Best Technologies for Public Libraries: an exploration

AI generated image of a person wearing a vr headset. It is done in blue monochrome.

I recently had the pleasure to present the seminar “Best Technologies for Public Libraries: Embracing Innovation in Library Services” to members of the Library and Information Association of South Africa (LIASA). It is, in part, informed by a book I co-authored not too long ago. Both the book and the presentation are an exploration of innovative uses of current and emerging technologies in libraries. You can watch a recording of the presentation below.

With “best” being a rather bold designation, I think it’s important to highlight why (and how) a technology might earn such a distinction. Ideally, a library’s adoption of tech should:

Align with the Library’s Mission

Take a moment to look at your library’s mission statement. Simply put, a mission statement is your purpose for being. For a library, this statement commonly mentions meeting the informational and recreational needs of our community, or other, similar goals. If there’s a technology that you’re considering adopting and it’s at odds with your mission, that’s a pretty good indicator that it has no place in your organization. Inversely, if it’s in perfect alignment, you can proceed with confidence.

Provide Critical Community Access

Often, high-tech comes with high costs. I have found that the perfect time to adopt a technology is when it is prohibitively expensive for the individual, but affordable for our organizations. It is there that library adoption can allow users to get hands-on and engage in experiential learning they would otherwise be shut out of. This is also an area where we can deliver a high return on investment.

Help Navigate Disruption

Societal disruption is often technologically driven. When a new technology arises, it can cause confusion and uncertainty, and may impact our patrons’ livelihoods. I imagine that artificial intelligence currently comes to mind! Our adoption of a technology can help demystify it for our patrons. It can protect users from misuse and misapplication of the technology. Returning to our mission, the library’s adoption of an emerging technology allows us to continue to meet the informational needs of our users, even as they change–driven by technological disruption.

Be Needs-Based

If our adoption of a technology isn’t rooted in the needs of our users, then what are we even doing? Emerging technologies can be a shiny object–we must ensure that we aren’t ignoring core user needs in their pursuit. When we center tech adoption on user needs, we can be sure it is time and money well-spent. As an administrator, it is far preferable to spend money meeting user demands, than convincing our users of the utility of a technology!

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