At your academic library is there a feeling, perhaps an underlying pressure, that new technology should be leveraged to a greater extent than it is. While academic librarianship has a good track record with technology experimentation and integration, it feels like we are entering a new phase in which there is a constant acceleration of demands to do more with technology. Whether its “what’s the next big technology we can adopt” thinking taking hold of the organization, a belief that if your library doesn’t have programmers customizing lots of applications you’ll be at a disadvantage, or just an overwhelming sense that you ought to be doing more with blogs, wikis, tagging, podcasts and other Lib 2.0 type activity, are we driven to offer our user community more technology without really knowing if it would even benefit them?
Some of our posts here have explored new developments and ideas from the world of business and industry as a source of models for how academic libraries might operate. We identified some that offer new possibilities for meeting challenges and others that we would probably wish to avoid. But when it comes to giving the user more technology than they can handle, we may want to take a look at what is happening in the cell phone marketplace. A new technology standard known as 3G (for “third-generation”) is allowing cell service providers to offer phones that can provide an increasing variety of portable entertainment (music, video, real-time television, etc.). The phones are generally acknowledged to be both more costly to own and operate and more difficult to use. One industry analyst said that the major barrier to consumer adoption of 3G is that they “still look at these things as phones.” So while there is more widespread use of phones for text messaging and photography, the adoption of these new technologies is slow.
Perhaps there is an important lesson in there for academic libraries. Even though we may feel the need to offer our users an upward spiral of new, cool technologies might it be possible that the end-users’ hesitancy to adopt them is because they still look at us as libraries. What the users may want is just what we’ve always delivered – the books, journals, research help, user education, interlibrary loan, and other traditional services that for them define the academic library. Perhap rather than seeking out new technology bells and whistles what we really need to do is figure out how to apply technology to make existing services better. Interlibrary loan might be a good example. It’s not flashy, but new software allows us to take advantage of existing network technology to simplify the process of making requests and reduce turnaround times for delivery. The tension between identifying/trying/adopting new technologies and building better design into our existing services and resources is sure to increase as the lure of “shiny new toys” ratchets up.