Ten Tech Tools for Librarians

making technology work for your library
not vice versa

Jessamyn West



« preface - helpful tech vs. helpless tech »

It's like spelling... bad spellers just don't know how to fix the problem.

useless  less useful
  • comparison shop incl. online vendors
  • implementation w/ technology plan
  • "I'll look it up" [useful in so many ways]
  • tech lion tamer
  • buy what's at the local retailer
  • reactive technology. change happens when things break
  • "I don't know" [dead end]
  • tech victim

There will be new things to understand and new ways to understand them.

« It's still about being the librarian »

[power librarian] However, our librarian skills still help us, just in different ways.


We don't want our patrons thinking "Technology is hard, even the librarian doesn't get it."


We want to think carefully about every subscription-based endeavor that nets us ownership of nothing.


We want to understand what we offer and help patrons understand technology just like we help them understand our other offerings.

So hold on tight, here we go....

« software - email me  »

gmail - google's mail solution in beta, lots of storage
ftml - no ads for people who have one account
guide for more options
email basics
what my email class looks like [more basic than you might think]

« software - IM me  »

We use the phone for everything interoffice. The immediacy of the phone is tough at the reference desk and encourages the chained-to-desk approach. Instant Messaging allows quick targeted chat without disrupting other communication lines. Popular with teens.
[transcript of an im conversation]
"remember, we also debated telephone reference" new article in LJ
Walking Paper & Tame the Web blog posts about chat & IM in libraries
clients: AOL, MSN, Yahoo, Jabber*, iChat, Gaim*, Trillian, Fire, more...
IM 101 - the basics

« software - blogs & wikis  »

Blogs - These regular doses of links, commentary and discussion are becoming a popular and easy way of sharing information. Wikis - Online tools for collaborative whatever, editable by anyone references:
a few blog search engines: daypop, technorati
wikipedia - a collaborative free-content encylopedia, sacred texts wiki, Koha wiki
definitions of "blog" - from Google
LIS blogsource, blog weblogs. Also libraries with blogs & LISNews
Weblogs and Public Libraries ePub article from PLA by Jerseyite Steven Cohen

« software - rss [really simple syndication, really!]  »

It's getting so that point-n-click is too slow for just "scanning" news & blogs.
Getting Started with RSS: The Fifteen-Minute Tutorial - by Karen Schneider
What is RSS? [tons of good links]
RSS for non-techie librarians by Steven Cohen
search for feeds with feedster, waypath, bloglines, or LISFeeds for library blogs
RSS readers: NetNewsWire for Mac, more options from blogspace, from allrss.com

« hardware - various media "books" »

Books take many forms. We're comfy with books on tape/CD. What about books in Using books in these formats involves not just knowing about technology but also knowing about licensing. Learn the term DRM.

project gutenberg has free ebooks & the wikibooks project is making more
teleread tracks ebook developments
listen ohio & listen illinois are offering plug and play audio book system
trendy: ipods with ebooks. read about it in Wired, macobserver

« hardware - WiFi & PDAs  »

The reference desk is one of the few places at the library that isn't near the books. PDAs + wireless = reference from anywhere in the library.

Wifi could mean a roving reference desk & unlimited BYO computers on your network. Authentication is possible. Users can choose filtered or unfiltered access. Easy to limit to authorized users.

While low-end Wifi is inexpensive to implement, larger scale projects will require infrastructure and some trained staff. Tablet PCs are sexy, but not cheap.

Bill Drew's Wireless Librarian blog & Mobile Tech in Libraries page
Tablet PC possibilities for libraries
some example library wifi pages: King County, Boston Public, Juneau Public
article: Extending broadband to rural communities with wifi [UK]

« concepts - social software  »

An updated way to network. Where we once just had email discussion lists, now we can have "tribes", groups, forums and interest groups. Trusted friends-of-friends and colleagues-of-colleagues can share information in an easier fashion than by waiting to meet up at conferences.

Status: still in "flavor of the month" stage. Not interoperable. Different sites are good for different things. Yahoo just got into the game. Schools are starting to worry.

some sites: tribe.net, linkedin.com, friendster.com, flickr.com. Also dogster and catster.
some examples: my library's pictures at flickr, progressive librarians tribe on tribe.net
get technical and read about the FOAF project

« concepts - open source »

Open Source means free and redistributable, with an open code base [read more]
"The money we spent on getting Koha MARC compliant will never need to be spent again (as opposed to every library using a given proprietary system having to purchase the same module from a vendor multiple times--sometimes even yearly)." [cite]
Many standard applications have open source equivalents. OpenOffice is a Microsoft Office equivalent. Firefox is much more configurable than IE [and safer]. Think about Thunderbird instead of Outlook.

what is open source?
oss4lib - open source systems for libraries with project page.
some examples: ibiblio.org archives, Koha opac system, rakim virtref tool
Georgia Public Library Service is developing an open source integrated library system
Linux in action: A public library's success story

« concepts - in-house developers  »

Why not spend some staffing money on people to solve tech problems? Why not send your librarians to tech classes for continuing ed? Using your techs means the project is done your way.
"Used to be the average IT geek maintained and fixed. Now libraries called on IT geeks to make things for the library, even if it requires coding from scratch.... Take our library, we wanted something that rolled out a cover sheet on the printer when patrons printed from our internet stations. Sure, there's probably a product out there to do that. But we found it much easier to just have a couple IT folks make it. So they did, we tested, it worked, we use it."
"Our network administrator/programmer recently developed an electronic sign-on system for our public PCs. Patrons create a totally anonymous username and password, then reserve up to 2 hours of computer time per day."
Tacoma Public's homegrown Unsettling Events database
library lookup bookmarklet
The Accidental Systems Librarian
Phoenix Public Library's fancy site was done in house

« synthesis »

The good news and the bad news about technology is that it is what you make out of it. Some things you can do with our very low-end tech skills... For what it's worth, I'm not totally sold on

« questions & credits »


Jessamyn West is a librarian, community technology mentor, and the editor of the weblog librarian.net. She's an elected representative to ALA Council where she tries hard to advocate for sensible technology use at all types of libraries.

Her latest writing about technology appears in the Vermont Library Association newsletter in an article entitled Making a Library Web Site Part II, Getting Started. IM her at iamthebestartist.

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