So often this semester, the readings for LSC 555 have left me amazed at how quickly technology changes, and wondering how libraries can ever keep up…or, even if they should try. The readings we were given to choose from for our last blog post are no different. I read “Analyzing RSS Applications on Library Web Sites” by Tanmay De Sarkar and my first thought was, “Wait. People still use RSS?” And I’m something of a Luddite, a late rather than an early adopter! The article was only published four years ago, but when it comes to information technology, that might as well have been a literal, not digital, generation ago. RSS does seem to be an eminently useful technology and one less dependent on correctly guessing trends than many other technologies. So why does it seem so passé? Is it because we are all—librarians and users alike—victims of the decreased attention span rapid change brings on?
Bohyun Kim’s chapter on “the mobile library experience” both suggested what may be a replacement for RSS feeds and graphically demonstrated the rapidity of technical change. If you do most of your work on your phone, and you can sign up for automated text messages to your phone that tell you when a book is coming due and that kind of thing, then why sign up for an RSS feed that does the same thing? I can’t say why a text message would be better than an RSS feed—they both seem to me to do the same thing, at the same speed, with the same amount of work for the user to sign on—but if that’s the trend now, I suppose librarians, with their limited resources, should focus on SMS instead of RSS or divide their attention between the both of them. They also, apparently, should make sure the full capabilities of the library’s websites are accessible by telephone. This means searchable databases, the full catalog, personal account adjustments…the works. The surveys Kim cited and the screenshots he provided demonstrated how dominant smartphone technology became in just the three years between 2000 and 2013, when he wrote the chapter. Earlier in the semester, I would have said it was astonishing, but by now, after reading article after article that were only a couple of years old yet touted some now widely-accepted technology as the Next Big Thing, I’m no longer astonished. I do rather wonder what comes next—because there will be a “next,” within just a couple of years if past performance is anything to go by—and what its costs will be, in terms of dollars and cents but also in the loss of privacy.
I can’t help but feel that we as a profession at least, and maybe as a species, can’t keep this up. We need to settle on something, to rest and find some stability in the way we talk (literally or virtually) with each other and otherwise transmit information. As it is, technology has been developed and adapted in such a scattershot way, with so many different systems and languages and markups used by so many different institutions and patrons, that I have to wonder if it’s defeating the purposes of efficiency and transferability. Just as an example: Think of how many e-readers there are out there, utilizing different file formats and operating on different platforms. Perhaps it’s fitting that my last post for this blog has brought me back to my first, experimental post, which may be floating in the ether but otherwise appears to be gone: A book is not an information system. It is, however, generally speaking, ergonomic, affordable, not subject to technical obsolescence, sturdy, portable, and frequently aesthetically attractive (there’s a reason so many e-book covers are designed to look like the traditional codex-style book, and e-book screen settings can be set to look like parchment or aged paper). Maybe it’s time librarians started looking in its direction again rather than running a futile race to keep up with digital trends.
De Sarkar, T. (2012). Analyzing RSS applications on library web sites. Library Hi Tech News, 29(5), 4–21. doi:10.1108/07419051211262072
Kim, B. (2013). The present and future of the library mobile experience. Library Technology Reports, 49(6), 15-28,2. Retrieved from http://proxycu.wrlc.org/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.proxycu.wrlc.org/docview/1441522359?accountid=9940