The Technology Our Users Want

July 24, 2007

I’ve been pondering the question that Jessamyn West asked last week, do library users care about our new initiatives? There is quite a bit going on in this post – and in the survey done by the Wisconsin Public Library Consortium. Rochelle Hartman comments with Tech Apps in Libraries? WI users valuse them, but don’t use much – and Jeff Scott ponders The future of libraries or getting them what they want. Without doubt, trying to actually determine what our patrons want is quite a challenge. Trying to figure out if they care about technology initiatives, let alone 2.0 initiatives, is probably even more complicated.

I’ve mentioned in the past that in my experience, patrons (the majority of whom are 18-22 year olds) are not clamoring for 2.0 technologies – they are not pushing for the library to be on the “cutting edge.” As I have been thinking about what the aformentioned blog posts might mean for my library, I’ve been trying to think about how our patrons currently use technology, what technologies they use most and what both might mean in terms of identifying which new technologies would make the most sense to implement.

Students primarily come into the library to use the computers – and to study. When studying, a large number bring their own laptop to use. Most of the computers that we have for student use have college-owned software that students must use for class assignments. Sure, they use library resources in addition to their use of productivity software, etc. However, students actually use more non-library-related technology in the library than library-related technology. Questions about printing, about scanning, about managing files, about using laptops, about using wireless, about using Microsoft Office, about making presentations, etc. certainly outnumber questions about the OPAC, electronic resources, electronic reserves or other library technologies. Currently, decent and knowledgeable technical support on all technologies that are available within the library seems to be much more important than adding dynamic content to our catalog or implementing virtual reference.

My impression is that the majority of students could care less about Library 2.0 initiatives. Our experience mirrors that of Jeff Scott in that when asked about improving library services, the most common request is to extend the hours that the library is open. Extended hours, social spaces, cafes seem to be the things that draw today’s students – not virtual reference, RSS feeds, blogs, wikis or interactive OPACs. Overall, this leads me to conclude that students aren’t overly concerned about technology in the library. This makes it difficult for me to try and figure out how to plan for future technology initiatives. What to do, what to do?