Greetings, librarians and TechSoup readers! My name is Jim Boyd, and I’m a midwestern librarian who, like you, has been in the tech trenches for the last couple years, watching as more and more of our users come into our libraries with more and more gadgets, computer questions and technological needs. I recently had the chance to speak to some of you about that very topic at the 2011 Library Technology Conference in St. Paul, Minnesota, in March. I was hosting a presentation called, “When Did I Become Tech Support?: Shepherd in the Rural Digital Wilderness”.
Many of you out there, I’m sure, are quite familiar with the Digital Wilderness, thank you very much. You see it every day: from the library patron of advancing age trying to get used to downloading eBooks on your library’s website, to the teenage girls and boys bringing in an increasingly diverse cavalcade of gadgets and devices into your library. And regardless of how long you’ve been a librarian, or how tech savvy you may be, some of the questions and situations you run into can make your head spin. To say nothing of the fact that every year, more and more of the tasks that you do are found out there “in the cloud”, and you’re just trying to keep up.
Well take heart—we’re all there. We’re all watching things change with bated breath, as change brings a touch of chaos and uncertainty into our carefully cataloged and organized lives. Scary? Certainly. But something we can’t handle? Absolutely not. As I mentioned in my presentation, librarians and libraries have faced major change before—and like before, we will adapt and meet all the challenges with the grace and aplomb we are known for.
The libraries in which I have worked over the last few years have been big and small, located in large metropolitan areas and small rural communities. But the challenges we’ve faced are universal, and looming. Some of the issues, such as HarperCollins’ recent decision to impose a 26-circulation limit on eBook licenses to libraries, are right now. It can seem overwhelming that, as we’re dealing with budget cuts, the increased scrutiny of the public’s (and those who hold our purse strings!) attention to the seeming quaintness of libraries in the days of Google, we also have to face difficulties from publishers who, let’s face it, have their own challenges to face from eBooks.
That’s why it’s so good to have organizations out there to help us, such as TechSoup and many others, to make things easier. Certainly we all know how helpful it is to have organizations out there, local, national, and international to take some of that burden away. But there’s a lot we can do as librarians ourselves. In fact, I’d argue that librarians need to take a greater leadership role in our communities with regard to technology. The public, as you may have noticed, is coming around to realizing the role that libraries play in their technological lives. In the libraries where I’ve worked, I’ve seen an increasing number of library users come to see my colleagues and myself as technology experts—intelligent, educated people able to provide guidance in a very confusing world of information and misinformation, computer jargon, and not a lot of straight talk. We librarians tend to be humble, but this is a place where we should absolutely not be humble. Where else can the public find unbiased technology information from a real human being who isn’t out to sell them something?
If you do not consider yourself tech savvy, this can be a daunting prospect, to say the least. I would suggest, however, that educating yourself is not as difficult as you might think if you take it one step at a time. TechSoup has many resources, of course. If you are a public librarian, no doubt your state libraries offer continuing education opportunities that break down complicated tech issues in group sessions with your peers. My home state, Iowa, has a wonderful State Library that does just that, on a regular basis.
In my next post, I hope to share some specific resources with you that can help, and also delve more deeply into day-to-day technology situations you may encounter in your library, and how you can respond in ways that help your patrons, while keeping your library safe from potentially sticky liability issues that can crop up when we give computer and technology advice.
Until then, I would like to conclude by saying this: several hundred years ago, libraries also faced a critical challenge from a new piece of technology. This was a handheld device called, "the book." I think we weathered that challenge pretty well, wouldn’t you?
Jim Boyd, Librarian