The Cycle of Emerging Tech in Libraries

Change can bring uncertainty, and, as the last few years have demonstrated, uncertainty can be extremely uncomfortable both for individuals and organizations! While technological change is constant and its impact on libraries can seem difficult to predict, it does follow a familiar route that I’ve dubbed “The Cycle of Emerging Tech in Libraries”. Let’s have a look.

alt="Graphic of a cycle / process comprised of four arrows that flow clockwise. They are labeled 1, 2, 3, and 4, and are over a blue background. 1 is titled "A new technology comes out!" 2 is titled "Disruption occurs!" 3 is titled "The library responds." 4 is titled "Comfort sets in". Arrow #4 continues into arrow #1, indicating the process begins anew. "

Breaking it Down

  1. A new technology comes out: Our journey begins with the release of a new piece of hardware or software. The invention of the internet, the first iPhone, and the rise of social media all come to mind.
  2. Disruption occurs!: Emerging technologies tend to be synonymous with disruption. New tech can impact specific industries, effect the job market (positively or negatively) and sow confusion. A new technology can, and will confuse the general public. In addition to being confusing, new tech can also be very expensive at the outset. This expense can prevent the general public (particularly those with lower income) from getting hands-on and learning through experience.
  3. The library responds: Here’s where we come in! When a new technology emerges, libraries provide accurate, authoritative information, programming, and most importantly, access. Technology typically becomes affordable for an organization before it does for an individual. When that time comes, a library’s investment allows the community to experience a technology, delivering an excellent return on investment.
  4. Comfort sets in: Eventually, the new becomes the familiar. When it does, the library can pull back on patron instruction. As the cost of an increasingly commonplace technology diminishes, so to does the need for investing in library-provided hardware/software. As you celebrate navigating your community through another technological change, a new technology comes out (step 1), and the cycle begins anew.

Looking at a Real World Example

Let’s apply “The Circle of Tech” concept to a rather library-centric technology that has already completed the cycle; the e-reader. In the late 2000s, the e-reader began to receive notice in the consumer market (step 1). E-reader technology caused plenty of disruption (step 2), particularly impacting the publishing industry. Our public was confused by the technology, as anyone who needed to walk a patron through early digital rights management process necessary to borrow a library e-book can attest! What is more, the tech was expensive, with a Sony PRS-700 costing $400 in 2008! Libraries responded by (step 3), providing patron instruction on utilizing the technology, in addition to offering digital content! Many libraries created e-reader petting zoos, or lent pre-loaded devices, granting the public access to a technology that was new, and unaffordable to many. Over time, comfort set in as patrons/staff better understood the technology (step 4) and the need for e-reader/e-book specific instruction subsided (though it has not disappeared). Subsequently, libraries have pared back their device lending programs.

This cycle complete, it wasn’t long before libraries would contend with streaming services, new social media platforms, the growth of mobile technology, and AR/VR. While the future can often seem uncertain, libraries have a well-trod path for guiding our communities through technological change!

Seeking a speaker for your library or organization? In need of a professional development webinar? Let’s talk! Need a roadmap for introducing emerging technologies into your library? Check out Best Technologies for Public Libraries!

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