Introduction: Technology Planning for Public Access Computingby Chris Jowaisas, U.S. Library Program, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Maximizing limited resources, particularly in the area of information technologies, requires effective technology planning. Many libraries were introduced to public access computing as a service through the Foundation’s Statewide Partnership Grant Program; now that libraries are seeing the demand for this service grow and their resources shrink, many have used technology planning to focus limited resources on specific strategic objectives for their library and considered how technology can help them more effectively achieve these objectives. Technology planning can be defined as assessing the technology currently available in the library, determining what technology is still needed, and considering how to manage it.
Many libraries start with the first step of inventorying what technology resources they have—including both physical equipment and staff or community resources available for supporting technology. They then look at their library’s objectives and what technology equipment or skills they need to achieve those objectives. At the same time, the library must be including staff resources for training and support of any new technologies as part of the plan to ensure that the technology is used effectively and managed to its potential.
Libraries that use technology effectively have different methods for assembling inventories and determining priorities. Some do it on paper, while others use online tools (such as Npower’s TechAtlas or TechSurveyor, available online at webjunction.org), and some include technology planning as a subset of a larger strategic plan like the Public Library Association’s New Planning for Results process. While E-Rate applications require some technology planning from all libraries receiving E-Rate funds, these plans often end up in a file cabinet, unused in daily library operation, unless they are built with community needs and the library’s larger strategic objectives in mind. All of the successful plans we’ve encountered involved communities in helping to define library priorities and to partner where possible to fill in gaps in technical knowledge or expertise.
For some library systems, like Terrebone Parish Library in Louisiana, creating a well-defined technology plan has led to an increase in the number of public access computers throughout their system, a new central library with training lab facilities and an Internet2 connection, and the reopening of previously closed library facilities. The Meadville Public Library in Pennsylvania faced a familiar situation of increasing patron demand for computing resources and a flat budget; their planning process led them to a combination of in-house expertise and local resources to keep technology costs low by creating a thin client solution for public access computer stations. And, at the Polk County Public Library in North Carolina—the story shared below by Director Mark Pumphrey—technology planning has led to the creation of a regional broadband network plan that has improved connectivity throughout the region. All of these examples show how effective technology planning can help libraries address their community’s priorities and build support for future efforts.