Disruptive technology: A good thing for our libraries?

"Distruption" by Ron Mader, December 31, 2014

“Distruption” by Ron Mader, December 31, 2014

As Michelle Kraft (otherwise known as the Krafty Librarian) states in her blog post on Emerging Technologies & Evolving Library, “technology is disruptive. That doesn’t mean it is bad or good, it just changes everything we do. It could change things for the good or the bad”. As librarians, we are faced, on a daily basis, with rapidly changing technology and the ways in which our patrons access and use information. Thus, we need to look at disruptive technologies as opportunities. Instead of trying to ignore the changes occurring around us, and in our profession, we need to embrace these technologies because they provide us the opportunity to shape our own destinies. Ms. Kraft states, “They allow us to take our services and resources and put them together in different ways to adapt to change”.

Of course, depending on your library, disruptive technologies could be minor or major issues. But libraries are ripe for disruption – whether it be from technology, the services we provide, or how we convey the information we have to our patrons. We have become accustomed to certain behaviors as librarians, and use certain language (often taken from our years in library school), but in many cases these practices are no longer useful. In the library of the 21st century, why should we expect our users to know what the catalog or a database is – could we not use more user friendly language (the natural language of our patrons), such as Find Books or Find Articles? Could this not improve their searches and get them to the sources they need more efficiently?

In an informative presentation from Ken Chad, he states that “long established customs may not be what we need now as our society changes with technology. In order to evolve we need to look at and question [if] our long established services … are really needed or helping us go forward. If not, why are we still doing them?” As a User Experience Librarian I spend my days looking at what we do, how we do it, and how it is received. I ask the students and faculty I work with how we can improve what we do to make finding our resources seamless. The role of many libraries in the United States is changing – whether they be academic, public, school or special libraries. We are no longer warehouses for books, but rather we offer a myriad of services and outreach activities that were not available and/or even offered a decade ago.

Mike Schoultz has written an interesting article on 10 Ways Digital Disruption Can Yield the Library of the Future, in which he states that “libraries are no longer just places to check out a book or to do homework; they can be meeting places, media centers, digital repositories, and much more”. With this in mind, we need to think of how we can utilize our spaces to make our libraries more than a places where students come to study or print out papers. We need to start envisioning ways in which we can create spaces that respond to our community’s needs – which may include meeting areas, creative technology spaces, writing centers, and areas where our patrons can simply relax and have casual conversations with their peers, faculty or others.

The academic library I am a part of has more disruptive technology that any of my former libraries – I have previously posted about our Innovation Lab, which contains numerous 3D printers, soldering stations and virtual reality equipment; open areas for students to relax or get a beverage from our café; and numerous events for the stressful part of the academic year, such as bringing therapy dogs in for a day during mid-terms and finals. When I first began my career as a librarian, these things did not happen in academic libraries – but we were on the cusp of the internet explosion, and since that time we have had to change. Change is hard, but it is also transformative.

In essence, I would argue that disruption can be positive. Patrons like new disruptive products and services and as librarians, if wish to keep our institutions, as well as our own skills continually improving, we need to embrace this. Not all new ideas and services will work – but failure teaches us how to get better. And isn’t that what we all really want for our patrons? A library that works for them, rather than what we, as librarians, have become used to? Change isn’t easy – it isn’t always comfortable. Yet, it is necessary to keep ourselves vital, vibrant, and ready for whatever challenge lies ahead for our own institutions and our profession, as a whole.

Every library is different – how will your library change and adapt to the 21st century patron? Do you find that disruptive technology is positive for our profession? Please share your comments via our FacebookTwitter or our LinkedIn pages.

Molly Brown, ILN Content Officer

Posted in Discussion topics, Round 2016B and tagged , , .

2 Comments

  1. Great post! Thanks Molly. Esp this part… “…disruption can be positive. Patrons like new disruptive products and services and as librarians, if wish to keep our institutions, as well as our own skills continually improving, we need to embrace this. Not all new ideas and services will work – but failure teaches us how to get better.”
    Indeed!

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