Two Perspectives on Tech Planning for Small Libraries

Does the thought of creating a tech plan for your library seem overwhelming? A mysterious process? Something that you've been meaning to do, but just keep putting off? Never fear, the incredible tech planners are here to help! In August, we hosted a webinar called Technology Planning Tips for Small Libraries. Our guests for this webinar were

If you've never even considered creating a tech plan for your library, or it's been a while, you're not alone. More than a third of our webinar attendees do not have a current technology plan, and 14 percent said they were not sure if they had one or not.

A Library Director's Perspective on Tech Planning

Julie Elmore, Library DirectorJulie Elmore is the library director of the Oakland City-Columbia Township Public Library in Indiana and its only full-time employee. The library, which serves about 4,000 people, has no dedicated IT staff and a budget of about $200,000 per year.

Julie described the library's community as "economically depressed" and a place where the digital divide is real: most people only access the Internet from their phones.

Oakland City-Columbia Township Public LibraryWith a tight budget, a small staff, and an obvious need for computers, a technology plan is crucial for the Oakland City-Columbia Township Public Library. Julie actually didn't have much choice in the matter anyway; the library was required to have one by the state of Indiana.

But Julie was OK with that requirement because the plan has served as a roadmap for the library, providing direction and guidance on technology acquisitions and programs. It has also been a great way to measure the library's progress in meeting tech goals.

Here are a few of Julie's key tips for embarking on a tech plan.

  • Stick to a three-year plan: Technology is constantly changing, so you want to keep your plan current.
  • Opt for the K.I.S.S. strategy: Keep It Super Simple. Don't stress over the details, and think of it more as a loose guide than a mandate. Make sure your plan is fluid and can adapt to changing technology.
  • Take time: This isn't something you'll be able to put together in an afternoon. You'll need to take inventory of what you have, focus on key areas, and come up with the goals you'd like to achieve. Make multiple drafts and edit along the way. You might need to tweak your goals as you go.
  • Use a template: Ask your state library if it has a template, or ask other librarians if they have a template you can use by way of a listserv (such as ARSL) or Facebook group. Here is the template (automatic download) that Julie used from the Indiana State Library.

While tech plan templates may vary, Julie recommends including the following elements in your plan:

  1. Mission statement
  2. Technology inventory
  3. Goals and objectives
  4. Professional development strategy
  5. Budget
  6. Evaluation process

When it comes to taking inventory, Julie pointed out that you should include more than just computers. This could include networks, software, peripherals (such as charging stations, phone systems, or keyboards), Internet connections, your integrated library system (ILS), website, staff training, and technology-related programming.

Julie also stressed the importance of being realistic with your technology goals and objectives. 

"This is not the place for your wildest dreams when you're running a small library. This is the place to include what you really want to get done with your technology over the next three years."

A Technology Specialist's Perspective on Tech Planning

As the technology specialist at the Liberty Lake Municipal Library in Washington state, Travis Montgomery is one of three full-time staff members and the only dedicated IT person.

In Travis' opinion, creating a tech plan translates into saving money. If you create a plan for buying your technology, you'll be able to find the best quality technology for the best price. He recommends shopping around at different electronic retailers, such as Fry's Electronics and Best Buy, and donation programs like TechSoup (thanks for the shoutout!). He also suggested coordinating buying with special sales, such as Cyber Tuesday or holiday promotions.

Liberty Lake Municipal Library

But perhaps my favorite tips from Travis were on preventative maintenance: keeping the technology you already have in tiptop shape. Here are a few ways to keep your technology ticking:

  • Compressed air can help your computers' fans stay running, therefore keeping your systems cool and clean.
  • Rubber rejuvenator keeps your printers' rubber wheels clean in order to prevent paper jams.
  • Surge protectors or uninterrupted power supplies give you a window to properly shut a computer on if your power goes out.
  • Kiosk software, such as Deep Freeze, can bring a public access computer back to its factory state if somebody installs a bunch of junk software on it.
  • Software and security updates will keep your computers protected from any viruses or malware.   

Travis also discussed a few tactics for troubleshooting technology if you don't have a dedicated IT person on staff. He recommends looking for how-to videos on YouTube, exploring Microsoft's IT Academy, and using IT-related books for technology novices (such as the "…For Dummies" series of books).

We at TechSoup for Libraries also highly recommend checking out TechSoup's comprehensive list of how-tos and articles, which cover everything from networking to Internet safety.

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