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Libraries, stop asking “how”

Recently, I gave a presentation on 2024 technology trends. I always carefully preface this type of session with a disclaimer: I do, in fact, cover trends in technology, and not applications that could (yet) be implemented in libraries. The webinar description even refers specifically to trends in technology, not trends in libraries or especially to technology that libraries can necessarily use right now. Over time, I’ve learned to be more specific about this, as evaluations have provided me with some unfortunate insights about managing attendee expectations. I’ve even blogged about how emerging technology doesn’t happen in libraries and why that is the case.

Despite all of this, here’s a sample of some of the comments:

  • “I would have liked more discussion on how these can be applied to libraries, now or in the future. I felt I was learning about trends, which is always interested to me, but I couldn’t say that I came away with knowledge that would help me at work.”
  • “want more of an idea how this tech will fit into the average library”
  • “Since we are library employees, maybe more research presented on how this will be utilitzed by libraries.”
  • “Other than the example provided, perhaps go deeper into the topic of how it will impact, affect, or strengthen library services.”

Honestly, I get it. We want all continuing education to be directly applicable. Except there’s a far, far larger problem here.

Not one comment has ever asked anything akin to “Why do we need [INSERT TREND HERE] in libraries?”

Not one. Not ever.

This is very much a case of a hammer looking for a nail. Some attendees, in the webinar chats, will muse on possible applications during the discussion. I’ve been giving this type of session for years, yet no one has yet asked anything like “Do we really need robots in libraries?” The discussion and comments are always along the lines of “How can we use robots in libraries?”

See the difference? No one proposes a problem that any of these technology trends might solve for them. They seem to be mostly interested in how to incorporate a trend, not as a solution to an existing problem, but as a way to simply have the technology. (I strongly recommend reading The Googly-Eyed Technology Test.)

Even if a library could go out and buy an inexpensive robot tomorow, why would it? What problem has been nagging so much that the robot is finally the solution it’s been waiting for? What’s the business case for this? How can it’s existence be economically justified?

I’m still working on how to make this clear to library attendees when I give presentations like this. I’m open to thoughts about how to make this concept more accessible in order to better manage expectations. Any thoughts?






There are 2 comments

  1. This is a wonderful thing to bring up! I myself have asked the HOW and not the WHY far too often. I think we are far too quick to jump on the bandwagon without actually thinking if we need to.

    I think what this looks like in reality is different for every library. For instance, my library keeps declining “bot” chat services. We are known for our person-centered customer service and our population is small enough our librarians can handle all chat requests. A bot would be against our brand and would damage our reputation. So, sure, we know the HOW this could be applied in our library but the WHY means we don’t need to adopt this tech.

  2. I don’t have any insights on your question, I’m just glad I’m not the only “but why would we do that?” person, haha. The recent vendor push to shove LLM tools into every nook and cranny is driving me bananas.

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