Panlibus Magazine [Summer 2010]

From Trends to the Trenches: let's expedite the adoption of current technologies

Breeding, Marshall.

Copyright (c) 2010 Talis Information Limited

SummaryThroughout my 25-year career, I've constantly found it frustrating that the cycles of change driven by the larger information technology turn so much faster than have been adapted into the products of the library automation industry and adopted by libraries. Libraries continually struggle to catch up with the rest of the world when it comes totechnology advancements.

Throughout my 25-year career, I've constantly found it frustrating that the cycles of change driven by the larger information technology turn so much faster than have been adapted into the products of the library automation industry and adopted by libraries. Libraries continually struggle to catch up with the rest of the world when it comes to technology advancements.

I’'m especially concerned about the ways that libraries deliver their content and services on the Web. As I work to maintain my lib-web-cats directory of libraries, I regularly see the websites of thousands of libraries. Only a small minority seem based on fairly up-to-date technologies and perform on a par with the popular destinations that might be encountered on the broader Web. The vast majority of library websites——unfortunately——cast the shadow of an earlier period of the Web with more awkward interfaces and disconnected silos of content and functionality. I observe, for example, that despite the fact that new-generation discovery products have been available for several years, most libraries continue to rely on online catalogue modules of their LMS whose interfaces may not have been updated since it was originally implemented. Just last week I came across a library that continued to present a telnet-based online catalogue as its primary search option.

While it's rare to see examples of 20-year-old technology, it's common to see libraries offering catalogues based on products mostly unchanged for the last decade. While I don’’t really expect libraries to lead the forefront of innovation, it would be great if our community could work toward strategies for staying reasonably up-to-date in its technologies.

In my view, both the organisations that create technology products for libraries and libraries themselves share the blame for this problem. It will take a concerted effort from both sides to create a business environment where library users benefit from new technologies earlier in the trend cycles.

Library vendors tend to take a conservative course in their development strategies. They need to be quite sure that any given trend will endure and that it offers true benefits before making large investments needed to build products around it. It’’s more of a risk to create products earlier in the trend cycle. Given that the organizations that produce software and services for libraries fall several notches below those in the broader e-commerce sector in terms of research and development capacity, library-specific products often arrive when a trend has become old news.

Though the time-to-market for new library products may be sluggish, the time in which new technology products find use in libraries approaches glacial. A small number of libraries may engage as development partners or early adopters; most take a ‘‘wait-and-see’’ approach, expecting to avoid some of the uncertainties involved with new technologies.

Budget and procurement issues constrain adoption of new products and technologies more than any other factor. Libraries simply lack the funds to acquire everything that comes along. Once a library decides it's interested in a given product or service, the timeframe for gaining administrative or budget approval and the subsequent formalities of procurement can be lengthy.

Many new technology trends have come into play recently, including new approaches to resource discovery, mobile computing, RFID, and Linked Data as well as new conceptual models such as RDA and FRBR. Although all of these have been brewing for quite a while, none have achieved broad adoption in the library arena. Each of these topics attracts lots of conversation, but we’’re pretty far from the point of anything approaching universal adoption.

Is there anything that can be done to move technology from emergence of trends into the trenches of library use more quickly? The realities of the forces that constrain the movement of technology seem unlikely to change in the short term——especially at a time when libraries face intense financial challenges. Yet I do think that there are some practical steps that can help.

None of these actions are especially revolutionary and there are probably many other obvious strategies that I've missed. I hope that that the community, vendors and libraries alike can work together to find sustainable ways to push through technology cycles more quickly.

Publication Year:2010
Type of Material:Article
LanguageEnglish
Published in: Panlibus Magazine
Issue:Summer 2010
Page(s):26-27
Publisher:Talis Information Limited
Place of Publication:Birmingham, UK
Online access:http://www.talis.com/panlibus/pdfs/Panlibus_17.pdf
Permalink: http://www.librarytechnology.org/ltg-displaytext.pl?RC=15034
Record Number:15034
Last Update:2012-12-29 14:06:47
Date Created:2010-09-03 07:04:24