Magazine article American Libraries

The Crawford Files: Gadgets and Greatness

Magazine article American Libraries

The Crawford Files: Gadgets and Greatness

Article excerpt

You've heard about a great new service, device, or medium. Should your library hop on it? Is this the next great thing, or one of the many new things that doesn't pan out? Does it make sense for your library--or as an experiment for your group of libraries?

Some gadgets and services just don't seem plausible in most libraries. A few new things are such natural fits that there's little room for skepticism. Mostly, though, the answer is, "It depends"--on your library, your service population, and your resources.

I'm going to suggest a few questions for evaluating a hot new thing--service, medium, device, or resource--that is neither a clear-cut winner nor a loser for your library.

Upside questions

* Does the new thing extend an existing service that works well? If it clearly serves your overall mission, set of programs, and budget, that's a good start--whether the new thing becomes a replacement (CD for vinyl) or a complement (virtual reference and face-to-face reference).

* If this really is a new new thing, does it constitute a logical expansion of your tools and services? Be cautious of innovations that don't seem to mesh with anything else; they're more likely to struggle for recognition and support.

* Is this a true experiment, one your library (or system) can afford to see fail and will allow to fail? Experiments are vital to the health of libraries--but it's easy for an experiment to become a commitment even as it's draining resources and failing to improve services. Innovate, but have enough insight to scrap innovations that turn out badly before they harm your institution.

* Does the new thing increase your library's ability to serve your increasingly diverse population? What could be better?

* Does it increase the library's accessibility, your ability to make resources available to the whole community? The best argument for new things that serve a small fraction of users is when those users are clearly underserved.

Downside questions

Then there are questions that might give you pause. Briefly:

* Does the new thing broaden the economic and other divides in your community? Does it serve the haves at the expense of the have-nots?

* Are you sure the new thing isn't just a bright and shiny new toy? Do you have a clear-cut use for the new thing, or are you simply excited about its possibilities? …

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