Technology is tough to keep up with. Even for those of use who use technology everyday to organize our lives and jobs it is still tough. Librarians frequently talk about how difficult it is to keep up or may even hide that fact that they don’t know as much as they think they should about emerging technologies, something Michael Stephens calls “technoshame” (2008). Stephens also discussed “technostress” which is caused by the sheer volume of new tools and web sites coming at us all the time, which is to say the least overwhelming. Most LIS professionals are familiar with information overload and know that it happens to our users, but I think we sometimes forget it can happen to us as well. Or perhaps we feel that we should have the skills to combat it? Nevertheless, it is as real for information professionals as anyone else, so how can it be remedied?
There are numerous blog posts, articles, and wikis sharing advice for dealing with “technostress” or how to keep up to date with technology but the scattered nature of those resources is also a bit overwhelming. Therefore, our project will try to battle tech overload with a tool designed to help librarians stay current. Our project is a web site that would serve as a portal for librarians suffering from any type of tech related condition. The site will have three general areas – one for academic librarians, one for public librarians, and one for school librarians.
The rational behind this project centers on three main concepts. The first is one I have already mentioned which is the stress or anxiety that can be a result of the quick pace of technology. The second is how important it is for librarians to keep up with technology. Finally, the third is that librarians cannot just keep up, but they also need to implement some of this technology because as Stephens (2004) points out “technology and libraries in the 21st century are wedded, and this marriage is a long-lasting one” (p. 37). One of the keys to implementing technology successfully is being able to evaluate technology. As more and more technology is created and libraries adopt new and different kinds of technology this essential skill is consistently mentioned in LIS literature and it was discussed in this interview with Buffy Hamilton and this one with Meredith Farkas.
Evaluating technology is not really that much different than evaluating any other library resource for its usefulness to patrons. The basic idea and verification that adopting a new technology would further the library’s mission and fulfill an identified user need is the same, but the techniques might differ. While it is important for librarians to know how to evaluate all kinds of library resources it is crucial that they know how to evaluate emerging technologies for numerous reasons.
As previously mentioned librarians are frequently exposed to a myriad of new and exciting technologies designed for libraries, for education, and for general use. Therefore, it can be very easy to get caught up in “technolust” or “an irrational love for new technology combined with unrealistic expectations for the solutions it brings” (Stephens, p. 36, 2004). How many of us have read about some great new site or app and thought our library must get it immediately with no real idea how to implement it or if users even want it? While lusting after technology isn’t necessarily terrible, it can cause difficulty in your job and it does not serve the best interests of our users. Therefore, having strong skills in critically evaluating technology will help combat “technolust” which means better decision making for librarians and libraries.
The other problem with “technolust” is that while technology tools and resources do benefit librarians they are ultimately not for us, but rather our users. Therefore, in a world of immeasurable options it is increasingly important that we understand our users. Evans (2012) notes the importance of knowing where technologies stand with the patrons we serve and to what degree they are using or not using certain technologies. Evaluation of technology includes user analysis and making sure we are matching tools with real not assumed needs.
Finally, evaluation of technology is an essential skill for librarians because technology implementation rarely involves only one person. Librarians will need to collaborate with colleagues, administrators, IT departments, and other stakeholders to successfully execute many projects. While collaborations can make projects better, there are also times when the philosophies, plans, budgets, or priorities of each stakeholder will not match, which is a common roadblock for librarians (Pegrum & Keil, 2011). Technology proposals that are not adequately evaluated will not have the strength to make it past stakeholders with a different vision. There will always be times when technologies proposals do not work out, but technologies that have been assessed properly will have a much higher chance of overcoming obstacles or opposition.
In regard to the literature review, I examined the LIS literature on emerging technology evaluation. I searched all of the UW Library LIS databases as well as Google Scholar and the general web. I found the best results in the Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts database and the journals Public Services Quarterly, Reference & User Services Quarterly, and Library Journal all had excellent articles. The most useful articles are listed below and are also the articles cited above.
All of Stephens’s articles provide a candid and relevant perspective on technology planning. He is definitely a writer to follow in this area. These two articles are both informative and extremely helpful. Stephens gives great advice for avoiding and dealing with all the different techno conditions he has identified.
This article also provides insight into technology evaluation while serving as a model for evaluation. The method presented is a focus group model aimed at identifying patron and staff interests in regard to emerging technologies. The article also emphasizes the importance of remaining user centered while adopting new technologies.
Both of these articles serve as excellent models for library staff professional development in respect to staying current on emerging technologies and successful assessment and adoption of technologies. While they are useful to any librarians interested in technology they are especially helpful for managers or directors wanting to enhance technology training or professional development.