Places to Learn about Technology

  • Magazines — Most technology magazines are available online in one form or another, but since a lot of these web sites are often difficult to navigate, many folks still buy or subscribe to print magazines.
    • For a general overview of technology, check out Wired and PC World (MacWorld or Linux Magazine are the Mac/Linux equivalents), but there a lot of magazines that cover the same ground.
    • Fast Company and Business 2.0 also do a good job of writing about technology for a general audience. They’re usually interested in entrepreneurial applications of technology, but some of those ideas apply to libraries as well.
  • Enterprise-level magazines — If you’re managing technology for a large library system, InformationWeek, eWeek and CIO can keep you apprised of developments in the enterprise IT realm.
  • Blogs — As mentioned previously, Meredith Farkas’ post on library blogs will introduce you to the library technology blogosphere, and the Technorati top 100 will introduce you to the wider blogosphere.
  • Web sites — If you’re looking for product reviews or in-depth, detailed news about specific technologies, some of the enterprise magazine sites mentioned previously (eWeek, CIO) can help. Also check out CNet, Slashdot and Ars technica.
  • Conferences — State, regional and national conferences are great places to learn and get inspired.
    • Computers in Libraries and Internet Librarian are entirely technology-focused.
    • The Public Library Association (PLA) and the American Library Association (ALA) vary in their coverage of technology from year to year, but they usually feature a good selection of tech programs.
    • The Library of Information Technology Association (LITA) tends to be more focused on academic libraries, but it has some sessions that might be useful to public librarians.
  • Classroom training — Classroom-based technology trainings often cost several thousand dollars for a week-long course, but for those who learn best in this environment, it’s a worthwhile investment.
    • State libraries and state library associations occasionally sponsor free or low-cost technology trainings, so keep an eye out for those.
    • Also, the OCLC regional cooperatives frequently offer online and face-to-face training on technology topics.
    • New Horizons is probably the best-known national provider of technology training, but there are thousands of local businesses that offer the same services.
    • Some prefer community college technology courses because they’re often cheaper and less exhausting than the intensive New Horizons type class. Instead of learning eight hours a day for five days straight, college adult education courses let you attend class one or two evenings a week.
  • Webinars and e-learning — Free technology Webinars (aka Webcasts) are easy to find these days. Webinars are real-time, interactive Web presentations with some mix of lecture, demonstration, Q&A and student participation. Of course, as often as not, you’ll learn about a Webinar after it takes place, in which case you can usually access an archived version with all of the original content but none of the interaction. Chris Jowaisas from the Texas State Library attends Webinars put on by tech vendors. Microsoft, Symantec, Cisco and others put on thousands each year. These Webinars usually begin with a broad discussion of a particular type of technology or a particular problem that IT folks frequently face. According to Chris, this is the informative piece. Once the presenters begin selling their own solution, he often drops off the Webinar.
  • 23 Things — About a year and a half ago, Helene Blowers (working then at the Public Libraries for Charlotte and Mecklenburg County) developed a hands-on collaborative curriculum for learning new technology, especially Web 2.0 software. It’s been wildly successful, and dozens of libraries have used this model. However, you don’t have to be part of a group. Almost all the tools that Helene highlights are free, and her exercises are easy to follow. The original 23 Things site has everything you need to get started, and a search for “23 Things” on del.icio.us will pull up related sites from other libraries.
  • Vodcasts and podcasts — If you’re more of a visual or audio-based learner, there are thousands of technology-related video and audio presentations available for free on the Web. These presentations go by various names depending on the technology being used (e.g. vodcast, podcast, video-on-demand, streaming audio, etc.), but you can view most of them in your web browser.
    • If you want software designed specifically for viewing audio and video, check out ITunes, Joost or Miro. This page has a good description of the most popular tech vodcasts.
    • If you want to search for a video on a particular topic, try Blinkx or Google Video.
    • If you want library-specific vodcasts, check out SirsiDynix Institute or the Library Gang.
  • Mailing lists and discussion boards — Neither is a cutting-edge technology anymore, but they’re consistently popular.
  • RSS feeds — This is mainly a tool that facilitates information skimming. You can scan the titles of a hundred blog posts in five minutes or so and get a good sense of what’s going on in the tech world and the library world. Feed readers are also great for targeted searching. Most of them let you search for a keyword across all of your feeds or within a particular subset of your feeds (e.g. all your feeds about Web 2.0 category or all your feeds about management). In effect you’re searching 20 or 50 or a 100 of your favorite sites and filtering out the billions of sites that you haven’t vetted.
    • Google Reader and Bloglines are popular, and if those two don’t appeal to you, there are lots of alternatives to choose from.
    • If you’ve never used RSS and have no idea what it is, we recommend RSS in Plain English from the folks at Common Craft.
  • Social search and social news — In a sense, all search engines rely on social search features. For example, Google’s PageRank search algorithm returns results based on how many other pages link to a particular site. However, other Web 2.0 companies are harnessing collective intelligence more directly to create information retrieval services that filter out irrelevant, poor-quality content.
    • For instance, del.icio.us is a social bookmarking site that lets you collect and organize your own information, but it also lets you search across everyone else’s bookmarks, seeing which sites on “RAID” or “Ubuntu basics” have been bookmarked most often.
    • Digg and reddit are social news sites that let users determine the most important tech stories in the world on any given day.
  • Wikis — Many people frequently start out at Wikipedia when researching a topic that they know little or nothing about. It’s especially good at showing how a particular technical topic relates to other subjects, and you can usually find one or two useful links at the bottom of each article. For library-related technology, try the Library Success Wiki.
  • Books — A lot of folks can’t stand technology manuals, but they’ve improved a lot in terms of design and readability.
    • For tech beginners, we’ve heard a lot of good things about Bit Literacy. Another good book is Rule the Web by Mark Freudenfelder.
    • For intermediate and advanced topics, pay close attention to Amazon reviews, and spend some time in the computer section of your local bookstore.
    • You might save some money in the long run by paying for a subscription to Safari or Books 24x7. Both are online, searchable collections of IT manuals. Your library or another one in the area may already have a subscription.
  • Geektastic — If you’re looking for inspiration, and technology is a passion of yours and not just a job requirement, there are several great online resources that provide a deeper, broader perspective.
    • The annual TED (Technology, Education, Design) Conference gives scientists, entrepreneurs and big thinkers the chance to imagine the future of science and technology, and discuss long-term trends in culture, business and the environment. The presentations are available online, and they’re consistently fascinating.
    • Fora.tv and BigThink also have lots of high-quality science and technology videos.
    • Technology Review is a magazine put out by MIT, and it provides high-level insight into emerging technologies, along with a description of the science that underpins these developments. Wired and Fast Company also includes regular articles about big-picture trends in the tech world. All of these sites will challenge you and they might get you revved up and enthused about IT, but they won’t have much impact on your day-to-day management of technology.
  • Co-workers — If you’re lucky enough to have some engaged, informed techies on your own staff, you probably already rely heavily on them for advice.
  • Other library techies — If you have the opportunity, talk to the other accidental library techies in your area and set up a technology interest group or library technology meetup. In "Stories from the Field" at the bottom of our article on Keeping Up with Technology, Janet McKenney describes a small group in southern Maine that meets four times a year to discuss library technology issues. They have five or six core members and other librarians and techies drift in and out, attending some but not all of the meetings. In other words, you don’t need a huge group in order to start your own regional library technology association. You can have formal presentations, facilitated discussions, informal conversations or a mix of all three.
  • Computer user groups and technology clubs — Get in touch with local techies outside the library field. Not every town has a computer user group, but a surprising number do. Some of these clubs have a general focus, while others concentrate on a specific platform or technology. The groups listed at the Association of Personal Computer User Groups include more hobbyists and enthusiasts, while the groups at Culminis seem to focus more on enterprise IT. Both sites include Windows-centric associations, but if you’re looking for more leads in that direction, check out User Groups: Meet and Learn with Your Peers on the Microsoft site. Linux.org and LinuxLinks both host a directory of Linux User Groups (LUGS), while the Apple site has a Macintosh User Group (MUG) database.

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