Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Keeping Libraries Current: Provide Access to Tech, Info, and People

A modern library in Tokyo, Japan
As print collections are gradually being reduced to make way for increased digital resource buying and physical equipment, libraries are looking to transform themselves into relevant and viable places to get things done.

For small academic libraries the challenge is often serving the campus community with small budgets and limited staff, yet keeping up with the community's needs by offering new and innovative technology.  Just like libraries were instrumental in giving access to computers and the Internet in the early days, we continue to look forward and work to bring the next wave of technology for patrons or students to access.

One way that libraries can stay current is by offering access to tools and technology that aid in creation and facilitate scholarly activity.  Recently, eBooks have been in the "library world" spotlight with the increased sales of tablets and eReaders combined with the emerging popularity of eTextbooks and the acceptance of many publishers to enter the digital realm.  While the eBook and the library have had a rocky start to their union, I believe over time things will work themselves out and we will have a decent model of lending eBooks from a wide array of content distributors.

Ways Libraries Can Provide Access to Technology and Stay Current

Here are a few ways that libraries can stay on the cutting edge and stay relevant in this increasingly digital world.

1. Provide Access to Creative Software

Products like Adobe's image and video editing suites don't come cheap for individuals but is affordable for libraries to provide for their patrons.  There are also Open Source alternatives like GIMP.  Libraries could consider offering upgraded printing abilities also so that students and patrons can produce professional looking flyers and posters.

2. Create a Mini Podcasting or Vodcasting Studio

Everyone can be a producer these days and it can be accomplished fairly cheap with a desktop computer and Open Source audio recording and editing software like Audacity.  All you need next is a decent video camera, a good quality microphone, and you are on your way to providing a place where students and patrons can produce digital content and projects.

3. Provide Screen Capture Software to Create ScreenCasts

Screen Capture software records your computer screen and audio/video at the same time and can be deployed easily to produce professional looking tutorials that can be accessed on YouTube or any other webpage.  The same screen capture software can also be deployed as an user interface research tool.  For example, students could use screen capture software to research how their peers use Google, shop online, popular software, or use Social Media websites. 

4. Create a MakerSpace or a HackerSpace

Increasingly the term "Hacker" is shifting from a dark mischievous internet bully to a person like Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, well...someone who makes things, not necessarily a billionaire.  A MakerSpace or HackerSpace is simply a space to meet up with other people who are interested in technology and work on problems or projects collectively.  While space, power, and equipment might be out of range for many small libraries initially, you could always start small by buying a 3D printer as explained by Bre Pettis of MakerBot in the video on this page.

5.  Expand Outreach Programs to Include Digital Content Production and Information Literacy

Today's College students have been categorized as "digital natives" or "Computer Whiz Kids" and many assume that they can do anything with technology, and some are and can!  College freshmen may indeed have many skills that their parents do not have, but I am certainly surprised by how many 18 year olds do not know how to use a scanner, insert an image on a Word doc, or evaluate information on the web.  Everyone today should be comfortable working with digital files.  Like libraries have been offering workshops for years on using Microsoft Office or doing your taxes, instruction could be also be offered on blogging, manipulating digital images, basic web design, and information literacy.  Having basic digital file skills can mean the difference of landing that dream job and are great skills to list on a resume or application.

Libraries are in a Constant State of Flux

What will libraries be like in the future?  I really do not know.  However, I will tell you that they will be places where people get things done. From my vantage point (digital services librarian) I see future libraries all about access to technology, information, and knowledgeable professionals much the way they have been for years.

*Information contained within these pages do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of Schreiner University.

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