|I am certain that when
CIL's editors picked this month's theme, Home-Grown Technology Solutions,
they intended that this issue would inspire and encourage librarians everywhere
to undertake their own projects. While the issue may have its intended
effect for many, I am sure there are others who will become depressed while
reading these marvelous success stories, believing that there is no possibility
that they could ever have enough vision, enough technical expertise, enough
time, and, yes, even enough money to attempt, let alone succeed, in developing
an innovative, totally home-grown solution that would merit inclusion in
a technical magazine.
A technology project doesn't
have to be large in scope, nor does it have to chart unexplored territory,
in order to be successful. I believe that a successful technology project
is one that meets the unique needs of a specific library with its own particular
population of users. When technology was first making its way into the
library, employees and users often feared automation projects, believing
that the new technology would be a great leveler, limiting services to
only those that were routine and could easily be automated. In the early
days this may have been true, and these first-generation systems seemed
to demonstrate that a "one size fits all" solution could perhaps be more
accurately characterized as "one size fits some." Information technology
has grown more sophisticated, however, and librarians and patrons have
grown more demanding, insisting that technology solutions have the flexibility
to meet their libraries' unique needs. This is the promise of technology,
and new applications are coming closer to achieving the ideal of providing
"unlimited sizes to fit all."
This ideal still hasn't
been achieved, however, in most current library technology applications,
so many of us must turn to home-grown solutions to meet the needs of our
users. Sometimes these projects are large and stunningly innovative, while
others are smaller, focused on a particular gap in service. Both large
and small projects can do a spectacular job of improving services—as long
as they are the right solutions for the individual library and its users.
Since many of you may still be feeling overwhelmed by all the enthusiasm
for grand innovation, we'll look at some Web sites that point you to home-grown
solutions—both large and small—that may help you find realistic ideas.
Innovation in the Library
When I was beginning my
research for this column, I was astounded to find that there was a site
that was tailor-made for this topic. The site is named, most appropriately,
Innovative Internet Applications in Libraries, and offers links to the
Web sites for projects that vary both in scope and design. The projects
are divided into categories including Ages & Stages for those designed
for special segments of the service population, Books and Reading Lists
for Web-based reader's advisory services, Catalogs and Directories for
examples of different formats for the old-fashioned library catalog, and
Local Databases for local information projects. The "My Library" Personalized
Interfaces section of links stresses customization, while providing electronic
access to unique materials is the focus of the Special Collection &
Online Exhibits section. Projects that provide online counterparts of familiar
library services such as library instruction, guided tours, reference desk
services, and well-known forms (such as those for interlibrary loan) are
listed in the Tutorials/Guides, Virtual Tours, Virtual Reference Desks,
and Web Forms sections. There are also links to siteshelpful to librarians
who are planning technology projects in the Site News & Evaluation
and the Miscellaneous Helpful Sites for Cybrarians sections.
The authors of this site
urge librarians to explore the various project sites, especially because
some of them include narrative descriptions of the projects that are very
helpful. My library has been making determined efforts to provide new services
to teens, so I was very interested in the teen-related projects of other
libraries, and I spent time examining each of those aimed at this population.
I also enjoyed the virtual tours of many libraries. Particularly impressive
was that of the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, with its
use of QuickTime VR to provide panoramic views of its lovely botanical
gardens. It might be reaching a bit to say that it is the next-best thing
to being there, but seeing these beautiful gardens in this format has caused
me to put this library on my "must visit" list for the next time I travel
to the West Coast.
Best Practices in Canada
The Internet makes it easier
for librarians to learn about exciting innovations in other countries.
Canada has documented some of its library technology projects on a Web
site titled "Best Practices" 2001—Innovative Internet Use in Canadian Public
Libraries. The projects are divided into the following categories: community
partnerships, supporting local economic development, electronic service
delivery, and content creation. I was particularly intrigued by the proposed
"Bookboat" complex of the Prince Rupert Public Library.
The Bookboat is not solely
a technology project, but it would be just about impossible to design a
library these days without information technology as an integral component
of the plan. The project leaders are making use of the Web while Bookboat
is in the planning stage in order to involve potential users in the design.
Their vision is explained on the Web site, and interested parties are invited
to submit their questions and observations through an electronic feedback
form. Responses to comments from the public are included on the site. As
I said earlier, I find this project intriguing and I plan to visit the
Bookboat Web site from time to time to check on its progress.
Innovators Win Awards
Another way to learn about
interesting projects is to visit library awards sites on the Web. LIANZA,
the Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa, offers
the 3M Award for Innovation in Libraries. This year's finalists and the
winning entry are described in a press release available on the LIANZA
site. It also had links to two of the three finalists, but, unfortunately,
there was no link to the winning project. One of the projects, by the Manukau
Institute of Technology Library, titled Get Ready Go, was a PowerPoint
comic strip introduction to using library resources. Not a large project,
certainly, but easily within the reach of many librarians looking for a
new way to connect with reluctant users.
Consult with Your Library
Automation System Vendor
Since most librarians lack
the expertise to write their own automation systems but still know exactly
what they want from a system, many have worked with their vendors to customize
their automated systems to meet their individual libraries' needs. A good
way to learn about these projects is to visit your library system vendor's
Web site. It will often highlight innovative projects. The SIRSI Corp.'s
Web site, for example, has a customer spotlight feature that highlights
special achievements. Many vendors also sponsor electronic discussion lists
for their customers, and customization questions and solutions are a frequent
topic for discussion. Sometimes a small tweak to a system can make all
the difference in the world to users, and these discussion lists can help
you tweak successfully.
Is Linux Right for You?
I am sure that there are
many technology enthusiasts who enjoy the challenge of a large project.
While these ambitious types may not always have the opportunity to "go
where no librarian has gone before," they would at least like to go where
few librarians have gone before. A relatively new course in library automation
is the use of Linux. Eric Sisler, of the Westminster Library, has developed
a Web site titled Eric's Linux Information based on his experience implementing
Linux in his library.
Another site for librarians
interested in using this platform is the linux.in.libraries site. Linux-in-libraries
is an electronic mailing list that covers its use in academic, public,
and special libraries. Archives of this recently organized list are maintained
on the Web site, as are the archives of the earlier mailing list, Linux4lib.
A list of resources is also available, and the list owners encourage participants
to send in any resources they find useful so they can be included on the
The Library of the Future
Planning a successful project
involves looking ahead to possible new uses of information technology in
the library. Research related to Internet resources and digital projects
is featured on a special page on the Internet Library for Librarians site.
The projects are described as "significant and special," so they could
be characterized in many cases as broad-based research initiatives rather
than specific projects. But the research results in many of these undertakings,
such as the Cooperative Online Resource Catalog (CORC) from OCLC, which
explores the cooperative creation and sharing of metadata, will have important
implications for library technology in the not-too-distant future. Librarians
who are looking ahead should be aware of current research in information
technologies and its application in libraries.
I hope those of you who
were intimidated by the thought of developing your own home-grown solutions
are feeling a bit more confident now that you realize that not every project
has to change the library as we know it. Yes, some home-grown technology
plans do require significant technical expertise and an abundance of time,
energy, and determination. Others, however, may be less ambitious in scope,
but are no less successful if they meet the needs of the libraries and
their users. Good ideas are out there to help us find solutions for our
library "homes," and with the Internet we can share our innovative solutions
with libraries around the world.