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.

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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?

  • ________________________________________________________________
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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.