When I finished reading Amy Wallace's manuscript, I knew it needed to be the next Accidental Technologist column. Amy's experience with users' constantly changing technology needs will resonate with all frontline librarians. Her library's response is a readily available but often overlooked technology and her advice will be of great use to libraries in their quest to provide access to a variety of computer peripherals, both cutting-edge and legacy. As promised in my first column, I have provided my thoughts on emerging (and retreating) technologies in the sidebar.--Editor.
OPen any glossy news magazine and you will find articles on all sorts of exciting technologies that are revolutionizing learning in our universities. The pervasive media coverage leads one to believe that every incoming student has a tablet PC, iPod, PDA, and cell phone that can do everything including cook dinner. Okay, maybe not actually cook dinner, but have it delivered to them from their favorite take-out place. Many of these technologies are portable and will no doubt turn up in libraries sooner than we think. Colby Riggs, in her two part Library Hi Tech News article, details a number of such technologies, including the SanDisk Folding Universal Serial Bus (USB)/SD Card; the Pupillo video camera for video calls; the Cellstik that backs up information stored on cell phones; the TuneBuckle tPod Nano Belt that serves as an iPod case while holding up your pants; the Thanko MP3 Watch that records and plays music; the U3 Smart Drive that stores Windows settings and applications for use on other PCs; and the Eyebud 800 that records images directly to an iPod. (1) Additional items can be found by browsing the latest editions of popular computer magazines. Some examples include the Pure Digital single-use camcorder, the SanDisk Cruzer Crossfire drive with preloaded interactive games, and the Young Micro USB 2.0 Adapter for using old 2 1/2-, 3 1/2-, or 5 1/4-inch drives. (2)
The pressure from our users to support these technologies is enormous. Shoham and Roitberg's study on the uses of public workstations concludes that "from the user's point of view, learning is not divided into library and non-library uses. For the benefit of the students, libraries should offer them all learning tools under one roof and in one workstation." (3) Academic libraries everywhere are scrambling to meet these demands either by launching new services or finding new ways to support these must-have technologies with existing services. This scrambling, however, is nothing new and not just reserved for academic libraries. Libraries have always had to grapple with implementing new technologies to support user demands. In some cases, decisions to provide support for a new hip technology has paid off, and in other cases libraries invest many dollars and work hours to find out a technology is passe just as it is implemented. Walk into any library and you are likely to see remnants of technologies past, including computer towers with out-of-order zip drives, specialized workstations languishing off in a corner, microform readers, or massive televisions occasionally used to view VHS tapes and DVDs.
LIMITS OF TRADITIONAL PUBLIC WORKSTATION PLANNING
Because it seems like libraries are always playing catch-up, it might be a good time for them to revisit how they interface with emerging and legacy technologies in general, instead of considering each individual technology or groups of similar technologies as they come along. To do this requires libraries to rethink the concept of the public workstation. The ideal public workstation has been a one-stop shop that allows all users to accomplish any desired function without waiting. Library Technology Reports notes that "public workstations in the library tend to offer the following features: access to the library catalog, access to Web-based electronic resources, access to CD-ROM-based electronic …