Can You Get Tech Advice from a Print Book?

I was scanning the ALA Store when a book caught my eye: Technology for Small and One-Person Libraries: A LITA Guide. Given how many of our TechSoup for Libraries members come from small libraries, I thought this book would be a great subject for our very first book review! Is this guide something that belongs on every rural librarian's shelves? Can you get technology tips from a printed book? Will even the tech-savviest of librarians get something out of this book? Yes, yes, … and yes!

A Quick Caveat on Books About Tech

I'm possibly stating the obvious here, but it's important to note that when you buy a book on technology, there is almost always going to be something out-of-date in it. Technology moves so fast that even if the publisher were to continuously release updated versions of the book, it still couldn't keep up.

 Technology for Small and One-Person Libraries was published in 2013, and although the authors do a great job of keeping the descriptions and names of technology general, there is some information that isn't quite current. For example, the social media chapter lists a few platforms and tools to check out, but doesn't include Tumblr, Instagram, or Pinterest, which have become quite popular among libraries.  

Novice or Advanced, We All Need a Tech Plan

Technology for Small and One-Person Libraries is written in plain language that even the least technological person can digest. The authors, Rene Erlandson and Rachel Erb, are both veterans in the library technology field and have experience working in small and rural libraries.

Depending on your skill level or interest, you'll probably find yourself skipping to particular chapters in the book. I recommend, however, that everybody, no matter what your skill level is, read the first chapter on technology basics. It contains helpful information such as the steps to creating a library technology plan. It also provides a worksheet to help you monitor your success in different technology areas. 

Brushing Up on Hardware and Networking Infrastructure

Library computers

Chapters 2 and 3 cover the ins and outs of library hardware and networking, respectively. The hardware section is very basic, explaining everything from e-readers to netbooks (ahem, about that outdated information … ) to printers. The networking chapter is a bit more advanced, but again, the authors do a good job of keeping the language and explanations simple. There's a brief section on cloud computing as well.  

The hardware chapter has an example of an IT assessment worksheet, which can be adapted for your library and incorporated into your technology planning.

E-Resources: Selection, Evaluation, Licensing, and More

The entirety of part 3 is dedicated to e-resources, an important part of libraries of all sizes. Chapter 5 gives a good overview of the different kinds of electronic resources out there as well as a list of resources on electronic collection development. The authors provide a handy list of things to look for when evaluating e-resources for your library's collection.

Spoiler alert: a lot of the steps involved in collection development for electronic resources are the same as development and evaluation of printed resources.  I was also pleased to see a comprehensive list of open access e-resources, as that is a hot topic right now in the library world. These e-resources often have no subscription fees and unlimited access, making them ideal for small libraries. The book provides a list of directories for open access journals.

Tips for Taking Your Library Online

Part 3 seems to be a sort of mishmash of the technologies and services involved with your library's virtual presence. Out of all of the chapters, chapters 7 (web page development) and 8 (social media and social networking) run the biggest risk of being out-of-date. But despite the missing social networks that I pointed out earlier, both chapters provide information that's still relevant today.

The chapter on web pages covers best practices, information on website usability, and a section on free and low-cost web hosting platforms with up-to-date information. I was glad to see a section dedicated to mobile optimization as well. This section could benefit from more screenshots of "good examples" of library websites, however. 

The most useful nugget I found in chapter 8 was the information about creating a social media policy. This is fairly new territory for some libraries, and I thought the book did a good job of explaining why libraries need a social media policy (to create rules of conduct for your library-affiliated accounts). It even provided a policy template!

Part 3 also touches on some more "cutting edge" technologies, like open-source applications and digitizing collections. If your library is starting to explore either, you'll want to bookmark these chapters. The open-source (OS) section gives the pros and cons of OS software and gives a few library-related examples. The chapter on digital collections has tips on making decisions on what collections to digitize and gives a good overview of how to distribute your collections.   

Bottom Line

The final chapter is appropriately named "Finding Help and Keeping Up with Changing Technology in Libraries." I say appropriate because once I got toward the end of the book, I kept thinking, "OK, what's next?" The thing about technology is that once you learn the basics of it, you want to keep learning. The authors provide a list of websites, organizations, and blogs to follow for keeping up with the latest technology news and trends — in both the library world and outside of it.

Have you read this LITA guide? How do you keep up with library technology? Let us know what your favorite tech resources are in the comments.