Emerging Technology is in the Eye of the Beholder

One of the dangers of having “Emerging Technologies Librarian” as your job title is that as soon as you introduce yourself as such in non-library circles, someone inevitably asks you something like, “So, what’s the latest and newest technology in libraries?” as if there is one simple answer to that question. I was recently asked that question by the head of IT at my institution, and I had this panicked moment where I felt immense pressure to come up with a really good, impressive answer. I thought about maker spaces, 3D printers, digital repositories, data mining, RDA, the semantic web, web-scale discovery, and all the custom apps and programs that brilliant librarians across the world are working on to make library collections and services easier to find, access, and use. And then I thought about the “technology” questions I answer on a daily basis at my institution, such as what an Internet browser is; how to download a PDF and save it; how to print; how to connect to the wireless network; how to access and use an e-book; and how to navigate the various library resources to find books, articles, and other resources for coursework.

In the end, because we are in the process of migrating systems and implementing our first “web-scale discovery” system, I told our IT director about web-scale discovery and said that indexing and search algorithms in these proprietary systems were the happening areas in our corner of libraryland at the moment. Instead of meeting with glazed-over eyes, this actually led to an interesting conversation about how these systems are different from Google and the various publishing and aggregator’s licenses libraries have to navigate to get to full-text content.

Walking away from the conversation, though, I continued to think about the question of emerging technologies. Different libraries have vastly different technology landscapes. Our population is relatively non-savvy when it comes to technology. We have a lot of older students and students coming from backgrounds where they haven’t had reliable access to computers, the Internet or smart phones. They aren’t on Facebook or Twitter, much less Pinterest or Instagram. This makes our “emerging technologies” specific to our population – and very different from the popular perceptions of the latest and greatest technology. I suspect this is true of a lot of two-year schools.

So, I’m interested to know – what are your institution’s “emerging technologies”?

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3 thoughts on “Emerging Technology is in the Eye of the Beholder

  1. What an interesting post. In my previous job that I left last year, I was “Reference Technology Coordinator.” At one point I was asked if I wanted to be called Emerging Technologies Librarian instead. (In fact, when I left, they gave that title to my replacement.) But I chose to skip it. The job title seemed to mean something different everywhere it was used. And, I don’t like the connotation of “hey, you always have to focus on what’s new, then hand it off to the Systems Librarian when it’s old hat.” I do enjoy exploring and assessing new tech, but what was I doing a lot of the time? Implementing and improving chat reference — old technology by any measure. Making subtle changes to improve website usability. Establishing and maintaining LibGuides, online stats tracking, etc. They were emerging technologies for us, however long they’d been around the wider world. And this was at a well-funded four year institution! I’m glad I didn’t take on the Emerging Technologies job title. I think it implies an ongoing singular focus that isn’t realistic. (I’ll be the the first to say, though, that there are people who take that title and run with it and do amazing stuff, so there’s that…) 🙂

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    • My position has been very similar; I’m labelled an Emerging Technologies Librarian but when I arrived, I spent most of my time setting up old-hat library tech. An ERM database, proxy server, link resolver, chat reference, reference statistics tracking, a CMS for the website. At some point not too long ago these were emerging but it’s hard to see them that way now. And it’s conflicting to be in a position where it sounds like I’m supposed to be on the cutting edge when most of the time that’s not where the institution’s needs are.
      Great post. To answer the original question: our emerging tech is personal devices right now, be they tablets, smartphones, or laptops. We’ve been seeing an increasing number of them but recently a new wireless network and push to move away from computer labs have really brought them into focus. I’m trying to find ways to get devices into everyone’s hands and make sure our existing systems work well on them. I, too, spend much of my time answering basic questions like how to print or use a flash drive. It’s a challenge trying to innovate and use technology efficiently without leaving students behind.

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  2. I hear you! My position and the title were new when I came into them, and I was just so happy to have a full-time librarian job that I didn’t think too much about how the title fit. I really like my job and what it entails, but what I actually do doesn’t always match people’s expectations set up by the title (or, like you say, even what other people with the same title do).

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