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Technology Coordinator Amanda Wisler's Presentation to the Board of Trustees
3/19/2001
Library Technology:
Planning for the Future
Technology Mission Statement of the LaGrange County Library:
To provide access for patrons of all ages to the increasing amount of information and educational opportunity available through electronic media and also to improve the library staff's ability to serve the public using the technology available to us.
    The last decades of the 20th century witnessed technological advances unequalled since the days of the Industrial Revolution.  Computer technology now affects us at work, at school, and even in our homes.  New realms of possibility are open to anyone with access to a computer.  And the revolution is far from over; indeed, it gains momentum every day, with every new discovery, every new idea, every new application.  Access to new technology is critical to businesses and workers everywhere.

    What does this mean for libraries in the 21st century?  First of all, it means that libraries have the ability to offer their patrons more information and more educational opportunity than at any time throughout history, and to do so at astonishingly low cost.  It also means that libraries have to opportunity to provide better, faster, and more efficient service than ever before.


    Libraries of the Future

    There are two schools of thought concerning the libraries of the future.  One is the “warehouse full of computers” theory; the belief that in twenty years or so, books and magazines will exist only in electronic formats, and libraries, empty of print materials, will exist only to provide access to computers.  This scenario seems unlikely for several reasons:
     
    1. Computer screens must improve to the point that people can comfortably read entire books on them. 
    2. Computers must become small enough and inexpensive enough that they will be as easy to use as print material; people must be able to read them in bed, let children handle them, take them to the beach, browse through them in waiting rooms, etc.
    3. Even if the necessary changes in computers take place, publishers will still want to be paid.  Books may exist in electronic form rather than print, but they won’t be free.  There will still be a need for libraries to provide them to the public.


    The second theory is that personal computers and Internet connections will come to be regarded as necessities and will become household fixtures just like telephones and televisions, thus eliminating the need for libraries to provide them.  This seems far more likely, especially since we have already experienced something similar:  When VCRs first became popular, there was a huge demand for the library to offer them; however, over time, most people bought their own VCRs and the demand died out.

    Regardless of which theory you subscribe to, there is universal agreement that libraries can and should use computer technology to improve and expand their services.  This must be taken into consideration when planning the new building.


    Technology Needs and Goals

1.   Public Computer and Internet Access
    While the demand for on-site computers is likely to decline eventually, demand is very strong at the moment.  I would actually expect demand to increase for a few more years.  Right now, most people in this area are still just experimenting with the Internet; overcoming their fear of new technology and finding out what it’s capable of.  Computers are becoming cheaper all the time, but they are still too expensive for many people.  Once it’s possible to buy a high-quality computer for $500 or less, I expect the demand for library computers to drop off rapidly.

    However, demand will never die out completely for one major reason:  The Amish.  Already, the Amish community is beginning to use the computer technology offered by the library.  Computer usage will likely become commonplace with the next generation of Amish children, many of whom attend public schools where computer literacy is taught and expected.  They will have vital computer skills, but no way to benefit from them unless the library meets their need for computer access.

2.   Security
The library has a responsibility to protect public property from theft.

The new building, if well designed, will help reduce theft by reducing the number of unsupervised areas, but it will also present a perfect opportunity to implement a security system. Furthermore, security devices could be affixed to library materials as part of preparation for automation.

3.   Compliance with Current Library Standards
The LaGrange County Library is one of the last un-automated public libraries in Indiana.  Library automation has become so universal that we actually have difficulty obtaining the basic supplies we need to catalog and circulate new materials.  For that reason alone, it is vital that we automate.

Over the years, automated libraries throughout the country have established authority controls; that is, standards and conventions that make library catalogs more uniform and therefore faster and simpler for both patrons and staff to use.  Libraries can now exchange classification information directly, eliminating local cataloging quirks and errors.  Library holdings can be searched by a wider array of search criteria.  Interlibrary searches and requests can be completed in a fraction of the time.  We cannot meet these standards or benefit from them unless we automate.

4.  Improved Service
Automation allows libraries to provide services that were impossible before: 
  • A quick computer check can tell a patron or staff member whether or not the library has a certain item, whether or not it is checked out, and where it is shelved. 
  • Items loaned from the main library to the bookmobile and branches (and vice versa) can be tracked by computer rather than by pages and pages of lists and by memory.
  • If a patron requests an item that is checked out, staff will be able to place a reserve on the item—no matter where it is—with a few clicks of the mouse, and will be able to tell the patron when the item is due to be returned.  No more weeks of searching for requested items that seem to have vanished.
  • Staff will be able to tell patrons exactly which items they have checked out and when they are due, without searching through hundreds of circulation cards.
  • Teachers, who check out hundreds of books at a time, will receive a printed list of everything they check out.  This will make it much easier for them to collect all the books when it is time to return them and cut down on the number of books that are lost and must be paid for.
  • The automated system will alert staff members to patrons who have overdue materials, unpaid fines, and revoked privileges.  This will allow staff to notify these people of the problem and get it cleared up.  Presently, the staff relies on typed lists and memory.
  • Overdue notices, circulation reports, and many other documents can be generated automatically.
  • Cataloging will simplified and sped up. 
This also means that staff will be freed up to provide more attention and better service to patrons.
5.   Standardization of Service
Currently, each library branch is completely separate and has its own way of operating.  It is confusing for staff members to go from one branch to another and try to operate, to say nothing of patrons’ confusion. 

A single system-wide automation package, utilizing a union catalog and implemented via a wide-area network, will result in better and more uniform service at all branches.  Branch workers will no longer be able to “make it up as they go along.”  They will have to adhere to standards and policies set at the main library.  Any patron who walks into any branch of the LaGrange County Library system will enjoy the same benefits of automation and receive the same treatment and level of service.

6.   Flexibility
The only thing we know for sure about the future is that it will bring change.  We must maintain the flexibility to change with the times. 

The surest and safest way to prepare for new technology is to keep up with current technology.  If we wait until the last minute, if we cling to old ways of doing things as long as we possibly can, we will eventually be trapped in “do or die” situations.  We will be forced to accept any solution that works, whether it is the best thing for the library or not, just to keep functioning.  By staying current with technology, we will be able to look at new technology as it is introduced, decide whether it is appropriate for our library system, and implement it gradually.