10 Technology Ideas Your Library Can Implement Next Week
Even non-techies can offer cutting-edge services right away
Posted Tue, 02/09/2010 - 17:39
New social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter enable librarians to converse, communicate, and collaborate with patrons as never before, because they are increasingly a part of people’s everyday lives. A brochure that describes your library with a few pictures is great, but a video tour that people can watch on your website or blog is immeasurably better. Enabling patrons to save their catalog searches is important, but offering the ability to notify patrons via email and text messaging when new acquisitions arrive presents a fresh way to connect with users.
Librarians who are still becoming comfortable with the Web are often reticent to begin using new technologies in their day-to-day work because the learning curve often takes more time than they have at hand. When I begin teaching people about Web 2.0, mobile, and emerging technologies, I try to answer three questions:
- What is it?
- Why is it important?
- How can it help me better serve my users tomorrow?
Here are 10 ideas you can use to start creating, collaborating, connecting, and communicating through cutting-edge tools and techniques. All of them are culled from the 10 books in the Tech Set series, to be published by Neal-Schuman in March.
1: Create a library video tour to welcome people 24 hours a day, seven days a week from any location.
With today’s technology, even inexperienced video producers can create a video tour and put it on the library’s website for little time and money. The tools of the trade are: a camera, microphone, lights, computer, video and audio editing software, tripod for the camera, microphone stand, a portable lighting structure, and headphones. It seems like a lot, but with some bargain-hunting you should be able to get everything you need for a webcam setup from about $100.
Library video tours aren’t just about the facility and its features; they’re a way to invite nonusers to come and visit. It’s about the warm welcome and the friendly service they will receive when they do come. It’s about the pride you feel being part of the community. It’s much more than just a tour!
The secret is to pretend that you have never been to the library and are discovering it for the very first time. The tour should begin from the moment potential users decides that they are coming to the library. So the first thing you want to do is welcome them, introduce yourself, and tell them the hours you are open. Then introduce them to any library feature or service that you’d like, from information about travel, parking, and restrooms to instructions for getting a library card or visiting the reference desk.
2: Use SMS to send patron alerts and notifications.
SMS (short message service, a.k.a. texting) is ideal for broadcast services. If your library sends out notices to its patrons, having the ability to send SMS alerts is a nice alternative to e-mail, and much more useful for most younger patrons. Research has shown that the current generation of students sees e-mail as old and outdated; they rely almost exclusively on texting to communicate with each other. There are ILS systems that provide a direct SMS gateway option and natively send texts out to patrons. But even if an ILS doesn’t have SMS capabilities built in, it probably has e-mail, and, with a little effort, you can give most patrons the option of receiving info via an e-mail SMS gateway.
Most cellular carriers have a gateway that allows e-mail to be transmitted to a mobile phone via SMS. If your ILS can send out alerts via e-mail, you just need to give it the equivalent e-mail address for a patron’s cell phone, and it should work transparently. SMS has a 160-character limit for transmitting text, so if your e-mails tend to be very wordy or have extraneous text (signatures and such), you will need to pare them down before implementing SMS in your ILS.
3: Feed your library’s blog posts into Twitter without doing any more work.
Twitter is immensely popular right now, and it’s a great way of letting your community members know what’s happening at the library. Is today’s storytime canceled? Let patrons know automatically. You can begin using Twitter by posting tweets yourself, but there are ways to automate Twitter so that it instantly posts content that other parts of your organization— from public programs to children’s services—originally creates. This can help to both reduce your workload and improve your library’s communication with patrons.
One of the easiest ways to start getting content into a Twitter account is to set up a blog feed to post to your Twitter account automatically. You don't have to use a blog; any application that can give information in RSS format (such as many online calendars or other social networking sites like Facebook) can be used as seed content for a fledgling Twitter account. All you have to do is find the RSS feed; once you've got the address for the feed, you can then use a third-party service such as TwitterFeed to have all posts automatically added to your library's Twitter stream.