Technology should be a supplement

…and not a replacement.

In one of my classes’ discussion boards, the professor asked how new technology will affect libraries’ future mission. It’s an interesting question, and I think I went a little bit overboard in answering it, largely because I was still thinking about this article . You read that right. This library decided to get rid of a lot of their books in favor of a few e-readers. I printed the article out and scribbled all over it with notes and reactions.

Here’s what I wrote on the discussion board:

How will new technologies affect the future mission of libraries?

Technology is both libraries’ friend and foe, depending on how it’s implemented, and will either further the libraries’ mission, or destroy them altogether. It’s a matter of approaching it respectfully, embracing it judiciously, and proceeding deliberately.

Friendly technology, like screen readers for the blind and captioning for the deaf should be widely used, and while it’s not perfect, it’s getting better. These, libraries should already be using in order to better serve those with disabilities. These, I’m not calling into question.

Rather, I’m questioning the libraries who treat e-readers as the holy grail, the “next big thing” in libraries, and as the replacement for mass-produced books that have been in existence since the dawn of the movable type. I’m questioning the libraries who jump too quickly on the bandwagon of brand new technology, investing money and time into something that hasn’t yet withstood the test of time. I wonder how many libraries invested heavily the Playstation EyeToys for their YA section? Or the Sony PRS-700 Touchscreen eBook Readers? Or other technologies that sounded kinda cool, worked horrible, and quickly faded from the scene? Instead of being an investment, it became a waste of library money.

No matter what libraries do, they need to stay relevant within the community, and nothing can hurt that goal more than owning quickly-irrelevant technology, or leaning too heavily on any one technology. Another flaw of technology that can hurt libraries is the limited access-point problem. It’s cheap and easy to have thousands of print material. Thousands of patrons can each have one book. With proper time management, and in conjunction with a well-stocked physical library, several computers can serve a community sufficiently. Likewise with e-readers, several of these devices can serve a community if the library is sufficiently stocked with physical books to serve patrons when the e-readers aren’t available. The pattern here is that technology must be used as a supplement, an enhancement, to the physical library. In this way, libraries can continue their mission of serving as a gateway to information.

However, if libraries such as the one in Cushing Academy start replacing their numerous physical books with only a few devices with the ability to access millions of books, that is a problem. It’s reducing the number of access points for the patrons. If a library has only 20 e-readers, only 20 patrons can have the devices checked out, while the rest of patrons are left out. Without books, they can’t even access physical books for information while waiting for the digital books to become available again. I have serious problems with this.

Technology should be supplemental, and not a replacement, to the physical holdings in a library. Change for the sake of change is a good way to cripple libraries’ mission of serving a community, for the above reasons.

(Oops…I’d better get off the soapbox now…I have to say that the Cushing Academy article really raised my ire. I scribbled all over it with notes while I was reading it, raising points I don’t think that the administrators thought of. )

/end of discussion post. Now, this idea of Cushing Academy deserves a

(See, Comic Sans is an AWESOME font for softening the blow!)

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