Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Hip High-Tech Purchases Don't Always Work out as Planned: Although We Researched and Tested Tools before Buying Them, These Three Didn't Work as Expected under Daily Usage

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Hip High-Tech Purchases Don't Always Work out as Planned: Although We Researched and Tested Tools before Buying Them, These Three Didn't Work as Expected under Daily Usage

Article excerpt

Since technology is so expensive, making the wrong purchasing decisions can have severe financial consequences. In 1997, Marshall University created a new decision-making, governance model by merging the Office of Computing Services with the University Libraries. This aligned the primary units responsible for information technology both administratively and financially. We researched and purchased plenty of high-tech tools, but we were not always pleased with the outcomes.

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The purpose of this article is to describe three technology decisions that failed to achieve their original intent. For each of the three, we will discuss the expectations of the chief information officer, the vendor's sales pitch, why the product was chosen, what went wrong and why, and the lessons we learned. We'll conclude by suggesting ways to minimize these sorts of costly technology decisions and by describing how students found ways to make the most of technology gone awry.

The Library Building Project

Starting in 1990, the university officials involved in projecting space and building needs for the campus had been discussing new library options with architects and staff. These individuals wanted the library to be "high-tech." But since these talks occurred during the Internet's infancy, no one really knew what this would entail, aside from a few people who were staying abreast of telecommunications advances in which fiber optics was the new standard. However, they knew that once the backbone was in place, future innovations could happen.

High-tech was already underway, but another innovation that put Marshall University in the forefront of West Virginia's academic colleges warrants special note. At a time when less than 12 percent of the nation's higher education institutions were merging libraries and computing, Marshall was moving quickly toward this goal. Building the Drinko Library was the perfect catalyst to bring this concept about. As the World Wide Web expanded to include more library-specific applications, our computing service division assisted us in addressing technical needs that most institutions had to contract to outside vendors (or they had to wait in queue for their information technology departments to address their needs). For a few years, Marshall University even enjoyed some "firsts" in West Virginia's higher education system. It was the first to implement fully automated interlibrary loan, to offer an online course management system, to make off-campus services seamless, and to provide one-stop shopping via the Web for most student registration and faculty research needs.

To anticipate student needs, the staff perused many innovative products that boasted features that we felt were appropriate for our students and faculty. While the majority of the faculty and students at Marshall University were lagging behind in the technology arena, we felt exposing them to some new and exciting products would entice multimedia classroom and curriculum design uses. In most cases, we were right on target with our prolific research methods, which included establishing working groups that endured an endless parade of vendor demonstrations, test units, and fact sheets.

Original Thoughts About Students' Equipment Needs

With so much promise, hope, and innovation surrounding the merger of libraries, information technology, computing, and telecommunications at Marshall, the potential for technology expansion and experimentation seemed endless. Staying on top of equipment trends was a significant undertaking that all members of working groups embraced. In an effort to anticipate student needs, we consulted students and scrutinized their behaviors carefully. While much of the information gathered about student computing was anecdotal, the working teams consisted of many "expert" users who were members of the library staff, teaching faculty, and computing staff. …

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