Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Technological fads, fridges and hippie librarianship

Every morning, each member of my family picks a card from the "hippie box". The rainbow cards were bought in Byron Bay and have an "Om" symbol on one side. On the other is a couple of words to think about during the day. For example, today's card for me was"Fulfillment"

They do nothing at all to predict the future, but do provide a focus and promote mindfulness during the day. If I am looking for "fulfilment" during my day, I will view the same events differently to a day where my card is "believe".

Fortune teller?

Here in libraryland, we're all terrified of hitching our wagons to the wrong star. We want to predict the future. What if blogs aren't useful tools that make lives easier and give us a connection to our users? What if they are as flash-in-the-pan as hula hoops or yoyos? What if wikis and podcasts just provide a chance for us bells-and-whistles-loving librarians to play, but annoy our users?

When I bought a fridge last year, I read consumer reports in Choice, talked to family and friends and checked out several appliance shops. No impulse buying for me! But, with some of these new technologies, it feels like the next Next Big Thing comes steamrolling towards us at such a pace, we have no time to evaluate and discuss. We need to make snap decisions whether this is a turkey or will give us wings of eagles. If we don't install platform x, then we won't be able to use application y, and - even worse - play, play, play with groovy application z.

So...what to do?

Focus group ?

I like the approach of the librarians at Carleton College, described in the Pegasus Librarian's blog. They sifted through the oodles of trends/ developments/technologies and changes and came up with a "watchlist" of 38 trends. They range from "RFID" to "collection and management of websites". Staff members now watch a couple of trends each and post to a blog.

Did they get it right? Are these the definitive trends they should be watching? Well... does it actually matter whether they got it right or wrong? They have thought carefully about the future. Even if they missed a couple of trends or gave prominence to something that turns out to be inconsequential, they have still examined a much larger range of issues than those that made the list. If some issues become more important later, then probably the Carleton librarians will spot this before librarians who haven't been through this process.

They have put a lot more thought into their list than I do each day when I pick my "hippie card" , but the effect is similar. They have a "filter" to look at each day with. I would think they would feel more confident and in control than staff where they are stymied by the need to totally road test everything before implementing it.

By the way, there is a way to fasttrack the evaluation of trends. The biblioblogosphere is invaluable for sharing what works and what doesn' a pace that approaches that of the newtech steamroller. Keeping up to date with library blogs involves viewing the same set of facts - like "Where the hell do we go now?" - through an absolute multiplicity of filters.

Every day I open my aggregator, never knowing what card will turn up to consider that day. Hooray for library blogs and the generous folk who share what is happening in their corner of libraryland!

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