Where it all went wrong

Nathan Torkington’s speech had an interesting metaphor comparing libraries to the company Microsoft. The general idea that libraries were not only not doing enough digitally, but that they are still on the “wrong foot” or old idea model was vivid and a little unsettling. I could relate to the concept that libraries are, in general, adding digital collections and access like special features on a somewhat outdated machine. Reimagining libraries for a digital setting is intimidating because, as with all new things, there is so much potential to go wrong. I’m excited to see how metadata helps shape libraries’ identities in a digital world. (Nathan Torkington’s 2011 speech can be found here)

Box Technology

When we say ‘Library Technology’ I instantly think of the new technologies that have been reshaping libraries, ebooks, shelf-checkout stations, online databases and journals, but technology isn’t just electronics and gizmos. Print books are one of the most basic technologies of a library. It’s odd to think of a print book as a technology, and yet it is an amazing medium which, in most cases, captures information on a given topic and builds on that information to reach a conclusion. Not all technology has to be complex, some of the most useful technology can be very simple.

For instance, a library in Brookline, MA has started a new technology which is very simple and yet has had a great impact in involving the community. They have created an “Awesome Box” shaped like the TARDIS from the television show Dr. Who. The idea is very simple. When returning items, patrons place books they loved in the TARDIS awesome box instead of the returns desk. This may not seem much like ‘technology’, but instigating this system is a great way to increase community involvement. Books are selected by what other patrons enjoyed, not the library staff. The lists of books are added to a website so that patrons can easily view the list, but the heart of the project is a box designed like a TARDIS. Patrons know that what they find there was read and enjoyed by another member in their community and adding a book to a TARDIS shaped box is just fun (Peterson).

Sometimes the technology libraries employ is complex and delicate. And sometimes that technology is putting a book in a box and seeing involvement in the library community grow to increase the love of reading and literature.

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Peterson, Karyn M. “Library’s TARDIS “Awesome Box.” Library Journal 139.2 (2014): 16. Academic Search Premier. Web. 12 Mar. 2014.

Technological Divide

Technology is advancing in leaps and bounds. Dictionaries and journals are being published online while slowly fading from the print world. Need to know a random fact? Look it up on Wikipedia. Need directions? Select from a handful of online sites that will plot your course and give you detailed instructions and road conditions. The online world provides multiple options and increasingly varied resources. It’s fantastic. Unless, of course, you can’t get to it.

As more information appears online, and sometimes only available online, a divide grows between those who can access this information and those who can’t. Some people simply don’t have the resources to procure an electronic device that can connect to the internet not to mention affording the actually connection. Others may have the resources but lack the skill set and ability utilize the vast smorgasbord of online data. As online information often updates more frequently and more and more journals and other information go online rather than in print the concern over a widening divide between those with and without online access is a valid point.

Libraries are attempting to help bridge that gap by providing computers and internet access. Libraries have steadily increased the number of computers available to the public. Some of these terminals can only be used to search the library catalog or library databases, but others are available to the public for whatever uses they wish to accomplish. Many libraries also provide computer courses ranging from basic instructions on keyboards and using a mouse, to more advanced classes on specific programs such as Excel. As more information appears online it is important to strive for equal access for everyone by providing venues and equipment.

Ebooks and the Public Library

Electronic books have become more and more common. There are a variety of devices, Nooks, Kindles, and even Smart Phones which allow a user to buy a book from Amazon or another provider and download the book directly to their device. Some people love electronic books and some people hate them, but it is a fast, easy way to get a book quickly and has the benefit of being able to shop online.

Public libraries have expanded their collections into the electronic book arena, and have slowly been building their collection of ebooks. When I first heard that my public library could lend me ebooks I was intrigued and then fascinated. The system would supposedly let me go through my library’s webpage select an ebook from the catalog and download it onto my computer. Moreover, at the end of the designated lending period, the book would vanish from my computer eliminating concerns over late fees.

When I began to use the system of borrowing ebooks, I found the system to be a little, although not much, more complicated. While libraries list their electronic books in their catalog, to actually download them you often have to go through several different pages to log onto a different database to get to the ebooks. While the process is usually simple, entering the barcode from your library card, once you are in the database you need to do your search again to find the item you wanted to borrow. Once you find the item you can finally download it, almost. If it is your first time borrowing an ebook you have to download a special program called Overdrive.

The ebooks get downloaded onto Overdrive which keeps patrons from simply having the ebook on the hard drive where they could copy and keep the book. Overdrive is fairly simplistic and only needs to be downloaded once. With it installed you can browse and download as many ebooks as your library will allow, I believe my current library only allows a max of five ebooks checked out at once.

For a first time user, especially one not completely comfortable with technology, the entire process to borrowing an ebook can be fairly daunting. Adding this to library’s limited collections of ebooks, fewer choices and those choices often checked out, I can see why people find it easier to simply not bother with this option. However, it is a fantastic option.

Getting to a public library can be difficult because of transportation or shortened library hours due to shrinking budgets. Ebooks provide an excellent venue to enjoy the library’s traditional product, books, when simply getting to the library is a challenge. It also provides additional access to people who may not be able to leave their homes due to disability or other factors. The system can be and needs to be improved in several directions, more selection, more copies of books, easier access but the core is a wonderful example of how libraries remain current and relevant to the needs of their community.