Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Library Planning to Cultivate Tech Confidence Patrons

The question of whether libraries will survive the digital age is spoken about reviewed and asked in library professional journals, conferences and among librarians all around the world. It seems that the digital age seems a little frightening but exciting at the same time. The possibilities of endless avenues of information seems endless. Yet a times a bit overwhelming. Where does a librarian begin to shift through the maze of digital text to find that right balance to satisfy every patrons needs? As any wise librarian will tell you it begins with the community in which the library serves. This can be a blessing or a curse depending on the community. The trick is to find that even pace that brings everyone along. The issue of "digital divide" is not an unfamiliar topic. it began with the age of the Internet when librarians rightly pointed out that not everyone would have access to the web and not everyone is computer literate to understand how to delve into the web of information. As the decades have passed there are more households with computers than without. There are schools that can not and will not function without computers, even in the poor school districts. Children have become more tech savvy than the adults in their lives. Even though all of this may be true in many respects there is still a need to widen the bridge over the divide to assist everyone in connecting to information that can make a difference in their personal life. Which by the way, in helping the community become digitally strong and savvy, libraries keep the community sustainable and growing. Will everyone come along? No but the majority that will need the librarians in their community to lead and teach them how to use the tools of tomorrow. So what should every library, whether big or small, do to keep up with the digital wave? First and foremost be informed on the different ways in which people are gathering information today. The tools that are used today are not the same as ten years ago. Patrons will use everything from cell phones to laptops to traditional books, it almost seems that libraries must offer everything to everybody that walks into the door. That is not only overwhelming but costly. Obviously, libraries can not afford to offer everything. The compromise lies in planning for what will come down the pike to secure ways to keep patrons informed and tech confident. Tech confident? Yes every new technology brings with it excitement and nervousness. As long as librarians are at the forefront of technology changes and advances, patrons will have a mentor that can guide them in using the tool effectively. Which takes away the nervousness and fears. This brings about the confidence that allows everyone the freedom to experiment in using the "tech" tools and make it work for them. The next step is planning that allows the new technology to be woven into what the library currently offers. If done correctly, patrons, once they begin using the technology, will wonder how they ever got along without it before and they may not want to ever let it go. Remember don't let go of the oldies and goodies too quickly. There is room for the old and new tools to work together. Third, most importantly is training and informing every member of the library administration and staff on advances in technology that will change the way patrons will be using information. Without this technology plans fall flat and miss any targeted goals. Without this there is a missed opportunity to be creative with technology and finding ways to help the community grow. Unfortunately, this is the biggest risk that all libraries face. Lack of vision to see how new technology will fit into the library's current offerings. If there is a lack of planning or vision than this can lead to only to the closings of more libraries. One of the big questions to ask your library community: Do you want to risk their library closing? This discussion can turn into how technology has changed the landscape of libraries good or bad. Even how technology has the opportunity to take the place of the "physical" library building and employ fewer library professionals provide reference services. These are valid concerns however it is a discussion for another time. The most important discussion is how to use this technology to keep libraries relevant, reliable and ready to serve the community. This is just the first step, there is so much more to come.