This special report from Primary Research Group is based on exhaustive interviews with information technology directors and other critical staff involved in IT decision-making from the Princeton Public Library, Minneapolis Public Library, Evansville Public Library, Santa Monica Public Library, Boston Public Library, Columbus Metropolitan Public Library, San Francisco Public Library, Seattle Public Library, and the Denver Public Library.
Some of the report’s findings:
Public libraries feel their mission has in many ways been transformed by new technologies, particularly internet access, and that the key to winning greater support for public libraries is educating the public in the use of these technologies. Virtually all of the librarians in this report offer advice and insights for their peers, but all seem to agree on one thing: the public’s appetite for internet and database access is growing and virtually insatiable.
The public library’s peculiar combination of free internet access and knowledgeable tutors and guides has made it an indisputable draw. Many libraries have had success in technology-related bond issues for new libraries or for refurbishing old libraries, even as operating budgets are forced down by uncertain public finances.
Libraries that are using RFID automated book check out technology appear to be divided into two camps: those which hesitate in implementing the technology, and those which essentially limit or eliminate non-automated check out, literally compelling patrons to adjust to the new technology. All of those that had taken the latter approach were glad that they had.
In database licensing, many public libraries appear to believe that they can negotiate individually as well or nearly as well as they can in consortium. We feel that this is a ripe are for library scientists and public library associations to do some serious research to actually quantify the truth or falsity of these perceptions. Whatever the case, apart from some regional and state-level consortiums, public libraries, even larger ones, appear to seriously lag their counterparts in academic libraries in their enthusiasm for consortium arrangements.
While public libraries may lag in the use of consortiums, they are surprisingly advanced in their efforts to digitize their special collections. Many public libraries are further along in the digitization process than their counterparts in small and medium sized academic libraries.
After a slow start, electronic books are making a significant impact, led by organizations such as NetLibrary and Overdrive, whose innovative technology and approach to ebook management appear to be winning many converts.
The libraries in the small sample seemed quite interested in expanding in-house telecommunications capacities, enabling librarians to communicate with one another, and with patrons, while they walked around the library. Vocera, a voice over IP application for libraries, was a coveted product.
Increasingly, public libraries are viewing themselves as places to introduce new technologies to the public. Centers that introduce new software and hardware have increasingly become part of the public library mission and are major selling points in raising new funds for libraries.