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Let’s Focus on the Patrons

by on August 1, 2013

Do you feel some libraries are spending too much effort on acquiring iPads and etcetera, and have lost sight of the bigger picture? In Library Journal, Aaron Schmidt asserts that in recent years, the library profession has been side-tracked by focusing on technology and gadgets rather than library users. Overall, I think public libraries do remember they exist for their patrons. However, it may be the struggle to prove value and relevance in the face of economic worries that has led to an over emphasis on technology. Regardless, Mr. Schmidt raises some valid points which are worth some reflection. He warns “when we fetishize technology, we can only look at it shallowly” and this inhibits meaningful technology use in libraries. Instead, if we return our focus to people, “library technology will become even more important” and we will make the extra effort to ensure it is “useful” and “desirable.”[1]

I think the point is making sure the tools libraries acquire can be beneficial long-term and do not end up as short-lived trends. Look at the bookless library model being launched in Texas. While it appears citizens have not yet objected, my question is whether much thought was put into what citizens in the area actually need and want. The official who came up with the idea for this library said “we’ve never been in this business, so we come in with a clean slate and no expectations about what service we will provide.” [2] Is it not the planners’ job to understand the needs of the surrounding community and provide appropriate services? What happens if many patrons do not have e-readers, are not tech-savvy, or simply prefer print books? There are instances of libraries that “jump on hot new things” and then “[jump] ship for the next new thing.”[3] These examples seem to prove Mr. Schmidt’s argument. Technology is important, but it is a “subservient tool” which libraries can use to provide better service to their patrons.[4] It should not be used as a means to look “cool.”

[1] Aaron Schmidt, “Focus on People, Not Tools: The User Experience,” Library Journal, June 3, 2013, accessed June 28, 2013, http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2013/06/opinion/aaron-schmidt/focus-on-people-not-tools-the-user-experience/ .

[2] Miguel Bustillo, “Library That Holds No Books,” Wall Street Journal, February 6, 2013, accessed June 28, 2013, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324761004578286253988145208.html .

[3] Meredith Farkas, “In Practice. Spare Me the Hype Cycle,” American Libraries 44, no. 5 (2013): 23, http://libaccess.sjlibrary.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=llf&AN=87453267&site=ehost-live .

[4] Schmidt, “Focus on People, Not Tools.”


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