieldy, expensive, and certainly not one that encouraged increased use of the technology.

Well, everything old is new again. The CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission), Canada’s telecom regulator that brought us nearly-neutrality rules just a year ago, recently issued a decision on “usage based billing” or UBB (Telecom Decision CRTC 2011-44). And the meter on your Internet may well be back on – albeit measuring bytes rather than seconds this time around.

A lot of reaction to this decision is coming out, and more analysis will follow in the coming days, I’m sure. OpenMedia.ca has a petition up, Canadian news outlets are covering the decision (and reaction) widely, and online content providers are understandably furious.

I haven’t gotten a chance to comb through the decision in detail yet, and I have to take a couple of boys to the science museum shortly, but there are a few points I want to make right off the bat. I may be back later to comment further or clarify these quick notes.

1) UBB is not the same issue as net neutrality (unless #2 applies)

The reason usage-based billing sounds so appealing, so normal,  is that we do pay per item/metered amount for a lot of goods. We pay for utilities like hydro (hydro = electricity for you non-Canadians) on a metered basis, and many areas also meter water (although that is not without controversy). Frankly, the UBB idea is a brilliant example of big ISPs hearing the pro-neutrality argument that Internet should be treated like a utility and running with that concept, turning it to their advantage.

A lot of the same folk who were up in arms over net neutrality are upset about this UBB ruling. And they have good reason to be outraged. However, in strict sense, UBB is not in contradition with net neutrality (where net neutrality = slowing down of selected content en route to the consumer). My understanding of the CRTC UBB decision is that it is supposed to be content-agnostic, and only size-based. Now, this doesn’t make a lot of sense, policy-wise, anyway (as I will discuss below), but it’s not necessairly non-neutral.

However, metered use makes sense for goods for which we have  a finite supply, not for things like information, which do not require rationing. Economically speaking, information is a non-rivalrous good, meaning that my use of the good (say, a webpage, journal article or TV show) does not in any way prevent you from also using & enjoying the same good.

I know, I know, there’s that old argument about your pipes getting clogged because your neighbours are downloading too much big stuff all the time, but frankly Canadian ISPs have been given ample opportunity to show evidence of this overload, and none has materialised. In fact, the logs we did see during the net neutrality hearings showed the exact opposite of congestion, making it clear that this is just a cash grab. (I do want to make the point, however, that even if congestion were present – and eventually it may exist if ISPs fail to invest in their infrastructure – that does not mean that the correct response is to slow down Canada’s Internet in response. Other industries are required to upgrade their infrastructure over time as needs change or parts get old and fail.)

2) UBB is a potential neutrality workaround

While I think the intent of the CRTC  is allow metering of all Internet content equally within the same subscription plan, and to do otherwise is likely a violation of the still-untested CRTC net neutrality rules, there is a lot of scope here for ISPs to provide favourable conditions for content from which they benefit.

For example, an ISP may offer special promotional “exemptions” from UBB for content offered by their parent company – dinging, say, Netflix while exempting their own online TV/movie service. This isn’t throttling content in the “pipes” or charging a toll to content providers for content delivery, it’s charging a toll to users for content access. It’s throttling the consumer’s wallet.

3) UBB is a giant threat to access to information, and to innovation

Here’s where it gets really ugly. Imagine what it would (will?) be like when we are charged by the byte for information downloaded (and possibly also uploaded?) over our connections.

No one knows how much bandwidth they’re using so they minimize use, fearing fees. AJAX is no longer an asset; it is a liability and we disconnect from continuously refreshing websites to save bandwidth. The pressure is on for online content to be as compressed as possible, hitting the art community hard. Community wireless, such as building-wide wifi in co-op housing, becomes potentially pricey and hard to control.Schoolkids are no longer encouraged to post videos from the classroom to demonstrate and share learning. Employers start to police recreational Internet use more than ever. Coffee shops and other hotspots stop offering wifi all together, making life harder for freelancers, the self-employed, students and others without official workspaces.

Fearing the bandwidth limits on their personal subscriptions, the middle-class flock to libraries to do their downloading. Libraries cannot afford this. Libraries may not be able to afford current levels of bandwidth use, if metered, particularly academic libraries or those dealing with subject areas involving rich media (art, film, music…). I cannot over-emphasize the threat to public access to information via libraries here: libraries are currently THE places in society where anyone can access the Internet. If libraries have to limit this, ration it somehow, or lose this role, it will be a tragedy both for libraries and for the public who rely on library Internet. When public Internet access is limited or closed, public access to information, and therefore public participation in democracy, is seriously impinged. With the government increasingly moving to online-only forms, information, and dialogue with the public, how responsible is it to simultaneously move to meter Internet use?

We may move backwards in time, returning to network television for entertainment. Online course reserves could be pricier for the university than those old print custom course packages. We might actually revive the fax machine?!? Why would a country want to push its population back in time, when the rest of the world is jetting ahead with innovative multimedia content and new delivery systems? Hard to say. Just dumb policy-making? The cynic in my says it could be that those making the policy stand to benefit from old media technologies and fear the threat of the new. However we may drag our feet and try to slow things down within national borders, change and innovation are going to happen – if they need to happen elsewhere first, that will happen. Maybe the CRTC needs to attend Karen Schneider’s talk at MLA?

-Greyson

ETA – Well, that didn’t take long. The decision has already been appealed. Fasten your seatbelts!

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Filed under academic libraries, business, democracy, digitization, government information, inclusion/exclusion, Intellectual freedom, Internet, media democracy, net neutrality, privatization, public libraries, technology

The changing world of RSS

The new school year always seems to hit hard. Grant proposal deadlines meet teaching schedule meet new school year for the kid meet rain. Oof.

Like perhaps many info-folk I tend to be a bit smug about my ability to filter and manage information. I use some tech tools, elect to eschew others, and do a lot of reading, but rarely experience that “information overload” feeling we hear so much about.

However, when Bloglines announced they were shutting down (or, technically, Ask announced that they were shutting down Bloglines) it threw me. Right in the middle of September, at that! It took quite a while before I succumbed to the RSS reader allure, and I finally added all my regularly-read blog URLs to bloglines around 2006.

To my surprise I have become quite dependent on my Bloglines to catch me up with the news (and by news I mean also comics, LIS blogs, reproductive health info, family photos, etc.). I especially like the way Bloglines lets you archive posts that you want to save and get rid of the rest – I find this especially helpful for planning class content for courses that I’m not teaching in the current semester.

But Bloglines is going poof and there doesn’t appear to be another service exactly like it: web-based & platform-agnostic, clean layout, not owned by Google or Yahoo or Facebook, not reuquiring that one shares everything, and allowing saved posts. Jessamyn recommends the Firefox plugin Sage, which I hadn’t heard of and will investigate, but with Zotero everywhere somewhat promised I’m not feeling wedded to Firefox anymore.

Most folks I’ve talked to have given it up to Google, and I even transferred my URLS over there for a whirl but haven’t gotten used to what feels like a cluttered layout yet, and I’m dissatisfied with my ability to archive the good and trash the bad thus far (although I may just need more time to get used to the lay of the land).

In my search for recommendations for RSS readers I have discovered that a whole bunch of commentators think that RSS is dead, or conversely argue that RSS is not dead, and have been proclaiming this both ways for at least a year. MG Sigler did a post over on TechCrunch a few weeks ago that pretty much sums up my thoughts. Sigler writes,

It’s a mass consumption tool — but it’s not a consumption tool for the masses. If I didn’t have to (or didn’t want to) read and track a thousand stories a day, there is no way I would use an RSS reader.

When designing a website, yes RSS is a necessity, particularly if it’s a blog or news site. However, my kid’s blog? Only my tech-friendly friends read it via RSS. My family, the primary audience, don’t even know what RSS is (and not because I didn’t try to teach them – because it ended up not  being important in their lives).

I’m dissatisfied about the trend in feed readers toward the social and ephemeral. Why am I concerned about this? Because it doesn’t meet MY needs. I’m not sure it meets anyone’s needs, actually, since the mass public probably doesn’t need to manage hundreds of RSS feeds, but may find appeal in the social (this is why the FB “Networked Blogs” holds appeal, even though it is FB?). I’m reluctant to covert to Google Reader if it’s going to continue to become more social and less useful to me as an info management tool. Meh.

These newer social & ephemeral info streams are to specific RSS subscriptions like Google is to MEDLINE. I use Google, it’s quick & easy and often entertaining. But when I really want to find or track something I use a dedicated source. And I like my RSS to be reliable – a subscription, not a fishnet.

 

-Greyson

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House rules for kids & online gaming

One thing I learned when I became a parent is that there’s a big difference between being a non-parent who likes kids and being a parent. One of the ways this manifests, for me, is in advice. I’ve worked in a lot of family & children’s service programs over the years, and parents have often asked me for advice on various topics. The way I give advice has changed since I’ve had a seat on the other side of the table too. It’s a lot easier to give advice on many topics than it is to have to deal with the topic in real life.

Take kids & the Internet, for example. It was pretty easy to do projects in library school about why Internet filters designed to restrict children’s Internet access don’t work very well. However, I found it somewhat harder to conjure up something that *did* make me feel safe about my child’s online access.

This past summer I entertained a growing awareness that it was time to formally talk with the kid about his use of the computer & Internet. He’s had limited, highly supervised, computer privileges for a while now, but he’s getting old enough to have more responsibility and less micro-management on my behalf.

I was surprised to find myself at a bit of a loss as to what exactly our house rules should be! I’m a librarian, I thought. I’m the one who gives other people advice on these topics! Yet I wasn’t exactly sure what to do in my own home. Oh dear.

After having my moment of humility, I asked myself what I’d recommend to another parent who asked me for advice on the topic. Well, of course I’d send them to the ALA website, as I knew they had a bunch of resources on online safety. Wow, are some of those resources:

  1. seriously out of date,
  2. very US-American, and
  3. rather paranoid.

That said, some of the links were useful as inspiration. Feeling somewhat unsatisfied by my ALA website experience, I turned to an online parenting community of which I’m a part and asked for advice from other parents. Surprisingly few of them had specific rules or contracts with their kids governing Internet use either.

In the end, I ended up creating our own house rules for computer/Internet use. Some of the rules were negotiated with the kid, others were non-negotiable in my book, still others the kid came up with himself. We typed them up together, printed them out, and then I shared them with my online parenting community.

And now I’m going to share them with you. Why? Not because I think the rules in your house should be exactly the same as the rules in my house, but because they are up-to-date and might give you a template or some ideas for either your own house or the next time a parent asks you for advice.

I’m out of the youth services loop these days, so I’m not sure how common it is for children’s librarians to produce sample house computer/Internet use rules lists, but given recent news that kids are gaming online more than their parents know,such resources are worth considering.

If anyone reading this knows of really good sites with other guidelines/rules, or thinks there are rules that should be added to the above to make a suggested list, please leave a comment.

Greyson’s Computer Use Rules

(For context, these rules were made for/with a 7-year-old/grade 3 child who can read & type independently, likes to play Club Penguin and Super Mario, and has his own blog to which only I know the password.)

TIME:

In one day, you can have: 1 30-minute computer time OR 2 20-minute computer times with least 20 minutes in between

Computer time cannot carry over from one day to another.

PLACE:

Family computers can be used in the living room.

Other locations only by special arrangement.

INTERNET:

You can go to pre-approved websites on your own.

You have to have a grown-up with you to surf the net/search for new sites.

Nothing you have to pay for, without parental permission.

You never give out personal information online (phone #, address, what school you go to, pictures of you, etc.)

You never give your passwords to anyone, even friends, and if someone finds one out you tell us asap so we can help change it.

Agree to share any passwords to any sites with us (Gmail, Club Penguin…) and not change these without telling us.

Be polite online like in real life.

Never download anything without our permission.

On Club Penguin, you can add buddies without specific permission

GAMES:

No shooting games without specific permission to play that game

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Filed under Internet, public libraries, school libraries, technology, tips and tools, youth

Net neutrality & tiered pricing structures

It’s come to my attention that AWMarco at Team Awesome wrote about the recent Harpham and Greyson net neutrality articles in Feliciter (<– pdf warning) and seems to think that I conflate the issues of data packet neutrality and access to unlimited bandwidth in my article.  I don’t agree that I conflated those issues in my article, although I concede the AWMarco and I may have different definitions of “throttling” and I should have clearly defined the term in my article.

I stand by my statement that a neutral net is both content- and protocol-agnostic. I do not agree that being protocol-agnostic necessarily means letting one high-bandwidth user eat up your entire network. I pay my ISP for a certain mb/s speed and a certain GB/month data limit per month, and I do not expect that my use will be tampered with as long as I stay within the limits of my subscription – no matter what (legal) content I access or publish, and no matter what protocols I may use. If my ISP has oversold their capabilities it is on them to increase capacity otherwise come clean with customers.

I do, however, think the issues of content neutrality and tiered pricing for different levels of service are commonly conflated. Given that I actually found the above blog post while writing a long email to someone just last week about how tiered pricing structures are not the same thing as net neutrality, I figured I ought to set the record straight by repurposing some of those emailed words for the blog.

Here’s the thing:

Some people do include tiered pricing (paying more for faster access/more bandwidth) under the umbrella of “non neutrality.” I do not, and to my knowledge my library associations have not either. Rather, we have focused on differential treatment of types of info or protocols. I recommend staying with this tighter definition, and not getting into the area of tiered pricing for speed.

While tiered pricing is not equitable, it does not (IMO) violate the
principle of network neutrality, which I define as a network that is
neutral to the info sent over it, in accordance with common carriage.
To extend a metaphor, I can send you a book via air mail instead of surface mail and get it there faster if I pay Canada Post more $, but it’s not okay for Canada Post charge me more $ for sending a book of political propaganda than a book of fairy tales (or a French book more than an English book) sent via the same mode.

Canada Post should not treat my package differently based on what is inside. The fact that some people cannot afford express air mail prices, while inequitable, is a different issue than slowing down mail because you don’t like what’s inside.

It’s a little tricky, in terms of semantics, because sometimes you do hear people use “tiered pricing” in terms of access to portions of the Internet — in a non-neutral net an ISP might hypothetically charge end-users a premium for non-throttled or non-blocked access to the Internet. But mostly when you hear “tiered pricing” you think paying more for faster Internet access, which is pretty much the norm right now, and not usually included in the net neutrality basket.

I know that excessive prices for decent bandwidth can be a library issue, certainly.  That’s why we have the CAP program, much like library book rate with Canada Post. However, when we’re talking about neutrality, I think we should steer clear of talking about tiered pricing for speed, and focus on content/protocol neutrality at every access level.

-Greyson

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Filed under net neutrality, Other blogs, technology

Technology and Libraries: Salvation or a Tool?

First, it is very important for me to acknowledge that I am NOT against the use of technology in libraries. I think we can all agree there are massive technological advances on the horizon which will greatly impact the future of libraries (and maybe even be the impetus for redefining the role of libraries in communities and how/what services we provide the public).  We are just beginning to see the tip of the technological iceberg which is coming our way.

As I have been attending conferences, or reviewing conference programs, I am seeing a lot of presentations around change within libraries – specifically and almost exclusively focusing on technology.  Some of these discussions are being framed – that technologies are or will make us more relevant to our communities. (For example I recently saw a presentation titled: “The Future of Libraries” –  New customer expectations are being driven by the new ecology of the web and big players like Facebook, Bing, Hulu,YouTube, Amazon, Google, and more.  Is your library ready?).  So, is this the future for libraries – or should technology be viewed as one of many different tools which will ensure our relevance to some of our community members?

On that point, I recently saw John Teskey, the President of CLA, speak at a conference.   It was interesting to note that he said that technology which has been implemented in libraries has not necessarily made libraries easier to use by members of the public.

This really struck a chord and I am not thoroughly convinced the future of libraries, and the relevance of libraries to our local communities, rests solely on the technological products which we put into library spaces.   I do not think that technology in and of itself will make us more relevant to our communities.

Where is this coming from?

Technology as a solution to problems cuts across various industries and organizations.  For instance, as discussed in the NY Times, the recent oil disaster in Gulf of Mexico, demonstrates the deliberate and hidden consequences of technological innovation.  While technology was viewed as providing the solution to oil shortages and US national oil independence, it also provided as mechanism for the disaster to unfold.  People tend to look for solutions to problems through the use of technology.

Parallels can also be found in the food industry, where Genetically Modified Foods [modified via technology] are marketed as the solution to a worldwide food shortage, although there is already enough food in the world and food shortages are actually caused by distribution and policy decisions.

Putting this back in a Library Context – The Impact of Social Inclusion and Exclusion

As we all know, one of the primary perceptions members of the public have about libraries is books.  We, as librarians, can contest that libraries are much more than a depository of books (it also includes computers, varying collections beyond books (DVDs), spaces for community engagement, etc.).   However, the perception of the library as being a place where people go to get books, while comforting for those with the literacy skills to access collections, is scary to others.

At the beginning of the Working Together project, we tried to understand  how people gain access to information.   As we discovered, people who are socially included tended to:

  • have a broad range of social networks (friends, professional connections, family) which they would tap into regularly to discover information, and
  • have access to, use multiple sources and resources, and feel confident to draw upon these resources when making decisions (e.g. library, personally owned or public technology, other organizations, and skills to use technology).

For them, accessing information via books and new technologies is normal behaviour.  However, this dramatically differs for socially excluded (or underserved) community members – who primarily use other resources for decision making including:

  • personal experiences, or the experiences of a close friend,
  • asking a close friend or someone they trust for information.

In addition,

  • their social life is more restricted and they may have fewer locations where they will seek information in public,
  • they are less likely to have technology at home (because of cost) or will have older technology which has been passed down,  and
  • they are less likely to be as ‘proficient’ using technology because they have not had the opportunities to learn them.

Technology as a Tool – Amongst many different tools

I believe that if librarians (all librarians not just those ‘working in community’) spent as much time thinking about working with and engaging our communities as we focus on technologies, libraries will be more likely to become community spaces which are (or will become viewed as) inclusive to all community members. Technology needs to be viewed as one tool, amongst many different tools, that (some) people currently feel comfortable using to retrieve information.

As we found  through the Working Together project people are much more likely to come to the library, and continue returning, if they have developed relationships with others (e.g. other members of the community, library staff etc.).  People are much more likely to return to the library if you introduce them to other people, than if staff introduce people to a book – or a new method for accessing information.  Once these relationships are built, librarians will be strategically placed to fill a gap which currently exists in Canadians communities.  Librarians as experts in the use of technology can help to develop community capacity using these tools – once relationships with non-library users and those afraid of using these tools are developed.

However, we should not view technology as a panacea for engaging with community – or making us more relevant to community – outside of those we (or the technology) are already relevant to.  Buying and building the technological infrastructure in and of itself will most likely only make us more relevant to individuals who are already comfortable with using the tools and make us more inaccessible to others.

If we position ourselves by developing new skill sets and repositioning ourselves in the community to discover and respond to information needs – and if the community identifies technology as a response – we will definitely be well positioned.

Additional Thoughts:

So, some important questions that we need to ask ourselves when investing in technology in libraries in the future may include:

  • While we are aware of the digital divide, and regularly talk about the concept in library school – how are libraries responded to those impacted by the divide? (e.g. Are we taking the technologies we have into the community? How are we determining how to make the technology accessible to people who not only fear technology, but also fear the concept of entering a library?)
  • Have we adjusted our approaches to teaching technology, making it more accessible etc.?
  • How is technology presented as an inclusive tool – especially when the same people you are talking to may be intimidated by libraries since they do not know how to read/write?
  • Are we building relationships with people, and based on those relationships able to determine information needs and determine role of technology in addressing those needs – or are technological purchases based on technological trends?
  • And, if Pateman (2004) is right, that ~30% of the public are actively using library services, what portion of those users are tech savvy?  What about current library users who are leery of technology?

~ Ken

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Filed under community development, public libraries, technology