What are Emerging Technologies?

I attended an Emerging Technologies interest group yesterday co-facilitated by my new friend Bohyun Kim. It gave people a chance to talk about things that they had been using or implementing such as open source solutions, ebook readers, Google Wave, and mobile technologies. But what interested me more were some of the bigger questions the interest group was asking, such as “what do we mean when we say ‘emerging technologies,’” and “what is the role of an Emerging Technologies librarian?”

Since “Emerging Technologies librarian” is my job title, I of course have an opinion about such things. To me the phrase “emerging technologies,” in the context of libraries does not necessarily refer to the very bleeding edge stuff. Examples of bleeding edge include things like augmented reality, location based services, or other technologies mentioned in the Horizon Report. It can also refer to things that have been around for a while, but are used in new and creative ways in libraries. An example of this is IM reference. IM was around for a while before libraries started using it to help their patrons. Emerging technologies in the context of libraries, can be any tool that is being used in a novel way to serve your users.

This brings me to the role of an Emerging Technologies librarian (ETL). First, it is simply a title. Many librarians are doing amazing things with technology, but you’d have no idea from their title. The words are not that important. But the actual role of an ETL involves innovation and service. An ETL stays abreast of trends in technology and implements new and existing tools in order to better serve their patrons.

The most important thing for ETLs or anyone to keep in mind when implementing technology are the users, who they are, and what their needs are. Bleeding edge stuff might not work for your users because they are still getting used to the “old” stuff. Mobile apps might be really cool and useful, but how many of your patrons actually own smart phones to run them? Maybe a lot…maybe not. Twitter was really hot last year, but if your patrons aren’t on it (ours are) what is the point? It’s good to come up with inventive ways to use technology to promote the library and deliver library services, but you also can’t force things. ETL’s and anyone interested in emerging technologies should be thoughtful in their implementation of technology, while constantly asking, “how does this benefit the library and our patrons?”

What are your thoughts? Join the conversation or present your thoughts at ALA Annual in DC.


How to Fix Reference

At the ACRL-NEC conference I attended recently there was a fair amount of talk about decreasing reference usage. I suppose I have heard rumblings about this, but I didn’t realize how serious a problem in many places. At Champlain College where I work, our reference usage stats are increasing, and I think some of the things we are doing could help other libraries as well.

First, it helps that we get to see students almost every semester through our revolutionary information literacy program spearheaded by Sarah Cohen. Students get used to seeing a librarian and realize that we can help them. Instruction is very closely tied to reference. Re-evaluate what and how much you are doing in the classroom. Don’t just tell students there are databases available to them. Tell them WHY Google is not always the best place to get information. Make the case for libraries.

Second, professors give assignments that require library resources or that students must talk to a librarian. I think this one would be the most beneficial for anyone in increasing their reference usage. Forcing students to use the library is a great way to help them try it out and see how beneficial using the library can be. I constantly see students amazed at how useful the library is after they get over the idea that “it’s all on Google.” One student even found that using the library was quicker than searching online because they didn’t have to wade through all the “useless websites.” So, talk to your professors. Ask them to build the library into their assignments. They’ll be rewarded with better student work and you’ll be rewarded with a busy reference desk. I know we are.

Finally, we record reference statistics differently from other libriaries I have worked at. Instead of doing the tally method we are usingĀ Zoho Creator to easily create a form to record every reference encounter. This form collects all the data and you can export it easily into an Excel spreadsheet. This makes data collection simple, but it also allows you to see what stories your numbers are telling.


I made up a graph With the help of my good bud Chris Campion I made up a a graph in Excel using our data and we can see that a good percentage of our questions are coming through chat. You can also look at other things like “when are the bulk of your questions coming in?” Are you getting a lot of questions later at night? Perhaps you might want to discuss changing your reference hours to support this trend in the data.

These are just a few ideas, but they seem to be working for us. What’s working at your library, or what isn’t working?