Musings on LITA’s Top Technology Trends Panel at Midwinter

By Rebecca Metzger

Early on Sunday, January 13 (8:00am!), I squeezed into an over-packed room at the Loews Philadelphia Hotel to hear the movers and shakers of the library technology world discuss the top technology trends that we should all be watching. The first fifteen minutes were spent struggling with the conference room’s technology (no joke!). Jeremy Frumkin, from Oregon State University Libraries, was supposed to be joining the panel live via Skype from the West Coast (at the ungodly local hour of 5:00am), but technology would not cooperate to make this happen for the first half of the program (poor guy could have slept in). The room set-up was atrocious, with the panelists’ table eating up 50% of the available real estate, forcing us petty audience members to sit on the floor or lurk outside in the hallway. It seemed to me that the whole arrangement could have benefited from some usability testing, but since I was told I absolutely could not miss this ever-popular program, I parked my seat on the ground.

Karen Coombs kicked off the panel discussion with her first trend: ultra-light, small, cheap PCs like the ones being distributed as part of the One Laptop per Child program <>. Coombs, Head of Web Services at the University of Houston Libraries, suggested such rugged laptops, with sealed keyboards and durable hard drives, would make good loaner laptops, since students like to “beat the hell out of them.” As more operating system applications move onto the web, laptops can keep getting smaller and thinner.

This trend sparked a pretty interesting discussion about network infrastructure limitations (not just in rural areas, but in major metropolitan areas…in Loews Philadelphia, no less), which an hour later looped back to a conversation about the digital divide still being huge and libraries that remain without automation systems. A big slap on the hand was administered to academic institutions who insist on enforcing space quotas when the likes of Gmail keep increasing them. No wonder folks are abandoning corporate networks and flocking to applications like Google Docs…and not just for collaboration but for storage. In fact, online storage and preservation – of locally-built collections like faculty materials (institutional repositories) – were big topics of the day, not exactly what I expected from the LITA crew. As to be expected from librarians, we could not get through two hours without mentioning the D-word. Now, we can’t just worry about safeguarding our data from technology disasters (a blip on your machine), but need to worry about those bigger natural and man-made disasters.

Karen Schneider (who for the second year in a row is no longer the only woman on the panel, yay!), clocked in her top trends as “engagement/participation” (what we always hear referred to as Web 2.0, but thankfully, no one uttered those words) ala LibraryThing and “aesthetics matter.” By the latter, she means that people care about the look and feel of the buildings and technology they utilize (think ipod). Library administrators got a thumbs-up from Schneider for being more open to open-source applications (catalogs, virtual reference, etc.) now than ever before.

Just as the academics had been hogging the floor too long, the conversation shifted to interlibrary loan. Librarians bad: there’s still no automation environment that makes the process seamless for getting books to patrons, and we’re still not delivering books fast enough. Corporations good: What about a Netflix model for libraries? (Hey, I thought of that first). Why are we eternally stuck on this idea of free library services? Why not let patrons who want premium service pay for that convenience?

With time running out, each speaker was allowed a last round-robin style go at their favorite trends. In no particular order: wireless applications; cloud computing; green computing; open knowledge bases; DRM-free music (and other digital content); converged digital media hubs; geo-tagging/location awareness; surface computing; short range wireless networks; and game consoles for computations. Finally, the common thread or concern that was identified as running through all of these trends is privacy. But when was that not true?

The program definitely made getting up so early worth it. I highly recommend LITA’s Top Technology Trends panel to those attending Midwinter ALA (Denver, here I come!). You’ll nod your head in agreement, be perplexed (what the heck is geotagging anyway?), laugh, and get excited about the future and relevance of libraries and librarianship. Now, how often does that happen?

Visit LITA’s blog to link to some of the panelists’ top technology trends in writing and keep watching the space for a podcast of the event:

-Rebecca Metzger is a Reference and Instruction Librarian at Lafayette College in Easton, PA.