5 Tech Tips I Learned from ALA 2016

ALA 2016 logo

If you've ever attended American Library Association's Annual Conference, you'll probably agree with me that it is two things: useful and overwhelming. I generally try to hit as many tech-related sessions as I can with a few author signings thrown in here and there.

But by the time I get home, I look at my massive Google Doc of notes and think, "Wait, what did I learn again?" This year in Orlando, I tried a different technique. As I took notes, I highlighted the key tech tips from the sessions I went to. I've picked out some of my favorites, so if you too are feeling overwhelmed or were not able to go, I hope you find these beneficial to your library's tech goals!

Make the Tor Browser Available to Your Patrons

The Library Freedom Project and the Lebanon Public Library in New Hampshire teamed up for a session called How Local Libraries Can Protect Global Internet Freedom. While it covered a few different privacy issues, it focused on the Library Freedom Project's Tor Relay Initiative. Tor is a service that helps protect users' anonymity while they use the Internet. Tor is a two-part system. It is software that you can download that allows you to use the Internet anonymously, and it is a volunteer network of computers that makes it possible for that software to work. The Lebanon Public Library became one of those volunteer networks and was faced with much controversy

If your library isn't ready to become a Tor volunteer, you can still participate in the Internet privacy initiative by making the Tor browser available on your computers. The browser lets users use Tor without any need to install software. Chuck McAndrew is the information technology librarian at the Lebanon public libraries. He explained that the browser is a great way not only to provide your patrons with anonymous web browsing but also to give them a catalyst for talking about other Internet privacy issues. 

Use Private Live Streams for Multibranch Staff Training

Michelle Ashurina Petrossi from the Ventura Public Library in California led a fun session on using live-streamed video at your library. We've covered different ways libraries can use live streaming for programming, but I had never considered how it might be a useful tool for staff training.

Periscope, the video platform Michelle focused on in her presentation, allows you to do private live streams. Only people with an invite can see private streams, so I can see it being an alternative to webinar or conference call platforms.

Host a Repair Café at Your Library

Katrina Doktor from the Brampton Public Library in Ontario, Canada, did a five-minute Ignite presentation on easy MakerSpace programs. It's incredible how much information you can pack into such a short time! All of her ideas were excellent, but I really liked the idea of starting a Repair Café at your library. Repair Cafés, found all over the world, are free meeting places where visitors repair clothes, furniture, electrical appliances, computers, and more.

Within the spirit of DIY, Repair Café has an easy-to-follow guide for organizations to start their own cafés. Check out the Brampton Library's Repair Café event for inspiration.

Reach for the STAR_Net!

Do you do STEM programming at your library? Have you taken advantage of STAR_Net's incredible resources for libraries? The STAR Library Education Network held a STEM Collaboration Share-a-Thon (PDF) with speakers from the Fayetteville Free Library, Contra Costa County Library, Institute of Museum and Library Services, and staff from STAR_Net. STAR_Net not only offers a STEM Resource Clearinghouse for libraries, it also has a Community of Practice with over 1,600 members.

Take Technology to the Streets

The San Jose Public Library, located in the heart of the Silicon Valley in California, is always on the leading edge of library technology. This session covered how to bring technology outside of the walls of your library. By taking a 3D printer to a farmer's market or providing GoPro cameras at the skatepark, the San Jose Public Library is not only reaching patrons where they are, it is forming new program opportunities.

Learned other tech tips from ALA this year? Share them in the comments!