Information Technology and Libraries
How do libraries acquire, teach, and learn about the latest tech?
Any technique or process that makes library operations faster is considered information technology. Thus, you can define it as “any form of technology that speeds up the rate at which information is created, edited, disseminated, and stored for future usage.” Of course, today’s many and varied technologies must be learned, whether self-taught, with one-on-one help, or in a class. And that’s where librarians enter the picture.
Moreover, it wasn’t until COVID-19 arrived that librarians and patrons alike began to use and appreciate digital technologies. The colossal New York Public Library (NYPL) was an early leader in providing digital e-books. As the NYPL staff put it:
“The Library provides patrons worldwide with powerful online tools to help them discover its extensive resources and services. On nypl.org visitors can browse the Library’s immense collections, download e-books, and view more than 900,000 items from our award-winning Digital Collections.”
SimplyE, the Library’s free e-reader app, lets users borrow instantly from NYPL’s collection of over 300,000 e-books.
Libraries throughout the US and globally followed suit. Today, people feel comfortable knowing that if they’re sick or place-bound, they can still read the latest publications and return them from their homes.
What Comprises Basic Information Technology?
When considering what technology a library needs, remember what your community also needs and its points of pride. It would help to communicate with your school district(s), city and community leaders, and library patrons to determine what technology the library could offer to support the region. For example, a bare-bones foundation for a technology setup might include the following:
- Staff and patron computer(s) (desktop or laptop)
- Additional computer monitors
- Printers (which often have built-in document scanners)
- Availability of wireless internet for patrons
- Switches and routers
- Reboot-and-restore software
- Computer-adjacent telephones
- Automation software
- The library’s website(s)
- Dedicated email address
- A social media presence (e.g., Facebook, Instagram, TikTok)
- Microsoft or Google Suite
- E-readers, tablets, or iPads and their content
- Antivirus software
- Audiovisual equipment (e.g., large screen monitor or television)
Once these items have been acquired and implemented, you’ll see staff and patrons flocking to them — and wanting more.
Digital online technologies have improved communication, enhanced efficiency and productivity, and created cost savings. They have also allowed the creation of online libraries, databases, and search engines, providing instant access to knowledge on nearly any subject.
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Still, libraries and staff must also consider the disadvantages of modern technology. For one thing, there are privacy concerns and security risks. For another, they create digital divides among social groups, become “wedded” to the new equipment, and often cause health problems (mainly due to excessive screen time).
Another more insidious challenge is the rapid information dissemination through IT, spreading misinformation and fake news. It can be challenging to discern the credibility of online sources.
Of course, there are several different kinds of libraries, each with its own needs and resources. Depending on their respective funding sources, some might have less IT access than others. Many medium-to-large libraries have trained staff and other resources available to virtually anyone needing assistance.
Fortunately, today’s comprehensive and well-staffed information centers can help with everything from learning to use a mobile phone to creating a new app. They are also the go-to places for recommending or selecting the latest and best equipment for the entire library.
Library Technology Post-Pandemic
A 2021 report by the Public Library Association (PLA) details how libraries extended their technology services and resources in the face of drastic limitations. First-time survey data show that over half of public libraries reported circulating technology (such as hotspots, laptops, and tablets) for patron use outside the library.
A similar portion offered publicly available streaming programs (e.g., storytimes and author events) in the previous twelve months. They also began supplying diverse digital content, user resources, and staff training. Today, with public wifi being ubiquitous, many libraries provide 24/7 internet access by leaving on or extending their wifi signal to allow visitors to log on to the web from outside the facility.
Besides broadband access, libraries play a critical role in teaching and advancing digital literacy:
- Over 88 percent of all public libraries offer formal or informal digital literacy training.
- More than a third (36.7 percent) of public libraries have trained digital literacy staff.
- Upwards of one in five libraries provide classes or informal help with new technologies, like coding/computer programming, robotics, and 3D printing.
PLA President Melanie Huggins said, “Investing in affordable, high-speed internet for our communities and libraries is essential to building an inclusive digital future.”
Even so, although 3D printers (held in 20 percent of libraries), virtual reality headsets (13 percent), and smart boards (7 percent) are new on the scene, libraries are among the few public places maintaining access to older technology, such as copy machines, printers, and fax machines, still needed by many people.
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The Library of the Future
Throughout the pandemic, most public libraries were determined to continue with their primary goal: providing services to residents “seeking knowledge, learning opportunities, and connections to information.” Doing so meant focusing on online resources as much as feasible. Since the 1990s, public libraries have been adding to their holdings to ensure that they can allow patrons to check out e-books and other digital media, reach the internet via free wifi and computer stations, and tap into “Ask a Librarian” services offered via phone, chat, or email.
Every library has a vision, and every librarian and patron probably has a different one. Increasingly, many are concerned with the future of artificial intelligence (AI). Others want computers that can handle big data. And others, still, are seeking augmented reality.
But sometimes, it’s not the tech at the forefront but the patrons and their communities. Many don’t recognize fake news when they see it and will need well-schooled instructors to help them spot it on social media and learn to search for and validate sources using academic websites and reliable fact-checking sites like Snopes.
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