Years ago, I worked in a library where the administration was intrigued by every new available technological advancement. There were a good number of positive things that came out of this interest, and the IT department had a significant amount of leeway in trying new things. But (and you knew there was a “but”), the agenda behind this willingness of the library’s admins was problematic. And, as I discovered in conversations with techs from other libraries, our admins were not the only ones with this agenda.
We came to call it the “directors’ pissing contest.” The reason behind frantically adopting nearly every new technology wasn’t necessarily to help patrons. It was so that library administrators could boast about what they’d implemented at their libraries.
As one might imagine, this was not a great way to decide on a new technology or service. Libraries often ended up with things that didn’t actually fit user needs, were difficult to maintain, or became obsolete very quickly. Perhaps all three.
I am relieved that this approach has lessened somewhat in the intervening years. Declining budgets and less technological innovation has certainly contributed to this decline. But I’ve since made a list I’ve come to call the “Googly-Eyed Technology Test.” The premise is, if one can’t adequately answer these questions before deciding on a new technology, one becomes much like Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster, eyeing a delicious treat. It consists of only three (3) questions:
- Why does the library need this? Is it simply cool, or to make the library look good? Which leads to question number two:
- What pain point does this technology address for patrons? How will it solve a real-life problem?
- Is this the best solution, or just the shiniest? Sometimes, it can be very easy to fall for what’s hot on the Gartner Hype Cycle. One has to understand that Gartner’s popular graphic visualization is not about the progress of the technologies, but rather the progress of the hype and attention around these technologies. What’s popular isn’t always a good fit for a particular library. Even within hot categories, there are going to be things that will work better than others.
New and shiny isn’t always useful and good. In order to keep the Googly-Eyed Monster in check, libraries need to ask these important questions.