Discussion topic: disruptive technology in libraries

"Change" by F. Delventhal, June 22, 2009

“Change” by F. Delventhal, June 22, 2009

“’Disruptive technology’ is often defined as a technology that changes the way things are done, or the existing business model, or customer expectations” (Alyson Dalby). Through the last few decades we have witnessed this phenomena occurring at a rapid pace in our libraries. The introduction to computers was once seen as disruptive, but now we simply assume these are part of the library world, for our own work and for our patrons to use. Consider for a moment the library’s café. Who would have ever imagined that a library would allow food and drink among the stacks? Now it is almost foreign if a library does not offer such a service to its patrons, or at least allow patrons to bring in their own. This is another example of a disruptive technology that has become commonplace in our daily lives.

At my current institution, we have what could be considered numerous “disruptive technologies”. We offer an Innovation Lab, which houses everything from 3D printers, to soldering stations, to virtual reality equipment. We could consider this disruptive, as it does not follow with what we consider a “traditional” library would offer, but if we are honest we have to ask ourselves what constitutes the 21st century library model.

One of the most recent disruptive technology we have witnessed is the Pokémon GO craze. Libraries are not immune to visitors hunting for different characters within their buildings. Yes, we can see this as a disruption, but in a very good article from Troy Lambert, he offers a different view on how this craze could actually be good for libraries. In his words, “GO brings patrons in: the other offerings of the library inspire them to stay.” Thus, if we start to think that once we have these visitors in the library, we have the ability to make them aware of the services we offer, then perhaps we can get them to stay for reasons other than playing a game. And this is where we can make a difference.

Are disruptive technologies a fad? Do you think they are opportunities, rather than distractions for offering patrons new services? What disruptive technologies have you experienced in your library and what do you think of these? Should they be a part of what we include in our libraries of the 21st century?

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Molly Brown, ILN Content Officer

Posted in Discussion topics, General and tagged , , , .


  1. Molly nicely encapsulates these interesting and dynamic times. During my 40+ years of librarianship I’ve witnessed the disappearance of the card catalog, print indices (who would willingly want to trace citations through the print volumes of Science Citation Index, etc.), whole floors of books and bound periodicals, prohibitions on food and drink, limited hours, periodical reading rooms, case-after-case of microform storage, ad infinitum. I’m sure I’m not alone in embracing all that’s happened in the last decades of the 20th century and the first ones of this century: welcoming hitherto non-library functions into the library as a natural juxtaposition of related activities (writing center, tutoring center, IT center, media center, etc.), 24-hour availability not only online but during the long semesters in person, equipment loans, self-checkouts, vending machines to supplement the cafe, and even such minor things as free pens! Onward and upward!!

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