Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large
ISSN 1534-0937
Libraries · Policy · Technology · Media


Selection from Cites & Insights 4, Number 9: July 2004


Bibs & Blather

Top Technology Trends Musings

Walt Crawford

Orlando will mark the sixth year and 12th conference since a LITA committee invited a group of “trendspotters” to sit around and talk about library-related technology trends worth watching. I’m a little astonished that it’s been that long—and that I’ve been part of the group all that time. People have been added to the group and a few have left. With rare exceptions, you never see all the “trendspotters” at either the informal Midwinter gathering or the increasingly-big-deal Annual panel.

Earlier this year there was some discussion of LITA Top Technology Trends (TTT) on the LITA list and elsewhere. That discussion made me think about the group and my own role. Since those thoughts are ill formed and don’t rise to the level of a proper Perspective, I’m putting them in Bibs & Blather instead.

Who Certifies the Trends?

One discussion thread centered on validation and certification. Were TTT members checking their trends against appropriately authoritative sources? Why should LITA members accept TTT’s assurance that these were the technology trends?

A few TTT members work in arenas that make them likely to be aware of the most important new issues—but some don’t. We read, listen, think, and respond. Some TTT members may vet their ideas with “authoritative” sources; some certainly don’t.

The idea of TTT is to raise awareness—not to assert that each list is the set of important topics.

Why isn’t Trend X on the Current List?

The Midwinter list arises quite differently than the Annual one, but in neither case do we sit around reviewing all the old lists and seeing which trends should remain. The old lists all stay on the TTT website and there’s no reason to believe that an “old” trend is no longer important. (We have talked about dying trends once in a while, but I don’t believe the group has ever explicitly asked that a previous trend be marked “No longer interesting.”)

TTT at Midwinter is a three-hour morning session with continental breakfast, intended primarily for the trendspotters and committee members, decidedly informal and sometimes argumentative. It can’t be a closed meeting but visitors are expected to be observers. Ideas and criticisms get tossed back and forth rapidly and frankly throughout the session. Some of us initially expected TTT at Annual to be a shorter version of the same thing, but that’s not what it’s become (and may not have been the original intent). Instead, it’s essentially a panel program, with TTT trendspotters up front and anywhere from 50 to (lately) 600 or more people in the audience. It’s even being recorded these days. Given sizable huge audience and shorter time, Annual remarks tend to be more focused and possibly better prepared. There’s less time for back-and-forth within the panel—but there’s more opportunity for audience interaction. My guess is that blue-sky “trend” possibilities are more likely to arise at Midwinter, and those can be interesting.

The lists are at least partially cumulative. Thinking about this blather (when I still thought it was worth a separate essay), I thought it would be interesting to prepare an alphabetic list of all the trends cited on the TTT website, ignoring chronology. Turns out there is such a list as part of the website itself: “Top technology trends by topic,” with dates for each topic. Of 49 topics—listed below—only 10 have been listed more than once, with two of those mentioned three times and one four times.

What about the Makeup of TTT?

What makes these people experts? Why aren’t there more women? Why aren’t there more NexGen/GenX librarians? If “Why on earth is so-and-so on the group?” was never mentioned, that’s probably because librarians tend to be a polite bunch.

I’ve never been part of the TTT committee—the appointed group that invites TTT trendspotters, sets up the discussions, takes notes, distributes and revises the list of trends raised, and prepares resource lists that accompany those trends on the TTT website. They’re a hard-working group (not unusual for LITA or any other divisional committees) and deserve credit for keeping this whole odd enterprise going as long and as well as it has.

Should there be more women on TTT? Maybe. Should there be more younger and more technophilic librarians? Maybe.

At which point, of course, I look at the only situation I can directly influence and say, not for the first time: “Why am I still part of this group?” Since there’s not a set limit for the group size, my departure wouldn’t directly open a spot for someone younger, more technologically hip, or more female, but it would reduce the number of tired old skeptics (possibly to zero)—and that might be a good thing.

By roughly the midpoint between Midwinter and Annual, I had almost decided to make Orlando my swan song, resigning from TTT because I never really was a trendspotter and might be dragging down the level of technological enthusiasm. I took some of the list criticisms personally—not because any of them were aimed at me, but because I resembled those remarks. Six years is as long as you can serve on an ALA divisional committee. Maybe that makes sense.

I mentioned that possibility to a few other trendspotters and other acquaintances active in the profession and familiar with TTT. While I can’t say resigning from the group is now out of the question, I can say that I’ve been persuaded to reconsider. The phrase “reality check” came up more than once to describe my role on the group. While serving as a reality check isn’t the most comfortable role in the world, it may be a needed role—and it’s apparently one that suits me.

As for the rest of TTT—well, I’m guessing that the committee members are open to suggestions. You can find their names on the LITA portion of ALA’s website.

The Trends Themselves

So what of the trends identified to date? The website lists them by conference or by topic, with links to suggested sets of resources on each trend and brief commentaries on some topics. Here’s the list, in alphabetic order, with my own quick comment in a few cases. Those comments are only my own and should be regarded with at least as much skepticism as I apply toward hot new developments. I’m abbreviating dates: “M00” means “ALA Midwinter Meeting 2000,” “A03” means “ALA Annual Conference 2003.” If these don’t make sense to you, go visit the website!

Ø    Authentication [M99]. Still important, not entirely settled yet.

Ø    Automating reference [A00]. “Virtual” and real-time computer-mediated reference is fairly common these days and clearly worthwhile; true “automated” reference is something else entirely.

Ø    Blogging [A03]. Overhyped but worthwhile, both for some libraries and some librarians.

Ø    Broadband [M02].

Ø    Convenience [M01]. Always important, sometimes mildly dangerous.

Ø    Convergence [M00]. I have trouble thinking of this as anything more than a buzzword.

Ø    Co-opting Existing Technologies [M99]. One reason OpenURL works well is that it leverages Z39.50; there are many other examples—but the inclusion discusses non-library technologies, sometimes but not always worth adapting or adopting.

Ø    Copyright [A01, M04]. Unbalanced copyright gets in the way of many library technology possibilities.

Ø    Customization/personalization [M99, A00].

Ø    Cyber Infrastructure [A03]

Ø    Digital Rights Management [M04]. Another face of copyright but potentially even more damaging to library possibilities.

Ø    Ebooks [M01]. As revolutionary change, dead. As useful supplements and niche products, growing.

Ø    Evaluation of Internet Sources [M99]

Ø    Game Technology [A02]

Ø    Handhelds [A03]. (I think this is the same as PDAs/Portability)

Ø    Hiring Good Systems Personnel [A01].

Ø    Home Scholars [M99]

Ø    Human Factors [M99]

Ø    Infrared [A02]. Is this currently an interesting technology in libraries, or have various radio systems (WiFi etc.) supplanted it and its line-of-sight limitations entirely?

Ø    Integrated Online Library Systems [A02, M04]. Are these becoming disintegrated—and is that a good thing?

Ø    Internet Use in Libraries [M00]. I’d suggest that this is now part of the infrastructure, like stacks and books.

Ø    Library Catalogs [M01]. Same as Integrated Online Library Systems? Or not?

Ø    Library/Librarian Roles [M00]

Ø    MARC and XML [A00, A03, M04]. Neither one is going away; how do we make the best use of both in common systems?

Ø    Metadata Harvesting [A01]

Ø    Metasearching/New Search Interfaces [M02, A02, M04].

Ø    National Boundaries on the Web [M01]

Ø    Open Source Software [A00, M03]

Ø    OpenURL [A02]. Flourishing, available as open source, vital.

Ø    Partnerships [M00]

Ø    PDAs/Portability of Data [M03].

Ø    Policies and Technology [M04].

Ø    Preservation of New Media Formats [A99]. This one isn’t going away, partly because the methods still aren’t clear—and new formats continue to proliferate.

Ø    Privacy and Confidentiality [A99]. “See also Customization”—a good note, since the two are directly related.

Ø    Reading Habits (Scanning vs. Reading) [M03].

Ø    RFID [M04].

Ø    Search Engines [A99].

Ø    Security [M02, M03, A03, M04, with the USA PATRIOT Act noted for the last three]. See also authentication and computer vulnerabilities.

Ø    Self-publishing (Amateur fiction) [M02]. Really two different topics. Self-publishing by community members is certainly something for public libraries to be aware of—particularly for nonfiction.

Ø    Semantic Web [A01]. As a grand solution, I still think it’s pixie dust; as a series of small initiatives, there may be some meat here.

Ø    Shop Floor Management [M01]

Ø    Spam Filters [A03]. I know this is radical, but I believe the CAN-SPAM act has made a difference.

Ø    Storage and Organization of Mass Data [M02, M03]

Ø    Submerging Technology [M99].

Ø    Trust Management [A00]

Ø    User Centered Design [A02, M04]

Ø    Web Services [M03]

Ø    Web Usability [A00]

Ø    Wireless [A01, M03]

One overall comment seems obvious. Just as we said at the first Midwinter session that you don’t have to keep up with everything, it should be clear that you can’t reasonably keep up with all 49 of these topics—and the ones still to come.

New Possibilities: Reader Suggestions

I’ve never felt much like a library tech trendspotter. I do have 400+ (or 3,000+) not-so-secret weapons: Cites & Insights readers (or, in this case, the subset who subscribe to CITES Alerts). I asked CITES Alerts people for trends they thought were worth noting and got some interesting results—some of which will play into my comments at Orlando. I’m summarizing the notes they sent me without personal identification. It’s worth noting that some came from a librarian at a large Australian university. Thanks to all who offered suggestions!

Ø    “Blogging is catching on”—including multicontributor topical blogs such as STLQ and Open Access News.

Ø    Digital archives may be gaining acceptance after a years-long struggle to convince faculty that they matter.

Ø    DRM affects (plagues?) libraries—for example, making it nearly impossible to circulate some forms of digital resources.

Ø    Ebooks are still developing, but student use of systems such as netLibrary is increasing at some universities.

Ø    Metasearch increases online use, but proprietary products are too expensive. In order for metasearch to flourish, more consistent Z39.50 implementations and metadata standards are needed.

Ø    Open Access publishing and other change in scholarly communication, including online repositories, LOCKSS, etc. The window may be open for a massive shift.

Ø    PDAs have not caught on that widely among students in Australia, but almost everyone has a cell phone. At least one university library is trying out SMS (short message service) technology for services such as holds notification.

Ø    RFID is still emerging—in Australia, more in public libraries than in university libraries.

Ø    RSS appears to have growing potential as a way to deliver documents (e.g. government documents). Wisconsin’s Legislative Research Bureau, for example, has a list of documents feeds; www.rssgov.com has some information on similar uses.

Ø    Students increasingly use web-based library services and visit the library less often.

Ø    Wireless has taken off over recent years.

Of these, only two or three are new, but several represent worthwhile updates on trends that have appeared previously.

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 4, Number 9, Whole Issue 52, ISSN 1534-0937, is written and produced by Walt Crawford, a senior analyst at RLG. Opinions herein do not reflect those of RLG. Comments should be sent to wcc@notes.rlg.org. Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large is copyright © 2004 by Walt Crawford: Some rights reserved.

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