Researching Your Library Tech Decisions

By Jason Griffey |

I spoke this past week in San Diego, at the San Diego Law Library Association's Fall Conference, and one of the members asked me the following question (paraphrased for brevity):

How do you make decisions about what technologies to offer or support at your library? With the explosion of Web 2.0 over the last 5 years, how do you decide what to offer your patrons?

I decided to share my suggestions on how to make those decisions in your library.

The first is perhaps the most obvious, and that is to listen to your patrons. Notice that I didn't necessarily say to ask them, but to listen to them. Watch and pay attention to the technologies that they are using. That isn't to say that you should spy on them, but you can learn a lot just by paying attention.

What software are they using? What websites are they visiting? What types of devices do they have handy? If you see many patrons using Flickr on your computers, that probably means that it's a better place for you to host library photographs than other photo sharing sites.

Of course, you can't base everything on Patron observation. You also need to do your own research to find out which technology tools are the most popular among the general public. Are you more likely to get people to attend a workshop on how to use YouTube, or how to use I really love, but I know that if I'm selling a workshop to the public, YouTube is the brand for online video, so if I'm trying to get more attendees, I'll probably go in that direction.

My final piece of advice is a bit more complex. I'll put in the context of one of my favorite quotes, one that I use a lot in presentations, from Henry Ford:

"If I'd asked them what they wanted, they'd have said a faster horse."

Ford is, of course, talking about the introduction of the automobile to the US, and how if you'd polled the population about what they'd love to have in a transportation device, they just would have gotten it all wrong. That's because often, the need for a transformative technology isn't recognized prior to its explosion into popularity.

In the Web 2.0 world, Twitter is a perfect example. If you'd asked people what they wanted in a communication method prior to Twitter, I doubt anyone would have said "Well, I'd really like to only be able to communicate in 140 character bursts, and I'd love for everything I say to be public." Yet those two aspects of Twitter have directly influenced its skyrocketing popularity. So, sometimes, you just have to be willing to give radical ideas a try, and then winnow the ones that fail.