What was the buzz in technology at this year's ALA
Conference? Twitter, Photosynth, OpenSource, and anxiety about the
consolidation and merging of automation vendors were just a few of
the topics heard. The annual Top Technology Trends forum, presented
by LITA, focused as much on the needs of the library user as it did
on new technology. The phrase "usability studies," referring to customer
response to product, was a thread that ran through every session. Speakers
agreed that the technology trends this year have shifted to the quality of
the user experience and away from the hardware that has been prominent
in past years. MySpace, Facebook and Second Life are some of the biggest
socail networking sites right now. Statistics show that it is not only teenagers
who are participating. As more and more social networking tools are
developed, libraries must incorporate the content and products that are being
by all ages of people to create social networks. It's not just about
the use of technology by librarians; the focus on development is geared
to the end user and their reaction to product and services presented
to them through library interfaces and technology.
The concept of the extensible catalog is becoming
more important. The trend is towards making connections between
the library's catalog and website, blogs and other social environments
in order to increase the exposure of catalog resources in multiple locations.
At least one speaker believes we are seeing the demise of the traditional
library catalog which may be replaced by new tools that combine
access to the catalog and other resources as well as organizational information
in a unified portal. Library automation is in a period of marketplace
uncertainty with the ascendance of several "disruptive
influences" such as open source online catalogs and WorldCat Local.
WorldCat Local, the pilot web catalog interface project that LTLS is coordinating
in Illinois, was also mentioned in many sessions as a real alternative
to the current OPAC products offered by automation vendors. WorldCat Local's
approach is to include many types of library resources in one search box
(bibliographic records, electronic resources, local databases, etc.). It
was gratifying (to those of us from LTLS and Illinois) to hear the 'buzz'
about this project, scheduled for beta release in August for the Illinois
libraries participating in this project.
A panel of ILS vendors (Innovative, Talus, ExLibris, SirsiDynix,
Aquabrowser, OCLC, TLC) talked about incorporating open source software
into their product line. Each has a specific evaluation process they
use to review and approve additions of open source functionality.
Primary considerations include the cost, maturity of the product,
whether there is an active user community committed to ongoing development
of the product, and development of documentation. ILS vendors believe
there will be a blending of open source and ILS software code to deliver
increased product. RFID continues to be a much-discussed area. International
experts predict that book publishers will begin using RFID technology
in new publications within the next few years (replacing UPC barcodes).
Two speakers disagreed on the question of whether RFID is a significant
privacy concern. Arguing that it is not a concern, one speaker noted that
RFID tags on materials do not carry any information linking them to the
borrower. Another speaker, however, argued that if the patron card carries
an RFID tag also, a scanner could capture the patron card if it was in
proximity to the items charged and this could link the information to the
One common theme is that librarians need to keep
aware of the new technologies and social networking applications
being developed. We need to grasp their potential to help do the
things we do. We need to decide what they mean to our core work and incorporate
them to do the things we do in libraries. The hot new social networking
applications are fundamentally user-focused. They encourage user
interaction and content creation. As one speaker said, "'Discovery'
has left the building." With new powerful search engines and finding
tools, we no longer can rely on our catalog as the only way to discover
resources. We need to keep our focus on ways to use the new tools
to engage and involve the user.