Planning and Decision Making

A technology plan is a lot like a strategic plan or a project plan. It’s a formal mechanism for helping you to see where you’ve been, where you are and where you’re going. Technology planning is especially vital because bad decisions in this area can cost so much in terms of wasted spending and staff time. It reflects feedback from your key stakeholders (staff, patrons, board members), and also ties back to your strategic priorities and your long-range goals.

Introduction to the Technology Planning Process

The technology planning process lets you step back from the daily routine of checking out books and answering reference questions. It gives you a chance to think about the big picture.

Why Should You Create a Technology Plan?

  • Technology plans help you make the case for more funding. Funders want to know that you have specific goals in mind, as well as a plan for reaching those goals and measuring progress.
  • Many funders actually require technology plans. If you’re asking for e-rate discounts, you have to have a written tech plan in most cases. A lot of grants, including those made with LSTA funding or Gates Foundation money, require that you undertake some or all of the steps discussed in this section.
  • With a plan in place, you’re much less likely to buy an expensive new technology that you can’t support due to a lack of ongoing funds, staff time and/or expertise.
  • Technology planning:
    • Forces you to align your IT decisions with the library’s overall strategic priorities
    • Encourages you to align your IT priorities with the needs of your community and the needs of your staff.

For more reasons why technology planning is important, see this article on WebJunction.

Key Actions

To help you launch your technology planning efforts, we’ve provided a Six-Step Technology Planning tool. It lists some key actions for gathering information and preparing a technology plan for your library. Please note that there’s no strict sequence that you have to follow when creating a technology plan.

Further Resources

Want to learn more about technology planning? Check out the Further Resources section.

Key Decision Makers

Every town has a different power structure, with its own personalities, its own accountability requirements, its own reporting system and its own state and local statutes. So when we talk about how to be a leader in your community, it’s difficult to generalize too much. However, there are a few principles to keep in mind as you develop your technology plan and advocate for that plan.

Why Should You Get to Know Key Decision Makers?

  • You don’t want to inadvertently break the law or ignore an important regulation. Key influencers and decision makers can often tell you about the most important state and local statutes.
  • You don’t want to waste your time planning for a project or service that will later get overturned by someone you forgot to consult.
  • Other departments and other city employees often have good advice about planning and advocacy. Also, they might have expertise in the particular technology you’re trying to implement.
  • You can avoid duplication of work effort. Another city or county department may already offer the technology or the service that you’re looking at.
  • There could be funds available for technology that you aren’t aware of.
  • People like to be asked for their opinion. If you talk to key influencers in your community, they’re much more likely to support your technology initiatives and much less likely to oppose them. Also, you might turn them into advocates for your project.

Key Actions

  • Start by downloading our tools regarding technology decision makers: Quick Reference — What Do You Need to Know About Technology Decision Makers? and Who are Possible Key Decision Makers?
  • Arrange a meeting with a key IT decision-maker in your community, or sit in on a meeting of a technology advisory committee if one exists in your local government.
  • At that meeting, ask some of the questions. Make sure you get a sense of what their concerns are, who they report to, and how their performance is evaluated. Also, ask for the names of other influential people you could talk to.

Further Resources

To find out more about meeting and working with technology decision makers, see the Further Resources section.

Technology Assessments

A technology assessment provides you with a snapshot of the computing environment in your library. It also gives you a high-level perspective on your staff skills, budget, vendor relationships, procedures and policies. A technology inventory, on the other hand, is a more specific, low-level description of what you own and where it’s located. Your inventory might include details about when and where the technology was purchased, who provides tech support, warranty information and the number of licenses you own. The assessment and the inventory are often done at the same time and often included in the same report.

Under ideal circumstances, a tech inventory is the beginning of an ongoing process known as IT Asset Management, so read that article for a discussion of tools that help you track your hardware and your software licenses. The rest of this article relates mainly to the technology assessment. Also, be sure to review our Technology Assessment Checklist tool to learn more about what’s included in a tech assessment.

Why Do a Technology Assessment and Technology Inventory?

  • An assessment lets you avoid duplicated effort. Perhaps someone in your IT department has been researching and testing patron management software. Maybe someone in the library wrote a computer use policy last year and then forgot to tell you about it.
  • A good assessment lets you know if any critical procedures or policies are missing. For instance, what steps will you take if you find out that one of your servers has been hacked? Do you have a regular backup routine in place? Do you have a disaster recovery plan?
  • A good assessment lets you know where to spend your technology training dollars. Are staff lacking in email skills? Word processing skills? Do they want to know more about Web 2.0 and cutting-edge technology? Also, what sorts of hard IT skills do you have on staff?

Key Actions

  • A good assessment relies on a good inventory. For an in-depth discussion of technology inventories, read IT Asset Management. If you want to create an inventory using TechAtlas, these instructions at WebJunction can help you get started.
  • Answer the assessment surveys in TechAtlas. Sign up for an account on TechAtlas and click on the Survey tab. These questionnaires will help you better understand where you are in terms of technology. In addition to this, TechAtlas will provide you with custom recommendations and resources based on your answers. These recommendations can provide the basis of your technology plan.

Stories from the Field

Oh, one thing I’ve really been using lately is TechAtlas. And oh my gosh, that is just an awesome tool. I did an inventory of all my computers last year, and of course, I didn’t know about TechAtlas, I wish I had. But I’ve been using it already to work on my 2008 budget and on some surveys for the employees. It helps me understand what they know about computers and how much they can help the patrons. And it’s just — I love it. It’s an awesome tool. I thought it was going to be difficult, but then when I got into it, I was like, oh my God, this is great. And my budget, it’s so easy. TechAtlas lets you enter your line items and just everything that you do on a budget. Oh, and the technology plan, I’ve started entering information on that, too, to prepare a technology plan.

Mindy Farley
Barton Public Library

Strategic and Technology Plans

A strategic plan (aka long-range plan) lays down a path for your entire library to follow, including tech staff, circulation staff, director, trustees, pages and so on. It begins with a look at the present, proceeds to a discussion of future trends and then discusses the ways in which your library will address these challenges. As you’re creating a strategic plan, you’ll be getting an overall picture of your library — its strengths, its weaknesses, its opportunities, its ongoing projects and services. You’ll also look at your community to see who they are, why they use the library or don’t use the library and what needs they have that aren’t being fulfilled.

Why Use a Strategic Plan as You’re Writing Your Tech Plan:

  • Without a strategic plan to refer to, your technology planning conversations are more likely to wander aimlessly. The goals and objectives for the library as a whole can focus and guide your conversations.
  • Without a strategic plan, you’re more likely to embrace a technology because it’s cool or sexy. Every new and existing technology should relate to one or more of the library’s strategic objectives.
  • Strategic planning can help you prioritize your technology objectives. There are so many great new technologies that your brainstorming list can be pages and pages long. Which ones will you tackle first?
  • A good strategic plan can remind you who you serve. What different demographic groups and interest groups are there in your community? Which needs do they have that a library could fulfill?
  • It can also remind you of technology projects you’ve worked on in the past and projects that are still underway. Did they fail or succeed and what lessons were learned? Especially in larger libraries, it’s often hard for one person to know the library’s entire technology history. The technology assessment that we discussed earlier can also help with this.

Key Actions

  • Dust off your strategic plan and read it.
  • If you don’t have a strategic plan, visit some of our additional resources and think about how to begin this crucial process.

Stories from the Field

We do have an overall strategic plan. It was a five-year plan, we’re in year three, and that was for the whole library system. We actually hired a consultant. She came in, and we had the community come in and give their opinions about what we should do and all that kind of stuff. Then we set our goals for the next five years, and each year, we update those with activities that support the goals. So, for example, one of the things that the people in the public said that they wanted was they wanted the library to be like a community meeting center. We started talking about maybe we need to renovate some of our older meeting rooms so that they’re more user-friendly and maybe we need to drop in some extra data jacks, stuff like that. That’s where it started. Then as it has progressed, we’ve just done different activities to support that goal. Then what I do, I don’t write a technology plan in a vacuum because to me, that’s kind of pointless.

Michelle Foster
Boone County Library, KY

Yeah, we do have a technology plan, but pretty much everything is in process. So our technology plan was actually, I can't say it was easy to write, but once I started actually figuring out how to do it all the goals were there already. They were already put in place before I walked through the door, [in] the planning documents for this building.

Darla Wegener
Lincoln Public Library, CA

Further Resources

For more information about strategic and technology planning, check out the Further Resources section.

Building a Technology Team

Have you ever tackled a big project on your own...only to find yourself confused and flailing, wishing you had someone to turn to for advice? If so, you know firsthand the importance of an advisory committee. As you dive into this important topic, be sure to review our 10 Rules for Building and Maintaining a Technology Team.

Why Create an Advisory Committee to Help You Create Your Tech Plan?

  • There’s a lot you don’t know about technology. No one person can keep track of it all, so hearing from techies within your library and outside your library can inform you about what’s possible, what isn’t and what the real costs are.
  • There’s a lot you don’t know about your community. Community members will give you a better idea of how patrons use computers, what they can find elsewhere (e.g., at home, at school) and what they’re missing in terms of technology access and technology training. Frontline librarians will also know a lot about patrons’ computing needs.
  • There’s a lot you don’t know about your library and your fellow librarians. What are their successes and frustrations with technology? What tools, training and support services do they need?
  • You need evangelists. The librarians and community members on your tech team will communicate your technology vision to other librarians and other patrons.

Key Actions

For libraries that feel a tech team is a little beyond their reach right now:

  • Try to develop some informal feedback loops if you can’t create a formal advisory committee. Make technology a part of the regular conversations you have with your staff, your trustees, your patrons, and your friends.
  • Get in touch with techies in your area and invite them to have lunch or coffee.
  • If you can’t find the right conversation partners locally, get online and look for mentors in the WebJunction or TechSoup discussion forums.

For libraries that feel they can pull off a tech team:

  • Begin by defining the mix of roles you’d like on your tech team. This can include such roles as tech evangelist, a technology skeptic, a frontline librarian who deals with patrons and their computing needs, someone who understands the library’s budget and strategic plan, etc.
  • Then think about the folks you know within the library and outside of the library who might fill those roles. Some folks will fill more than one role.
  • Start with modest goals. Try to find three or four interested individuals (not all of whom have to be techies) who can meet three or four times a year. That might be all you ever need, especially in small and mid-sized library systems. If you find you need to meet more often, or if you need more points of view on your team, you can always make those changes down the road.

Stories from the Field

I have a department of five people so we all get together and we go over the plan that’s been done for the library as a whole and we talk about different things that we need to do to support those goals. Some stuff is pretty much the same every year, honestly, replacements and that kind of stuff. But then we talk about other ideas that they might have that support the goals that aren’t on there. So first it goes through my department and then, of course, I run it past the supervisors. This is going to sound terrible and I mean absolutely no disrespect in any fashion, but most of the supervisors don’t really care. They just want it to work; they don’t care how it gets there. But the director certainly likes to see what we’re going to do because that helps her with her budgeting and that kind of stuff. The public services people tend to be more interested in it than some of the other supervisors.

Michelle Foster
Boone County Library, KY

When you create a team, it needs to be made up of people who are willing to work. If you have someone who only complains and thinks that being on the committee is a way of complaining about stuff, you're never going to go anywhere. But you want people who will see things differently than you...They don't have to be technology whizzes...but they [should] be interested in supporting that type of thing....[Getting] different viewpoints...really helps when you're trying to build something that's going to be accepted by everybody. I had people from different branches and I had a person from the public, which is recommended...because they have a different perspective on your library.

Claire Stafford
Madelyn Helling Library, CA

Further Resources

For additional references and tools on building and maintaining technology teams, check out the Further Resources section.

The Costs and Benefits of Technology

We’ve all been exhilarated at some point by the impact of technology on our lives and our libraries, but at other times computers feel like a huge, unfunded mandate. In the last ten or fifteen years, libraries have become the biggest provider of free computer resources in the country (except for public schools). But rather than acknowledge this shift where it matters the most, local and state governments have been slashing library budgets. In order to push back, we need to emphasize the true costs of technology, as well as the true benefits.

To put it as simply as possible, our job here is to help you figure out how much time and money you’re investing in your technology (the costs) and what you and your patrons are getting back from that investment (the benefits). Sounds easy! Of course, it really isn’t, and some of this material has a steep learning curve, but we’ll start off slowly. If you’re looking for some basic tips and tools and recommendations on where and how to get started writing your technology budget, be sure to review our Writing a Technology Budget — Ideas in Action tool.

Why Measure Your Technology Costs?

  • Accurate financial statements are part of your baseline for planning and decision making. If your website is hard to navigate, spending more money may or may not help, but you need to know how many resources you’ve been allocating to this project in the past.
  • Anything and everything is possible if you don’t look at the cost. You could buy life-size robots and let patrons check them out if price wasn’t a factor. So without a budget, you’re in danger of overspending now and then trying to cut back later. Staff and patrons don’t appreciate the inconsistency that comes from poor budgeting. Everyone gets accustomed to a certain level of service, a certain number of public computers, a certain amount of bandwidth, and then those services are cut back.
  • However, libraries often do the exact opposite when they don’t have accurate budget projections. They buy little or no new technology, and they have to explain to funders why they haven’t spent all the money that was allocated to them. Nothing is more likely to cause budget cuts than unspent money.
  • There’s usually a tradeoff between explicit costs and hidden costs. If you reduce your tech support budget by $70,000, you may end up paying much more than that in lost productivity, which is harder to see and harder to measure. This idea is discussed in more detail in Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).

Why Measure Technology Benefits?

  • Again, it’s all about the money. You want to demonstrate that technology is expensive, but also that it’s worth the expense. How is your community benefiting? How are the politicians and town council members benefiting? How are their constituents’ lives improving? You can use general, abstract arguments, but numbers and stories have more of an impact.
  • If you don’t measure benefits and outcomes, you’re driving blind. You and your staff may have an intuitive sense that a service is succeeding, but intuitions are sometimes wrong. And even if you’re right, there’s always room for improvement.

Key Actions

  • Ask some other city departments if you can look at their budgets and their other financial statements. Compare the technology expenses that they’re reporting on to the ones that you have in your budget.
  • Pick out three technology metrics that you can track during the upcoming year. For an idea of some basic metrics that you can choose from, see Evaluations and Metrics on our site, or Demonstrating Impact on the WebJunction site.
  • Review some of our basic information on Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).

Further Resources

There are a lot of different ways you can think about your technology spending. The right model for you depends largely on the goals of your organization, the audience you’re trying to reach (e.g. board of trustees, patrons, politicians, etc.) and any relevant laws or regulations.

If you're looking for some more articles to get you started, look at our Further Resources section.

Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)

Total cost of ownership, or TCO, is a business concept that’s been around for about 20 years now, but it’s an idea that librarians have understood informally for centuries. When a patron loses a book, most libraries charge more than the cover price of the book, because the cover price doesn’t include the cost of ordering, processing and cataloging the book. The staff time involved in getting that book into the system is part of the TCO of that book. If you look out even further, there are costs related to shelf space, repairs, circulation, reshelving it and deaccessioning. Cars, houses, pets, children — there’s a TCO associated with just about everything, and computers are no exception.

For example, when you’re setting out to buy a new computer, the latest prices on the Dell or HP web site represents at most 30 percent of the true, long-term cost of that computer. And that’s the high end of the scale. Some experts estimate that the purchase price of a new technology is closer to 10 or 15 percent of the long-term cost. Installation, maintenance, training, tech support and replacement parts are a few of the hidden costs of technology.

On the other hand, some technology acquisitions and upgrades will make your staff more productive or improve the service you offer to patrons. Experts sometimes refer to this as the total value of ownership (TVO) or return on investment (ROI), and you should consider it alongside the TCO. For some additional guidance, we recommend that you read our Some TCO/TVO Questions You Should Be Asking tool.

Why Should You Consider the Total Cost of Ownership when Buying Technology?

  • TCO helps you make decisions about technology and prioritize among competing projects and services. For example, let’s say you’re looking at a new accounting software package. It’s more expensive than your existing software, but it’s also more user-friendly and your staff won’t spend as much time completing routine tasks. How much staff time are you really saving, and how does that time translate into dollars? How much retraining does your staff need, and how much will that cost? What are the annual costs for maintenance and upgrades? By comparing the TCO for your existing software to the TCO for the new software, you have a solid framework for making decisions.
  • TCO helps you make accurate budget projections, which makes you popular with your trustees and funders. Of course, you’ll still have to make some adjustments, but the adjustments won’t be as jarring as they would be without TCO.
  • Savvy funders already understand TCO or the concepts behind it. They’ll be impressed if you couch your request in these terms.
  • When you ignore TCO, the indirect costs of technology will haunt you. For example, if you don’t budget properly for staff development, productivity might plummet as librarians struggle with the new system and develop inefficient workarounds. In the worst-case scenario, staff won’t adopt the new system and you’ll have to write off the money you invested.

Key Actions

  • Whenever you’re thinking about the purchase of a new technology, whether it’s a new computer, a new piece of software or a network upgrade, make a list of all the indirect costs and indirect benefits. Taking TCO to the Classroom has a good TCO checklist to help you get started. Again, take a look at our list of TCO/TVO Questions.
  • Also consider TCO when you’re drawing up your annual budget, your strategic plans and your technology plans.
  • Make assumptions, if necessary. The first time you set out to measure the total cost of technology in your library, you may find that your information is incomplete. Feel free to make educated guesses until you can fill in the blanks. However, document these guesses. As you track the cost of technology over time, use the same sets of assumptions that you started with.

Stories from the Field

I am a big return-on-investment girl. For example, the best example I can give you was we have a telephone notification server and when we got that, it was expensive. It was about 20 grand by the time we bought all the hardware and the software. I kept trying to say this will save us so much money and people were saying 'We don’t understand why.' Well, I calculated how many people could have their notices sent to them on a telephone because we’d been mailing them all out and we were mailing about 1400 notices a week. The notification server cut it down to 200 or so every week. We saved 1200 items, and you can do the math. It was 32 cents at the time, so we saved $400 a week basically if we sent out the notices on the phone. And of course, I calculated staff time as well because someone had to process all the notices. So I made a little chart up and said look, ‘Here’s the deal — in three years, this will pay for itself and the server’s probably going to last five or six, so you basically get two years for free of saving money.'

Michelle Foster
Boone County Library System, KY

And so it's like, I'm buying a $1,500 computer; I put aside $2,000 so that three years from now, I have enough money to buy another one. And in fact, we talked to, you know, the city manager and he suggested we only change them out every four years, it's not changing that much and it's taking too long to install. So our goal will be by four years, we'll be totally changed out. So they've got all of their computers on retirement schedules and the funding there to help offset those costs. I mean, I thought, to me — I set that up seven, eight years ago. I still find people are stunned to find out that you would do that. It's just a good business practice, it's not anything else. It's not a fancy idea.

KG Ouye
San Mateo Library. CA

Well, when I consider total cost of ownership, what I'm taking into account is sustainability. We can do this great project, or install this great piece of software, or buy this piece of equipment that we'll offer to the public. But how much staff time is involved in creating that project or supporting that project, and how much staff time is involved in maintaining it? Can we maintain it really well or not? We think, 'If we just buy this new software product, it'll help us check out books ten times faster.' Okay, maybe it helps you check out books faster but maybe it's more of a burden on the IT department. Are you solving problems, or are you shifting responsibility to different departments? And we ask ourselves [IT staff] the same questions. When we do an IT project we think, 'How does that impact the staff?' If it's going to make the staff have to do ten more steps, how much staff time is that costing us? Maybe it's not really an efficiency thing. Maybe it's not really saving time. Maybe we're just moving that inefficiency around. I think a lot of times people try to use technology as the silver bullet to solve problems that aren’t really technology problems. Maybe they’re staffing problems, or training problems, or workflow problems.

Jim Haprian
Medina County Library, OH

We don't buy a computer around here unless we have a plan for purchasing its replacement three years from now. We don’t say, 'Well, I think we're gonna be able to raise more grant money.' If the grant money isn't already in the bank, then we don't buy it. We don’t want to build up a level of service that then is going to get reduced.

Paul Ericsson
Bemidji Public Library, MN

I think in the situation with Userful it was a tremendous total-cost-of-ownership advantage because they didn’t have to hire somebody to actually physically run the network because she could depend on having the support staff. I think it does save us a lot of staff time on cleaning up the computers. We don’t have to run spyware programs and we don’t have to empty temporary Internet files and that sort of thing. That’s all taken care of already. We don’t have to worry about viruses. We don’t have to worry about any of that.

Brett Fisher
Flathead County Library, MT

Further Resources

Whether you just need a few basic pointers about TCO methodology or you want to dig a little deeper into the subject matter, we have plenty of additional resource recommendations.

Evaluations and Metrics

OK, so your library is one of the 7 Wonders of the Modern World. Now how do you prove it to your funders and your community? Evaluations and metrics! Or maybe you’re a little more humble and you want a better sense of your library’s strengths and weaknesses, or you want to know whether you’ve done what you set out to do with a particular service or project. How do you find out? Evaluations and metrics!

Why Measure the Impact of Technology in Your Library?

  • Again, it’s all about the money. You want to demonstrate that technology is expensive, but also that it’s worth the expense. How is your community benefiting? How are the politicians and town council members benefiting? How are their constituents’ lives improving? You can use general, abstract arguments, but numbers and stories have more of an impact.
  • If you don’t measure benefits and outcomes, you’re driving blind. You and your staff may have an intuitive sense that a service is succeeding, but intuitions are sometimes wrong. And even if you’re right, there’s always room for improvement.

Key Actions

  • If you are interested in measuring statistics related to your online databases, electronic journals and e-books, start by taking a look at the E-metrics site, especially the tutorials and the catalog. It also offers measurements related to patron training, public computer usage and other technology services.
  • If you want to know who visits your Web site and how they use it, check out this article on web analytics from TechSoup.
  • Plan to conduct a lot of online surveys of patrons and staff. There’s an article from TechSoup that will tell you how to choose the right survey tool. There are also dozens of articles, such as this one, that provide advice on writing good survey questions.

Technology Metrics

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of ways to obtain concrete and specific information about your technology services. Some common metrics include:

  • Who’s visiting your web site?
  • How often are they visiting?
  • What devices are they using to visit your site?
  • What do they do when they’re on your site?
  • How many people are using your public access computers?
  • How many laptop users are there in your library on an average day?

Evaluation Methods

If you’re manufacturing widgets, it’s fairly easy to determine the types of things you should measure. You want to know:

  • The number of widgets produced per hour and per day
  • The average cost of each widget and the average profit margin
  • Something about the reliability, quality and safety of your widgets

Libraries, on the other hand, deal with outcomes and results that are much less tangible. We’re trying to teach people and helping them to teach themselves. We’re encouraging folks to adjust their behaviors and attitudes. We’re helping them build new skills. But how do you bring these vague, high-flown aspirations down into more concrete, specific language that politicians and bureaucrats will understand? Try following these three steps.

STEP LINK AND LEARN
1. Decide what it is you want to measure. This is sometimes known as the outcome, the result or the return on investment. Defining precisely and in detail what exactly you’re trying to do is tough. The first part of evaluation is figuring out exactly what we’re trying to change. For a fuller of definition of an outcome, see this introduction to outcome based evaluation from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), especially the sections titled "What is outcome evaluation?" and "How does a library or museum do outcome evaluation?".
2. Decide how you’ll measure that outcome or result. In other words, what evidence and data will you collect? There might be a single measurement, or you might measure several things. These measurements are often referred to as success indicators. The good ones are usually concrete, observable and countable, but some projects also rely heavily on collecting stories. For more information on success indicators, refer to the Utah State Library's Outcome Based Evaluation Terms.
3. Tell your library's story. Use the outcomes data and success stories you've gatherd to communicate the value your library provides. For more information on telling your library's story, see this WebJunction article on library advocacy tools and resources.

Further Resources

For more suggestions on technology evaluation and measurement, check out the Further Resources section.

Keeping Up with Technology

Finding the Web sites and technology resources that appeal to your learning style and level of understanding takes some patience and some trial and error, but the long-term payoff is huge. The wild proliferation of online educational resources will seem overwhelming at first, but it's also incredibly empowering. If you’re a visual learner, there are video lectures, slide shows, photos, graphs, charts and diagrams. For the auditory learner, there are millions of podcasts and streaming audio files. If you prefer hands-on experimentation, you can find countless step-by-step tutorials. Moreover, you can create a learning experience that mixes all these different styles.

Why Investigate New Technology Resources?

  • Understanding your patrons. MARC records, article databases and other library-centric technologies take so much time and energy that it’s easy to forgTet about the constantly changing digital culture outside our walls. However, just as library selectors read a wide variety of book review sources to correct for their own biases and preferences, library technologists need a broad, diverse array of inputs in order to understand what patrons are doing and what they expect from us. Some of the following resources are library-oriented, but most of them come from the wider technology community. These books, magazines and websites are setting trends, influencing your patrons and shaping their expectations.
  • Better patron service. Of course, the outcome we’re all aiming for is better service to patrons. The professional development resources, such as the following ones, are full of great ideas about new programs and improvements to existing programs.
  • Cost savings. There’s a low-cost or no-cost alternative for almost every category of software now, and in terms of reliability and usability, the free software sometimes exceeds the proprietary options. The following resources will keep you up-to-date as technologies that used to be expensive become affordable for small and medium-sized organizations.
  • Research skills. As librarians know better than most, research is the foundation skill. It’s the skill that lets you develop other skills. There’s nothing more frustrating and wasteful than trudging through web site after web site because you have no idea where to go for a particular information need. Spending an hour now and then to look at the following resources and will save you time later on when you need to troubleshoot a computer, look up product reviews or absorb some new ideas.
  • Communication, dialog and collaboration. New technologies let you learn from your patrons and learn from your colleagues. This idea has been repeated ad nauseum lately, but it’s true nonetheless. Moreover, the library is a place for patrons to connect with each other, both online and offline.
  • Work can be more effective and efficient. The buzz about collaboration, dialog and “Web 2.0” obscures the fact that technology is still getting better and better at supplementing our faulty memories, organizing our messy lives and automating our boring, routine activities. Every day brings four or five new applications for managing time, recording expenses, organizing information resources, etc. The resources in Places to Learn About Technology will help you find the productivity tools that best suit your situation and your working style.
  • Outreach, advocacy and demonstrating impact. Web-based software has democratized outreach and marketing in ways that would have sounded laughable and far-fetched 20 years ago. Online photos, blog postings, videos and podcasts let you tell stories about events and services at your library, but more importantly, these technologies let patrons demonstrate their enthusiasm and preach on your behalf. When someone creates a blog post, a comment, a Flickr photo or a YouTube video to proclaim their love for the library, it has a bigger impact than anything you or a marketing firm could ever come up with. However, you have to find these library advocates, give them access to online tools if necessary, respond to their ideas, and take your lumps from time to time. In other words, you need to be as responsive to bad feedback as you are to good feedback. To know where your patrons are and what they’re saying about you, you have to be plugged into the digital culture, and the following resources will help with that.

Key Actions

  • Understand and take advantage of the many different ways you can find out about new and emerging technology. Be sure to review our Places to Learn About Technology tool.
  • Subscribe to five RSS feeds. If you’re looking for library-related RSS feeds, this list from Meredith Farkas is a good place to start. If you’re looking for general technology blogs, the Top 100 list at Technorati is a good source. They’re not all about technology, but most are. If you’ve never used RSS and have no idea what it is, we recommend RSS in Plain English from the folks at Common Craft.
  • Subscribe to a tech magazine. Make sure you’re skimming at least one tech magazine every month. To start with, grab a copy of five or six tech magazines from your own serials section and see which ones appeal to you. Then subscribe to the one or two that you like best. If you don’t have a lot of tech magazines in your library, see Places to Learn About Technology for some suggestions, or visit your nearest bookstore.
  • Designate at least one computer as your test machine. This should be a PC that you feel comfortable messing around with, so your primary work computer is not a good choice. Nothing beats hands-on, interactive learning, within reason. In other words, you shouldn’t treat your live web site as a personal learning lab.
    • If possible, find an old computer and turn it into a sandbox that you can use to play with different types of software.
    • Another option is to look into virtualization software. Virtualization programs let you install and explore multiple operating systems on a single machine, and they let you switch easily between the different operating systems. In other words, it turns one computer into many.
    • Talk to your IT department before you start playing with virtualization, and make sure you have enough power and memory on your PC to support this software (the memory requirements are quite heavy).
    • For more information, see Virtualization 101 on TechSoup.

Stories from the Field

I always think it’s useful to get outside. I get emails from various hardware manufacturers and they’ll have webcasts trying to sell you something, but a lot of times when they do these Webcasts or Webinars, they will have a 15- or 20-minute introduction to the subject in general about a problem you’re confronting, say how to do backup efficiently for low cost and with the least amount of hassle. Now, of course, again they’re going to try and sell you their product because they think it’s the best, but what I found, is that again they’ll give you really a good grounding in understanding what the problem is and what some of the various solutions are. And once they start to get into their sales spiel, a lot of times I’ll not pay as much attention because what I really wanted was to understand do I know all the challenges? Have I thought through the problem that we’re facing and what’s their opinion on some of the solutions? I mean when you get into the larger vendors like Cisco or somebody or Microsoft they’ve got so much free material, archived Webcasts, white papers, all of those type of things that really provides just great background for many of the problems that libraries may be facing as far as technology infrastructure or implementing new solutions and those type of things. If you’re looking to find out what other people are using, again I think almost every vendor, whether it’s a hardware or software vendor, especially the larger ones will have some type of resources oriented towards small and medium businesses. Some of them also will have small office/home office markets, and I think, depending on the size of your library, those are great places, too.

Chris Jowaisas
Texas State Library, TX

The Southern Maine library district started a little IT group of librarians who are not just doing IT. It may be the assistant director who does IT. They’re just trying to get the people that handle IT together so that they can see what problems they share and what they don’t, so they just get together four times a year and just talk. I actually just went to the last one in PC reservation systems. I went ‘cause they were sharing information about that and then they were sharing information about open-source. And the library that was hosting it was a small library whose tech person is a volunteer high school student, and he just installed OpenBiblio on a Mac to run their catalog, and so he was talking about his experience with that.

Janet McKenney
Maine State Library, ME

Further Resources

The Technology Planning Process

Quick guides to technology planning

If you don’t have time to read a lot and you want to jump right into the process, look at these four documents:

Technology solutions brainstorming for your library

Several state library organizations have created technology standards for libraries. In other words, what sorts of skills, tools, infrastructure and procedures will you find in an ideal library? What do the backup procedures look like? What sort of Web presence is there? What computing services are available to the public (e.g. printing, hands-on assistance from staff, etc.)? How many public computers will you see there? If your library is small, it’ll be difficult to implement all of these suggestions in a single planning cycle, but this standards document from the South Carolina State Library and these five short checklists from the Illinois State Library will help you brainstorm and set goals for yourself.

In-depth information on tech planning

WebJunction has lots and lots and lots of information on tech planning. The most thorough roadmap to technology planning in libraries can be found in Diane Mayo’s book, Technology for Results: Developing Service-Based Plans. An excerpt from the book can be found at WebJunction. Because it’s so thorough, it’s also time-consuming, and may not be appropriate for smaller libraries.

Free tech planning software

TechAtlas has a series of questions and surveys to help you create a technology plan. After you’ve registered for an account and logged on, click on the Surveys tab. Once you’ve taken the assessments, TechAtlas will give you recommendations on how to improve your digital infrastructure. This guided approach is a great way to take the uncertainty and guesswork out of tech planning. The Illinois State Library has a similar online questionnaire. As with TechAtlas, you have to register and log on before you can use the assessment tool.

Key Decision Makers

Strategic and Technology Plans

Building a Technology Team

  • For an in-depth discussion of managing your tech team, check out this workbook from NPower. In particular, this article talks about some of the obstacles you might encounter in building your tech team. It also discusses the value of having a technology vision statement and a “Commitment to Success” letter, two documents that can help direct the work that your team is doing.
  • This article from WebJunction gives you some advice about the mix of folks you’ll want for your technology team. You don’t have to fill every role listed in this article, but it’ll give you some ideas about the types of people you should look for.
  • Finally, this success story from the Perry Carnegie Library in Perry, Oklahoma, demonstrates the value of having an engaged, active tech team.

The Costs and Benefits of Technology

The overall accounting and fiscal management process is way beyond the scope of this site, but here are a few resources related to good accounting (i.e., measuring the costs) to get you started:

  • Since the money management cycle usually begins with the creation of a budget, we’ve pulled together some resources on budgeting in general and technology budgeting in particular in our Writing a Technology Budget tool.
  • There’s no getting around the fact that accounting and budgeting and financial management are painful subjects to learn about. But if you’re in any sort of management position, you’ll have to know at least a few concepts. The SEC has a useful discussion of the basics, though this article is geared towards investors and businesspeople. The Accounting Game is a lively, book-length overview of the same subject.
  • After you’ve mastered some of the universal principles, you might need some grounding in government accounting, which is significantly different from corporate accounting. You’ll find plenty of books and web sites devoted to this topic. The official organization for state and local government accounting standards is the GASB. This overview of accounting in schools might also have some useful information. Finally, the State Library of Michigan has posted an extensive guide to financial management in libraries, though due to some site design issues, a Google search is the best way to navigate the whole document.

Total Costs of Ownership (TCO)

Here are two possible learning scenarios to help you get up to speed on TCO.

SCENARIO DESCRIPTION WHERE TO GO
  • With everything else you have going on, you probably don’t need to understand the whole TCO methodology.
There are quick descriptions of TCO at TechSoup and LinuxPlanet that are really enough to get you started. The TCO in the Classroom site has another great introduction, though this one is a bit longer. Our TCO/TVO questionnaire will also help you understand this concept.
  • If you do want to understand TCO in more detail, there are a lot of great resources to explore. Start off by reading a few pages on one of the sites mentioned here. It’s dry, difficult reading, so reviewing the information in small chunks is the most effective approach.
  • The TCO checklist was written for school administrators, but a lot of the same considerations apply to libraries.
  • This article has a formula for deciding how much IT staff an organization needs (scroll down to the second half of this page).
  • How does TCO relate to staff development? This article has some answers.
  • A real-world example of TCO with relevance to libraries is the TCO spreadsheet from ALA. It is designed to help you figure out if it makes financial sense for your library to filter its computers. Even if you’re not in the midst of that difficult decision, this is a useful tool, because it translates an abstract methodology into real budget line items.
  • Finally, this look at the TCO of open-source software poses some good questions that apply to just about any technology purchase.

Good Evaluations

There are several evaluation frameworks to help you figure out which measurements best suit your situation. Outcomes-based evaluation, return on investment, and cost-benefit analysis are three of the better-known methodologies. They all take some time to learn and implement, but it’s worth the extra effort if you’re working on a complex, expensive, high-profile project.

Tools

It doesn’t hurt to have an extra set of tools around when you are creating a strategic technology plan for your library. The checklists and assessment matrixes complement and amplify the earlier articles in this section.

Technical Computer Competencies Assessment

Use the following chart as a guide to set expectations around the competencies that can help you succeed.

MAINTENANCE AREA/TOOLCOMPETENCIES
Disk-Protection
  • Familiarity with the software components that require regular updating so that you can configure disk-protection to keep those changes (e.g., Windows updates, anti-virus definitions, MS Office updates).
  • An understanding that disk-protection greatly affects how the computer handles changes you make to a computer (e.g., patrons cannot save work to the protected system drive, you have to turn off disk-protection to install software).
  • Familiarity of hard drive partitioning so that you know which sections of a hard drive are protected and understand how to create parts that are unprotected to save work, if desired. For an overview of hard drive partitioning, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Partition_(computing).
Lock-down computers
  • An understanding of computer user accounts and how they limit or grant access to various pieces of the computer's operation (e.g., an administrator should have the ability to change other users' passwords, but regular users should not be able to do this).
  • Familiarity with Microsoft Policies (or Group Policies) to modify user permissions and access is helpful. For an overview of Microsoft Policies, take a look at http://www.infopeople.org/resources/security/workstation/policies.html.
Imaging and cloning
  • The capacity and the ability to manage large files (2 GB and greater) on various media (e.g., recordable DVDs, portable hard drives, servers). Imaging copies the contents of the whole hard drive to one file. This creates “big” files (anywhere from 2 GB on up, depending on what software you have installed on your computer).
  • Familiarity with hard drive partitioning to understand the sections of a hard drive being imaged. Some people will store a copy of an image on the hard drive of the computer, making it much easier to clone the computer if the need arises. It is important to maintain a copy of these images elsewhere as a backup. For an overview of hard drive partitioning, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Partition_(computing).
  • An understanding of available imaging and cloning tools. Some tools, especially older versions, may require the creation of bootable CDs, floppy disks, or flash drives. Newer versions of cloning software are more flexible and offer ways of imaging/cloning that don't require boot disks. Most imaging software includes tools to create boot CDs.
  • An understanding of third-party imaging and cloning tools. For example, BartPE (http://www.nu2.nu/pebuilder/) is an outstanding and free boot CD creation tool, but requires advanced knowledge of Windows operating system and hardware device drivers. There are other options at http://bootdisk.com.

Six-Step Technology Planning Tool

KEY ACTIONS (OR DECISIONS)RESOURCES
Step 1: Find the real IT decision makers in your community and schedule meetings with them.
Step 2: Do a technology inventory to figure out what hardware, software and networking equipment you already own.
 
A thorough technology inventory takes some time and planning, and it requires that you have the right tools. Our Technology Assessment page gives you some tips on doing an inventory and some links to free software to get you started.
Step 3: Look at your library’s strategic plan or long-range plan and think about how it will affect your technology plan.
 
Check our Strategic and Technology Plans.
Step 4: Pull together a technology team and schedule your first meeting to discuss the information you’ve collected in steps 1 through 3.
 
This step is complicated, so be sure to review Building a Technology Team. We’ve included plenty of resources.
Step 5: Write the technology plan.
 
For guidance on the actual writing and brainstorming process, see the following list of additional resources.
Step 6: Revisit and evaluate your technology. Plan on a regular basis (every 6 to 12 months).
 
Your technology plan should be rewritten entirely at least once every three years. For more information on the evaluation process, check out this article and these resources from WebJunction.

Quick Reference: What Do You Need to Know About Technology Decision Makers?

The following are some thoughts and questions you can use to learn more about the key influencers and decision makers in your community.

  • Who are they?
    Who makes the final decisions when it comes to IT? It could be one person, but since technology is so vast and complex, responsibility and influence are often widely distributed. More confusing for you is the fact that in some organizations no one has taken ownership of the IT turf. However, in this environment there are also opportunities.
  • Your bosses’ boss
    Your supervisor has a supervisor, who in turn has a supervisor. It’s easy to forget that key influencers have reporting and accountability requirements. Do your best to find out who they report to and how their performance is judged.
  • Laws and regulations
    Most key decision makers are circumscribed by a set of laws, regulations and policies. Some of these can be changed, others are set in stone. Get a sense of what’s in these statutes and policies, and obtain copies if you can. You don’t have to read them all, but you should have them on hand for reference purposes.
  • Criteria and concerns
    What other criteria do your IT decision makers use in approving or rejecting IT projects and IT purchases? Are those criteria written down anywhere? What are their fears and concerns? Are they operating under a tight budget? Have they been burned in the past by network security problems?
  • Presentation and communication
    Everyone has a different learning style, and everyone absorbs information differently. Therefore, one decision maker in your community will respond to charts and graphs, while another responds to stories about patrons, and another prefers statistics. What types of arguments and evidence do they respond to?
  • Initiatives
    Are there any big technology initiatives already underway?
  • $$$
    Where does the money come from? Which budgets can you use to cover technology costs? There may be funds in your community that you are not currently aware of.
  • Technology planning
    Has someone else already written a technology plan? If you like the plan, that’s great, there’s less for you to do. You can sign off on the existing plan or use it as a foundation for your own work. Even if you disagree with the direction of the existing plan, you have to take those decisions into account and understand why they were made.
  • Tech teams
    Is there already a technology team in place? If there’s a system-level, city-level or county-level tech committee, try to get a seat on the committee or at least sit in on the meetings. You may decide that your library needs a tech committee of its own. If this is the case, the two teams have to be aware of one another, and if your committee is the less powerful, the responsibility for contact and communication will probably fall on your shoulders.

Who Are Some Key Decision Makers?

  • City council or county council members
  • Mayor or city supervisor or county supervisor
  • City or county IT department
  • Library’s IT department
  • Trustees or library boards
  • A regional library co-op
  • A state library – State libraries often have rules with regard to technology planning, budgeting and reporting, especially if they provide funding to your library.
  • Federal grant agencies (IMLS and USAC) – If you apply for any e-rate discounts, you’re accountable to USAC, and if you receive any money from IMLS, you have to play by their rules as well.

Please note some possible key decision makers who can assist in your library technology planning.

NAME:TITLE:CONTACT INFORMATION:
   
   
   
   

Technology Assessment Checklist

When you’re creating a technology assessment, this list might help you to get started. For more information on why you should perform an assessment see Technology Assessments.

What’s Included in a technology assessment:

  • What technology skills does your staff possess? How much do they know about different hardware and software topics?
  • Do you have any written policies relating to staff and public use of technology? Do you have any informal, unwritten policies?
  • What are your procedures and policies with relation to data backup, computer security, purchasing, change requests, tech support, etc.?
  • What’s the current state of your ILS, your Web site, your local network, your Internet connection and other key technologies? Are there any weaknesses or threats that need to be addressed?
  • Who do you turn to for advice about technology?
  • Who are your technology vendors and sales representatives?
  • Who provides your Internet connection? How fast is that connection? What sorts of networking equipment (routers, switches, firewalls) do you have?
  • What are the major technology services you provide to your patrons? Do you offer one-on-one or classroom-based technology training?
  • Are you currently working on any new technology projects or services?
  • A technology inventory.

10 Rules for Building and Managing a Tech Team

  1. Include at least one frontline staffperson on your team (i.e. a circulation staffperson or a reference librarian). They see a wide variety of patrons and in some respects they might understand patron needs better than the patrons themselves.
  2. Include at least one non-techie on your team.
  3. If possible, include a techie who doesn’t work in a library. Someone with an IT management background would be ideal, but any well-informed technology professional will do.
  4. Include a library techie on your team. If you don’t have an IT department, just invite someone on your staff who’s enthusiastic and knowledgeable about technology.
  5. Prepare for each meeting. Gather relevant information and develop some questions that will generate discussion. Send these out to the team at least a week before each meeting.
  6. Spend the first meeting or two educating your team about the current technology environment in your library, the library’s strategic vision and budget constraints.
  7. Bring in examples of successful programs and services from other libraries. Use the MaintainIT Cookbooks and other resources to help your team understand what’s possible and what’s worked for other libraries.
  8. Teach your team about the community and about the needs of the people you serve. If you don’t have community members and patrons on your team, do some demographic research, observe patrons in the library, interview community leaders and talk with the patrons themselves.
  9. When you’re discussing the needs of your community (#8), talk about the technology needs of people who don’t visit the library on a regular basis.
  10. Follow through on the team’s recommendations.

Writing a Technology Budget — Ideas in Action Chart

IDEA TAKE ACTION
If you’re a fiscal novice, learn a little about budgets. The American Library Association's Library Budget Presentation website covers preparing and presenting your library's budget.
Pick a software tool to help you with creating your budget.
  • If you’re on a shoestring budget, you can start with a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. Techsoup offers steep discounts to libraries on accounting software from SageIntuit and others.
  • For more information, read A Few Good Accounting Packages on the Techsoup website.
Decide what expenses you’ll include in your budget projections.
  • If you have a recent technology budget, it helps to look there first, but if that’s all you do, it’s easy to perpetuate the oversights you made last year and the year before. You can also look at sample budgets for small, medium, and large libraries on WebJunction's website and examples from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.
  • Another budgeting model that might help you think specifically about your technology spending is called Total cost of ownership.
  • As we mentioned earlier, ask other libraries and other city government departments if you can see their technology budget. They may have included items that you forgot.
Think about e-rate.

Always look at the suggestions of the e-­rate administrators (USAC) if you plan to apply for e-­rate discounts in the near future. If you don’t follow their advice, you may receive an unpleasant visit from Mr. Auditor.

 

TCO/TVO Questions You Should Be Asking

Total cost of ownership (TCO) refers to the hidden costs of a new technology. Total value of ownership (TVO) is the flip side of TCO and refers to the hidden benefits. Following are a few questions you can ask yourself to help uncover these hidden costs and benefits. However, this list is only partial. For more considerations, check out our additional resources:

Total cost of ownership questions

  • IT staff support: How much time will your IT staff spend supporting and maintaining the new technology?
  • Vendor fees: Will you be paying any ongoing support or licensing fees to the vendor?
  • IT training: For any complex technology, your IT staff will need ongoing training. They might need formal classroom training, or they might make do with books, websites and advice from colleagues. However, whatever technique they choose, they’ll need paid time to absorb the new knowledge.
  • Staff training: Any time you replace a major productivity tool, such as your ILS or your Microsoft Office productivity suite, staff will request some formal or informal training.
  • Bandwidth costs: Will you need a faster Internet Connection to handle the new technology? For instance, if you begin a project to digitize local history resources and put them online, and you include high-quality photos and streaming audio files of interviews with residents, will your connection be able to handle the traffic? Certain applications will also increase the traffic between branches, so you might need to upgrade your wide area network connections.
  • Hardware costs: Does the software you’re considering require new hardware? For example, a lot of enterprise-class technologies run best on dedicated servers or single-purpose hardware appliances. Even if you have an unused server in your library, is it compatible with the new software?
  • Infrastructure costs: Computers need electricity, and they have needs in terms of temperature and humidity. Will a new technology initiative require that you upgrade your HVAC system? Will you need more electrical outlets? Will you need a new electrical panel? Will you need more network drops, more patch panels or more switches?
  • Electricity costs: If you’re running more desktop and laptop computers, you’ll be paying more each month for electricity. Servers also use electricity, but they might have additional costs related to maintaining stable temperature and humidity.
  • Technology replacement: How long will it be before you need to replace this technology, and how much will it cost?

Total value of ownership questions: You can turn any of the previous questions on their head and ask yourself what the benefits and savings of this new technology are?

  • Service to patrons: It’s hard to measure the impact that a new technology will have on patrons, but it’s obviously a primary consideration that can easily outweigh all the other factors on this list.
  • Library visibility: Some technologies generate excitement and publicity. For example, video game events are still controversial in some quarters, but journalists like to write about them. On the other hand, your new disk-cloning software probably won’t get a write-up in the local paper.
  • Staff productivity: Will library staff be able to do their jobs faster with the new system you’re considering? If you’re tracking your income and expenses using a clunky, ten-year-old piece of software, could you save time in the long run by upgrading? How many extra steps and unnecessary workarounds does your staff use to deal with the quirks and limitations of your ILS software?
  • IT staff support: If a new technology is more reliable and user-friendly than the solution you have in place, your staff will spend less time fixing problems and answering support calls.
  • IT training: Again, more reliable, user-friendly software may reduce the amount of time your IT staff spends trying to learn the intricacies of the technology.
  • Staff training: Ditto. User-friendly technology means less staff training.
  • Hardware costs: It may sound counterintuitive, but some technologies can reduce your long-term hardware costs. For example, you may be running a technology in your library that requires its own piece of hardware, while the replacement option you’re considering is happy to run alongside other programs on a shared device. If you run a lot of server-based programs that all require their own dedicated hardware, virtualization software might let you consolidate those applications and run them all on the same server without any conflicts. Thin client solutions such as Userful Desktop can also reduce the amount of hardware in your library.
  • Infrastructure costs: Again, any technology that reduces the amount of hardware in your library (see the previous item) might lower your long-term infrastructure costs by reducing the number of electrical outlets and network drops that you need.
  • Electricity costs: Is the new technology you’re looking at more energy-efficient? For example, LCD monitors use much less electricity than older CRT monitors, and computer manufacturers are making strides in terms of reducing the energy consumption of their products. Also, anything that reduces the total number of PCs and servers in your library will probably reduce electrical costs as well.
  • Bandwidth costs: Some vendors are more conscientious than others when it comes to conserving precious bandwidth. In other words, the software you’re looking at may use less bandwidth than your existing solution and could, therefore, save you money. Bandwidth management tools are specifically designed to reduce your bandwidth usage.

What additional TCO questions should you be asking about your specific technology purchases?

  • ________________________________________________________________
  • ________________________________________________________________
  • ________________________________________________________________

Places to Learn about Technology

  • Magazines — Most technology magazines are available online in one form or another, but since a lot of these web sites are often difficult to navigate, many folks still buy or subscribe to print magazines.
    • For a general overview of technology, check out Wired and PC World (MacWorld or Linux Magazine are the Mac/Linux equivalents), but there a lot of magazines that cover the same ground.
    • Fast Company and Business 2.0 also do a good job of writing about technology for a general audience. They’re usually interested in entrepreneurial applications of technology, but some of those ideas apply to libraries as well.
  • Enterprise-level magazines — If you’re managing technology for a large library system, InformationWeek, eWeek and CIO can keep you apprised of developments in the enterprise IT realm.
  • Blogs — As mentioned previously, Meredith Farkas’ post on library blogs will introduce you to the library technology blogosphere, and the Technorati top 100 will introduce you to the wider blogosphere.
  • Web sites — If you’re looking for product reviews or in-depth, detailed news about specific technologies, some of the enterprise magazine sites mentioned previously (eWeek, CIO) can help. Also check out CNet, Slashdot and Ars technica.
  • Conferences — State, regional and national conferences are great places to learn and get inspired.
    • Computers in Libraries and Internet Librarian are entirely technology-focused.
    • The Public Library Association (PLA) and the American Library Association (ALA) vary in their coverage of technology from year to year, but they usually feature a good selection of tech programs.
    • The Library of Information Technology Association (LITA) tends to be more focused on academic libraries, but it has some sessions that might be useful to public librarians.
  • Classroom training — Classroom-based technology trainings often cost several thousand dollars for a week-long course, but for those who learn best in this environment, it’s a worthwhile investment.
    • State libraries and state library associations occasionally sponsor free or low-cost technology trainings, so keep an eye out for those.
    • Also, the OCLC regional cooperatives frequently offer online and face-to-face training on technology topics.
    • New Horizons is probably the best-known national provider of technology training, but there are thousands of local businesses that offer the same services.
    • Some prefer community college technology courses because they’re often cheaper and less exhausting than the intensive New Horizons type class. Instead of learning eight hours a day for five days straight, college adult education courses let you attend class one or two evenings a week.
  • Webinars and e-learning — Free technology Webinars (aka Webcasts) are easy to find these days. Webinars are real-time, interactive Web presentations with some mix of lecture, demonstration, Q&A and student participation. Of course, as often as not, you’ll learn about a Webinar after it takes place, in which case you can usually access an archived version with all of the original content but none of the interaction. Chris Jowaisas from the Texas State Library attends Webinars put on by tech vendors. Microsoft, Symantec, Cisco and others put on thousands each year. These Webinars usually begin with a broad discussion of a particular type of technology or a particular problem that IT folks frequently face. According to Chris, this is the informative piece. Once the presenters begin selling their own solution, he often drops off the Webinar.
  • 23 Things — About a year and a half ago, Helene Blowers (working then at the Public Libraries for Charlotte and Mecklenburg County) developed a hands-on collaborative curriculum for learning new technology, especially Web 2.0 software. It’s been wildly successful, and dozens of libraries have used this model. However, you don’t have to be part of a group. Almost all the tools that Helene highlights are free, and her exercises are easy to follow. The original 23 Things site has everything you need to get started, and a search for “23 Things” on del.icio.us will pull up related sites from other libraries.
  • Vodcasts and podcasts — If you’re more of a visual or audio-based learner, there are thousands of technology-related video and audio presentations available for free on the Web. These presentations go by various names depending on the technology being used (e.g. vodcast, podcast, video-on-demand, streaming audio, etc.), but you can view most of them in your web browser.
    • If you want software designed specifically for viewing audio and video, check out ITunes, Joost or Miro. This page has a good description of the most popular tech vodcasts.
    • If you want to search for a video on a particular topic, try Blinkx or Google Video.
    • If you want library-specific vodcasts, check out SirsiDynix Institute or the Library Gang.
  • Mailing lists and discussion boards — Neither is a cutting-edge technology anymore, but they’re consistently popular.
  • RSS feeds — This is mainly a tool that facilitates information skimming. You can scan the titles of a hundred blog posts in five minutes or so and get a good sense of what’s going on in the tech world and the library world. Feed readers are also great for targeted searching. Most of them let you search for a keyword across all of your feeds or within a particular subset of your feeds (e.g. all your feeds about Web 2.0 category or all your feeds about management). In effect you’re searching 20 or 50 or a 100 of your favorite sites and filtering out the billions of sites that you haven’t vetted.
    • Google Reader and Bloglines are popular, and if those two don’t appeal to you, there are lots of alternatives to choose from.
    • If you’ve never used RSS and have no idea what it is, we recommend RSS in Plain English from the folks at Common Craft.
  • Social search and social news — In a sense, all search engines rely on social search features. For example, Google’s PageRank search algorithm returns results based on how many other pages link to a particular site. However, other Web 2.0 companies are harnessing collective intelligence more directly to create information retrieval services that filter out irrelevant, poor-quality content.
    • For instance, del.icio.us is a social bookmarking site that lets you collect and organize your own information, but it also lets you search across everyone else’s bookmarks, seeing which sites on “RAID” or “Ubuntu basics” have been bookmarked most often.
    • Digg and reddit are social news sites that let users determine the most important tech stories in the world on any given day.
  • Wikis — Many people frequently start out at Wikipedia when researching a topic that they know little or nothing about. It’s especially good at showing how a particular technical topic relates to other subjects, and you can usually find one or two useful links at the bottom of each article. For library-related technology, try the Library Success Wiki.
  • Books — A lot of folks can’t stand technology manuals, but they’ve improved a lot in terms of design and readability.
    • For tech beginners, we’ve heard a lot of good things about Bit Literacy. Another good book is Rule the Web by Mark Freudenfelder.
    • For intermediate and advanced topics, pay close attention to Amazon reviews, and spend some time in the computer section of your local bookstore.
    • You might save some money in the long run by paying for a subscription to Safari or Books 24x7. Both are online, searchable collections of IT manuals. Your library or another one in the area may already have a subscription.
  • Geektastic — If you’re looking for inspiration, and technology is a passion of yours and not just a job requirement, there are several great online resources that provide a deeper, broader perspective.
    • The annual TED (Technology, Education, Design) Conference gives scientists, entrepreneurs and big thinkers the chance to imagine the future of science and technology, and discuss long-term trends in culture, business and the environment. The presentations are available online, and they’re consistently fascinating.
    • Fora.tv and BigThink also have lots of high-quality science and technology videos.
    • Technology Review is a magazine put out by MIT, and it provides high-level insight into emerging technologies, along with a description of the science that underpins these developments. Wired and Fast Company also includes regular articles about big-picture trends in the tech world. All of these sites will challenge you and they might get you revved up and enthused about IT, but they won’t have much impact on your day-to-day management of technology.
  • Co-workers — If you’re lucky enough to have some engaged, informed techies on your own staff, you probably already rely heavily on them for advice.
  • Other library techies — If you have the opportunity, talk to the other accidental library techies in your area and set up a technology interest group or library technology meetup. In "Stories from the Field" at the bottom of our article on Keeping Up with Technology, Janet McKenney describes a small group in southern Maine that meets four times a year to discuss library technology issues. They have five or six core members and other librarians and techies drift in and out, attending some but not all of the meetings. In other words, you don’t need a huge group in order to start your own regional library technology association. You can have formal presentations, facilitated discussions, informal conversations or a mix of all three.
  • Computer user groups and technology clubs — Get in touch with local techies outside the library field. Not every town has a computer user group, but a surprising number do. Some of these clubs have a general focus, while others concentrate on a specific platform or technology. The groups listed at the Association of Personal Computer User Groups include more hobbyists and enthusiasts, while the groups at Culminis seem to focus more on enterprise IT. Both sites include Windows-centric associations, but if you’re looking for more leads in that direction, check out User Groups: Meet and Learn with Your Peers on the Microsoft site. Linux.org and LinuxLinks both host a directory of Linux User Groups (LUGS), while the Apple site has a Macintosh User Group (MUG) database.