What We Can Learn From Technology Readiness

One of the more interesting programs I attended at ALA was a three hour workshop by Professor A. Parasuraman of the University of Miami. Parasuraman was an original developer of the ServQual instrument, and he spoke on the origins of Libqual. This workshop was sponsored by ARL. I imagine that quite a few of you who have worked with LibQual previously have attended a presentation by Parasuraman. It may sound boring, but Parasuraman was a riveting speaker, and the time went by in a flash. It was a great way to develop a deeper understanding of the basic principles of LibQual. But there was more to the session than that.

The second half of the workshop focused on e-service quality, or the dimensions of how effectively websites and web resources serve their customers. These dimensions include such factors as efficiency, responsiveness, technical functioning, customer security, privacy and problem handling. Where things got interesting is when Parasuraman talked about technology readiness. In a nutshell, there is a hazard in offering certain technologies or features on your website because there are great ranges in technology readiness. If your users are not technologically ready for these features, they won’t get used.

That doesn’t mean to say you shouldn’t adapt new technologies for your site or library. Every community has its “explorers” and “pioneers’ who will always try new technologies. Where care must be taken is in avoiding the tendency to believe your new technology is successful based only on the reception from explorers. There are still many segments of the user community who are far less ready to use the new technology, and then shun it. That’s where the National Technology Readiness Survey comes in. The survey gathers data about the technology readiness of individuals. The latest survey is available for 2006. There are four areas in which customers are asked about their technology beliefs. The most salient one for us may be the dimension of innovativeness.

One’s innovativeness (for technology) is expressed as the ability to “keep up with the latest technological developments in one area of interest.” Before I give you the summary of the responses may I remind you to look at this recent post.

I wrote about how I was sometimes feeling less able to keep up with all the things I’d like to. I questioned if it was just me or if there was something larger at work. Apparently some other librarians also blogged about the challenges of keeping up. Walt Crawford captures some of that discussion in his July 2007 issue of Cites and Insights. Guess I’m not alone. Then I heard the interesting data that corresponds to this in the workshop. Here is the trend in percentage of respondents when asked about their innovativeness (keeping up with the latest technology developments in your area):

68% – 1999
69% – 2000
65% – 2001
59% – 2002
60% – 2004
57% – 2006

So between 1999 and 2006 fewer people describe themselves as innovative. They are reporting that they keep up less well than in previous years. I suspect that individuals are putting in as much time on keeping up as they always did. That certainly is the case for me. Where things seems to be contributing to the declining rate of innovativeness, is the sheer number of technological developments that one needs to keep up-to-date with. According the the NTRS, we are being overwhelmed. I see it as an indicator that the given amount of time you have to keep up and increase your technology awareness is insufficient. It may be something we need to accept.

So what does all this mean for academic libraries? Well, don’t be alarmed if it seems you are having difficulty trying to keep up with all the new technologies. You are not alone. Also, as technology diffusers, we leverage new technology for new services and resources. But don’t expect, at least initially, to achieve widespread adoption by your user community. Technology acceptance is slow because many of our library users are technology unready. As always, the more we know about our users, that is a better chance to improve service delivery.

2 thoughts on “What We Can Learn From Technology Readiness”

  1. Interesting report – I was intrigued by the chart showing a drop in readiness, as reported by the author at your conference. It seems to contradict what’s written on pages 15-16 of the 2004 report: “Since 1999, the level of technology readiness in the general adult U.S. population has remained virtually unchanged.” (see http://www.screencast.com/t/wE8sDFBs8ub for a screenshot of the relevant section) I had gone to the report to see if I could find any mention of differences by age, and did find what I expected on the last page of the 2004 report; that the younger you are, the more likely you are to be ready for all this new stuff. That might also explain why it may seem harder for older librarians to even *want* to try these new technologies we keep pushing at them.

  2. In particular, I have noticed that faculty are losing ever more ground to students in this area. The standard explanation is that it’s a factor of age. I also wonder if academic training causes many faculty to look at specific technologies with a skeptical eye, as simply a flash in the pan. Tension also exists between some administrators, of whom many are early technology adapters (at least they talk a good game!), and the academic employees of an educational institution. We as librarians navigate a tightrope between the two groups! It’s a challenge. Nice to know that I am not the only one who is feeling the crunch.

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