“What’s your vision for the library of 2027?” “The technology will finally work
right.” (Audience participation moment at NCLA keynote address.)
So with the state library association holding its biennial conference more or less in our back yard, I figured I should check it out (and, ahem, join NCLA). It seemed that half of ZSR was there, and a lot of them have already posted reports. I was able to get updates on some good instruction and outreach programs, including our own Meghan and Hu talking free-range librarianship and tools for active learning in online instruction (“Why yes, I am familiar with padlet.com – I just learned about it in Meghan and Hu’s session!”). I had to pass up Tim P. and Susan’s session on library master plans to get to a great session on metadata migration (mostly from one online repository to another, but some good advice for anyone considering a new ILS also. BTW, does contentDM still exist for any reason other than for users to revile and excoriate?). Another good session on large-ish scale usability feedback through Qualtrics surveys and A/B testing; and a great session on the planning process in and around the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center.
But throughout the conference I was aware of a recurring anti-technology sentiment among attendees. Not just our common fondness for “real” books (no one seems to miss print journals, though), but a not-quite-definable sense that technology is an untrustworthy Bad Guy in a lot of library problems. As illustrated in the exchange above, this bubbles up in a lot of ha-ha-only-serious type jokes.
This is not [just] a matter of the technology-, budget-, and innovation-haves vs. have-nots. This is a long-standing problem with good tech hobbled by dumb tech implementation, policies, and priorities. Your laptop must have such a stupidly short screensaver timeout that you cannot discuss a slide during a presentation without your screen locking. Or: No, you do not have permission to install software or even browser extensions on your library-issued laptop. Because security. Or: Here’s a thousand-dollar laptop. Need a couple of $12 adapters to hook it up to a projector? You’re on your own. Because budget.
I worry that librarians (possibly even at ZSR) are suffering from tech fatigue: ground down by these niggling problems, and by changes dictated from above, they start to resent and mistrust the technology they interact with on a daily basis. They want it to stop, hold still for a while, let them catch up and take a breath, but it just won’t.
On top of this, the rocket-fast pace of technological change seems to be in overdrive these days. Brave the Black Friday crowds this year and you can buy an almost Star Trek-quality talking computer for less than Star Trek on DVD. [Seriously, the most fascinating things about Alexa and the Google Assistant are what they cannot do at this point.] If it hasn’t happened already, you or a friend will soon have a phone that not only looks at you (constantly) and recognizes you, but can tell if you’re happy, sad, angry, or tired. You can buy ear buds that—kinda sorta—let you talk with someone who only speaks Mandarin, when you only speak English (or any other pair of 40 languages from Afrikaans to Vietnamese). Yes, Google will sell you a babel fish. This doesn’t all work perfectly, and it isn’t without its downsides, but it’s all real-world tech available today, it’s pretty amazing, and it’s all so exhausting.
Not enough change for you? How about a work computing environment that has rapidly gone from Windows 7 to Windows 8 to Windows 10 to a Windows/Mac blend? How about all your USB devices that you suddenly couldn’t plug in this summer? How about the whole two-step verification brouhaha?
This tech fatigue is a serious problem for organizations that want to be leaders on topics like information literacy, digital privacy, and user experience. It’s also a serious problem in an organization that is preparing to make a generational change to its mission critical, day in and day out technology platform. [Note: that’s us.]
I’ve been dragging my feet on posting this because a simple conference report turned into a rant, and then I couldn’t figure out any positive conclusion. Where do we have too much change happening too fast? What do we need to help with that?