Small Libraries, Big Technology

Article excerpt

Introductions can be so awkward. Even though we have invented all kinds of unwritten rules and protocols for our initial greetings, I always seem to have questions: Just how firm should your handshake be? How should you respond if the other person is attempting to break your hand? How long should you maintain eye contact? When you are introducing yourself, how should you behave (formal, charming, reserved, funny)? You get the idea. Introductions can be awkward ... and so it is with introductory columns. As with most things, the best approach is the direct approach, so here it is.

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My name is Gary Roberts. I'm a systems and reference librarian from Herrick Library, Alfred University, a small university in upstate New York. In case you were looking for Michael Schuyler's column in this spot and happened upon my ugly mug, I am the bearer of sad news. Michael retired from library service last summer, and, more recently, he resigned from his 18-year tenure as the godfather of all CIL columnists. There is no way that I could possibly fill Michael's shoes. I do, however, have the honor and challenge of filling the pages previously graced by his wit, humor, and perspective.

A few of you may already know me, since I have written a number of articles for CIL in the last several years. In addition, I have been a presenter (and even a vendor) at the annual Computers in Libraries conference in Washington, D.C. As you can imagine, I was honored when Kathy Dempsey asked me if I'd be interested in writing a column for CIL. Kathy's first question to me was, "What would you write about?" As I hung up the phone to contemplate her question, I could hear my freshman composition teacher shouting the correct answer to me from across the decade, "Write about what you know!" I know about technology in small libraries.

My new column, Computers in Small Libraries, will speak to "typical" libraries and how staff in these institutions can leverage information technology on a modest budget, with a small (but enthusiastic) staff, and a clear vision for development. I believe even the smallest libraries have vast IT resources that are underutilized; their librarians just need encouragement and information to fully realize their institutions' potential. Although every column may not be a step-by-step, "how to do it in your small library" piece, you can be assured that I will explore each subject with a positive and pragmatic focus. I will examine each month's theme with the perspective that resources are not unlimited, even in larger libraries. Librarians must be extraordinarily creative with resource-intensive technology problems. I will strive to answer the question, "How do professionals in smaller libraries efficiently use technology?" I will always favor the concrete over the abstract.

On the other hand, this is not going to be a technology "lite" column. "Small" does not mean technologically backward; rather, it means developing technology with an emphasis on cost/benefit analysis. Small libraries don't have the resources to adopt every new technology. It is important that small libraries operate strategically, adopting only those technologies that are the most beneficial to their patrons. I can also assure you that I will not present technology just because it is "cool." Believe me, I love bleeding-edge technology as much as the next geek. But ultimately, I just want the bottom line: How does this technology benefit my library's patrons?

Now that I have introduced my column, let's go beyond the "small" talk and explore some specific topics that I will entertain in future columns.

The Dynamic Web and XML

If you have read the first or second feature article that I wrote for CIL, then you know that I am particularly interested in Web design. More specifically, I am interested in database-driven Web sites. I have concluded recently that even small libraries must emulate e-commerce by creating highly interactive and dynamic Web sites. …