Nearly a third of the offerings at the Public Library Association’s 2016 conference in Denver will be devoted to technology—an indicator of just how important it is for library directors to pay attention to the role of technology in today’s public libraries. But how much attention should a library director pay, and to what?

Sifting through the hype and sheer volume of new and updated technology can be intimidating. You’re always asking yourself, “Sure, it’s neat, but what impact might it have on my organization, my patrons, or my staff?” This is the subject of my latest book, with Michael P. Sauers, Emerging Technologies: A Primer for Librarians, and will be the focus of a PLA breakfast session that I’ll be presenting at as well, hosted by my publisher, Rowman & Littlefield and PW. Here’s a preview of some of the tech-related strategies we’ll be talking about:

Jump on the Obvious

Sometimes, the value of a new piece of technology leaps off the screen at you. At the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show, for example, Intel revealed details about its just-released Compute Stick, a thumb drive–sized device that turns any HDMI display (a TV or monitor) into a computer. With their minimal footprint and reasonable price point, it’s worth researching whether these could replace or augment your public computers, convert in-library displays into interactive machines, or be a part of a brand-new service. The Compute Stick isn’t powerful enough to be a staff computer, but what innovations could something so flexible allow you to experiment with?

Think About Implementation

One of the first things to consider when evaluating new technology is how it might be useful for your library and patrons. Follow that impulse and look to other libraries and your frontline staff for answers. For example, some libraries are testing whether circulating mobile Wi-Fi hot spots can help their patrons get online for work or school or allow them to try out a home connection before committing to a contract. Sure, lending hot spots requires a different lending work flow—but so did audiobooks, videos, e-books, and laptops.

Keep Your Focus Wide

Some technology may not seem immediately useful to libraries, but is often worth paying attention to because your community is interested. Consider drones: they seemed like toys, but now they’re being used commercially and are receiving increased FAA scrutiny. Will your patrons soon be asking for resources on drone regulations? Or, can such emerging tech spark new ideas for services, such as using drones to deliver materials to rural locations?

Technology Is Physical

Are you considering a renovation or a new building? As part of your planning, do a future technology sweep. What is cutting-edge now that might be commonplace in five to 10 years? In 2006, virtually no library directors included smartphones in their 10-year plans. By the end of 2007, the iPhone had changed the way we view mobile technology. Build for the collections you have now, but make sure that spaces can be adapted for future needs.


How do you stay aware of emerging technologies and trends? Talk to friends, follow a few gadget-heavy sites, and read the tech sections in popular magazines and newspapers. The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, the Atlantic, and the Economist all have good tech coverage. Browse the technology industry media sites like ArsTechnica, CNET, Engadget, Gizmodo, Slashdot, TechCrunch, and ZDNet. And, of course, there are plenty of library-focused technology and trend resources, such as ALA TechSource and the Center for the Future of Libraries.

Perhaps most importantly, involve your staff. Let staff practice with technology through bring-a-thing-style show-and-tell meetings, or even put together staff trips to local retailers. And be sure to do it all on library time, to show that professional development and staff technology proficiency are management priorities.

Related Sessions

As mentioned above, there many tech sessions to choose from at PLA—here are just a few. (Note: all rooms are in the Colorado Convention Center.)

Thursday, April 7

Tech Assistance for Cutting Edge Communities, 10:45–11:45 a.m. (Room 405–407)

Tame Your Digital Strategy, 2–3 p.m. (Room 405–407)

We Are Tech Workers: Cultivating a Library Technoculture, 4–5 p.m. (Room 401–404)

Friday, April 8

Play Your Way to an Engaged Staff, 10:45–11:45 a.m. (Room 601/603/605/607)

Building for the Future Today: Broadband Planning, 2–3 p.m. (Room 708/710/712)

Saturday, April 9

Building Digitally Inclusive Communities, 9:30–10:30 a.m. (Room 108/110/112)

Jennifer Koerber is an independent trainer and speaker on emerging technologies. She earned her M.S.L.I.S. from Simmons College and worked for the Boston Public Library for 17 years.

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