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Future Tech Trends for Public Libraries
Sarah Houghton, Marin County Free Library
Joe Latini & Ken Weil, South Huntington Public Library
Jenny Levine, The Shifted Librarian
Aaron Schmidt, Thomas Ford Memorial Library

I was honored to be a part of this panel predicting future trends in public libraries.  I had to go first (ah, the stress) and talked about opening up public computers, lightweight virtual reference, OPACs that don’t suck, librarian avatars, and citywide ubiquitous wireless. The slides for my presentation (HTML, not PowerPoint–huzzah!) are available.

Aaron Schmidt talked about the need for serving the information poor (to be an increasingly important goal for libraries—and taking that idea to the next level with more services and resources), flexible ePaper, various identities (IM, e-mail, blog, Bloglines account, del.icio.us account, Wikipedia contributor) and the need for libraries to be a part of that.  We need to be present where our users are.  Aaron ended by stating the overwhelming need to make libraries easy.  Too true.

Jenny Levine talked about the social and participatory environments that we are seeing thrive online right now.  We as libraries need to connect with people online: blogs (and creative uses for them like Western Springs History and the Ann Arbor District Library).  Creating transparency of the organization and soliciting feedback and patron/staff interaction and conversation through blogs is a wonderful and responsible thing for libraries to do.  RSS feeds (catalog, subject guides, events, database content) are also amazingly potent.  Wikis are also great like LibSuccess Wiki, University of Connecticut’s IT Department’s wiki, etc.  Instant Messaging presence for your users is also essential.  Universities and libraries are podcasting (Jenny pointed out OPAL Podcast as a resource for librarians).  Library web browser toolbars and Firefox plugins are up and coming.  And, best of all, all of these things are free to the library and free to the user.

Ken Weil talked about providing free online access to patrons, preferably through broadband.  Ken also stressed the importance of not always charging fees for these services (as libraries are prone to do), and to perhaps look at advertising as one way to pay for these services.  Also, accepting payment for fees and services need to be payable through credit cards.  Shockingly (to me anyway), only about 10% of the people in the room raised their hands to say that their libraries allowed credit card payments.  Ken also discussed the need for libraries to get our services out to our patrons, not asking them to come to us.  Finally, he discussed staffing needs—that we need to stress service to the public above all else, get reference librarians out from behind the desk, and to pay our staff a decent amount to keep the good people in libraries and not lose them to private industry.

Joe Latini (and Ken) talked about risk-taking being okay—that it’s okay if the product fails…it’s okay to release a project if it’s not 100% ready.  Get it out there for your users as soon as possible.  He talked about continuing community programming in the libraries—not to forget that vital service.  He also discussed his library’s eBooks on iPods program, and how very successful it has been…and that audio eBooks are different than text eBooks, and are succeeding much better.

What a fun way to end the first day of the conference!

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