When To Jump On The Bandwagon

There is much talk of late about new technologies, new social software, and new tools that can be utilized to expand library services. The discussions that are taking place around these innovative ideas are wonderful – and the fact the people feel free to share their experiences with others in the library world is even better. I spend a great deal of time reading about these ideas and how people incorporate them in their library. However, I often wonder about when it makes sense to adopt some of these technologies. As such, I really connected with a post by Librarian Kathryn Greenhill on the blog librariesinteract.info – Fostering services for the early adopters.

Librarian Kathryn Greenhill writes “When we find a new web tool that we are pretty sure will benefit our users, when should we launch it? When users request it? When we first hear about it? When no-one else knows about it or has shown any desire to use it? After another library has introduced it and received good feedback?” Ultimately, Kathryn concludes that introducing new tools early would be a good thing. Early adopters would flush out problems, issues etc – and could actually help to educate those who work in the libraries.

Overall, I like Kathryn’s argument. In reality, however, I worry about how much we can actually introduce without impacting services that are already in place. There are only so many library employees with so much time to dedicate to so many duties. I have a sense that many library employees already feel overwhelmed with new technologies and new tools – and absolutely dread talking about introducing new ones. Certain people want to explore new ideas – while certain individuals do not. I’m already concerned about staff burnout – which I think harms the face that we present to our patrons. Unhappy library staff make for very disgruntled customers. I know that this is one reason why we deliberately wait for a new tool to become more established before we implement it in my library. There has to be a happy medium. Hmmmm – food for thought!!!

Update – 10/26/2006 – I have added Kathryn Greenhill’s name as the author of the post that inspired my thoughts. For more, read Kathryn’s post over at Librarians matter.

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7 Responses to When To Jump On The Bandwagon

  1. Yes…it really raises the issue of whether we have enough fresh and unweary early adopters on our staff who are able to guide the services for the early adopters among our users. Particulalry a problem when there proportionately far fewer of us than of them.

    Library staff who are early adopters also have the job of educating other staff members, as well as implementing services…plus spending enough time playing with technology to be able to continue adopt it early. Does look a bit like a recipe for burnout.

  2. I’m not sure that the early adopter target is good enough. I think you have to look for “stickiness” too, because not everything the early adopters take up will end up being taken up by laggards.

    Some examples: there were a number of “movie disk” experiments that happened before the DVD finally caught on. Betamax is another one. Some alternatives to CDs never really caught on.

    RSS is a no-brainer really because they are fairly cheap and will be part of any new cms you use for your website. Wifi is too. MP3s are a no-brainer. Wikipedia certainly has the market for encyclopedias and librarians (public ones) _do_ use it to help customers. ALthough I am willing to bet that some have no real understanding what it is. Whether a wiki is appropriate as a service depends ultimately on need. They are good for some communities of practice and not for others.

    I am an advocate of “start from the customer.” Almost always, a new technology is a bridge to something a customer really needs. People don’t want RSS, they _use_ it to get up-to-date news and information (the stuff that they want).

    Technology for technology’s sake is a 1% game and the early adopters are early adopters because they like to play with new things. Also they tend to have the resources to play and lose as well.

    That doesn’t mean that libraries have to provide the technology, but it might. In my view, a better approach is to look into the customer’s need and then shoot for the sky to give it to them. If an early-adopted technology is what will bring it on, then adopt the technology. If not, well forget about it. I, for one, don’t see a future in adopting iPods as a library service, although it sounds like something we should be doing (or have done long ago) based on the “early adoption” logic. That’s because I don’t see people expecting it or even desiring it from us. There are other maintenance, security and well, health issues with such a project as well.

    Adoption of early technology requires cost-benefit, strategic thinking and good marketing (as in, understanding your market). “Just do it” is not a responsibile approach to technology purchases, considering it is not the “library’s” money to begin with. Working within the public trust does make things run slow sometimes, but at the same time, libraries usually last longer than most emerging market industry players (the ones who truly take the “early adopter” approach to service).

  3. Peta says:

    When I read Kathryn’s full post I read it as referring to the no brainers.

    “We are pretty sure will be useful for our users” and “we can implement ideas we think will be goers”. I don’t see too many librarians overtaken with technolust, and those that are usually have a very strong restraining leash on them in the form of committees, management teams, red tape etc. to get through before anything too fancy, expensive or of tenuous value could be launched.

    When it comes to simple but effective and inexpensive technologies we should at least be prepared to experiment. Not every venture has to succeed, but where would we be without innovation? Entrenched in the old-fashioned image of what a library used to be.

  4. Empowering the early adopters to play with new technologies is important. That doesn’t mean raw, unproven new services on staff or the public… it means at least providing the means for early adopters to horse around with new stuff while time and the market determine how important these tools will be.

  5. I like the idea of providing services that let those in marginalized communities play the early adoption game. That usually means hardware though, like DV cams and laptop labs — not RSS (which is not even an “early” technology anymore). I still contend that early adopters are not a good target for a public library (academic yes; public no) — early adopters can afford to play with tech and lose on it. They don’t look to the public library to fulfill that need in their lives (they do, however, expect us to develop strong community projects to keep youth et. al. engaged so they don’t go and break into their homes and steal their cool stuff)!

    I didn’t mention technolust! _I_ have technolust that I constantly need to keep in check. I just said because we are using money that is not our own, we have to be more accountable for it — even ridiculously so sometimes. That’s the case for any service, be it for seniors, early adopters, single parents or whatnot. Also there are a gazillion mini-projects that we could do to chip away at our resources (mostly staff time) and, in the end these usually have very small impacts, or they are already provided better and smarter by the marketplace. Why not try two or three key strategic projects — properly funded, staffed, promoted, maintained and designed ones — rather than a whole bunch of little testy pieces with no sustainability? I always try to include one “emerging tech” objective come budget time and it’s rare that it should ever be rejected. My bosses and colleagues usually love the freaky things I bring to their attention, including the Second Life Library and this Blow my Freakin’ mind supercool interface that I want now now now I tell you now! [wipe technolust drool from chin] .

    There are strategies to get “play with” money and that can help lots too. In Canada, CAP grant money is good for trying innovative techniques directed at the digital divide. Private individuals with $$$s will sometimes give money for tech-related stuff too. I always have a one-pager of a new tech project in the works for these waves when they come.

    I also think access to an internal test server is essential (and extremely inexpensive and easy to offer)! On the other hand, i paid for my own server to test out xslt, ajax and other crazy monsters that hide in webservers. But that’s scripting (something libraries also need lots), not toys.

    My other problem is that I have a hard time dragging millenials away from their desk time to help me play in a library-sort-of way.

  6. […] I am currently in a discussion about following early adopters sparked from Kathryn Greenhill’s article. Unfortunately, after getting in on the discussion (not before), I decided to get a better understanding of what Everett Rogers was doing with his Diffusion of Innovations. I then realized that I was bandying about the “early adoption” phrase without having a clear understanding about how diffusion studies are done and what they represent. […]

  7. Ross says:

    Hmm. I wonder whether our concentration on (or enthusiasm for being) early adopters (or adapters, as I’d have it) has as much to do with the fear of being ‘out of the mainstream’ as it does promoting innovation in our libraries. Those who don’t adopt early aren’t doomed never to adopt it. Sometimes it’s more a matter of having those with a genuine interest in something actually take it up as a ’cause’ or interest. Some people are better at creating, others at adapting.

    At OPOW those who were interested in gaining familiarity with and applications for the new technology were given the green light to … play around. It’s turned out that those with a natural interest (if not necessarily aptitude) gravitated toward those areas that interested them most. I admit to getting MEEGO* when faced with a presentation of what a co-worker has learned about a given application. We had that at our meeting this week, which nobody thought would (or should) run over a half hour.

    But once folks starting talking about what they’d done, the sparks started to fly. I started to think about how I’d use a given application for our (or our audience’s) needs, and suddenly I’m an adopter. And as we roll this all out , first for our fellow librarians and eventually for the research staff, I think we’ll be hearing more clever ideas about how to use these particular whiz-bang tools.

    I’m afraid I can’t always follow the statistical or behavioral models that underpin such terms like ‘early adopters’ or ‘hopeless cases’ (my term, not theirs). But I am keeping a close and curious eye on how my colleagues, whom I think I know pretty well, adapt to a new learning paradigm. You’d be surprised how often they are behaving contrary to form … in a positive way.

    * “Mind empty, eyes glazed over” — one of the few things I took away from Library School.

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