Magazine article Information Today

Early Adopters: Ahead of the Crowd: What Do Librarians Look for before Taking the Next New-Technology Leap?

Magazine article Information Today

Early Adopters: Ahead of the Crowd: What Do Librarians Look for before Taking the Next New-Technology Leap?

Article excerpt

To be early: "near the beginning of a course, process, or series"; or to be first: "preceding all others in time, order, or importance" (definitions from Webster's Collegiate Dictionary) can be pretty heady stuff. Over the years many prescient librarians have forged ahead and introduced new and (at the time) advanced technology solutions to meet the needs of their staff and user populations.

These pioneers recognized that the solutions they chose to implement were not yet perfect, but some of these ideas held too much promise to be ignored. Champions were needed to extol the vision and purpose held in the new technology's embryonic beginnings. Early adopters often paid high prices (in every sense) for newly introduced products. These leaders also recognized that prices would eventually come down, but the benefits derived now more than justified the higher price -- and some inconvenience.

Many opportunities have presented themselves in recent years that have allowed risk-taking librarians to stay a step or two ahead of the crowd. In every aspect of an automated library, one institution or corporation had to be first. A librarian with foresight (and, I might add, a board of trustees or management group with equal foresight) stepped forward and unhesitatingly automated his or her library's manual functions. Initially, a library may have started its automation program with acquisitions, serials, or circulation control. Unbelievably, some may still be using those initial solutions today. However, the majority have continued to lead the way in implementing new-technology concepts.

Early Adopters Take Risks

While being in the forefront certainly has its advantages, early adoption isn't without its risks. For instance, where did all those punch cards go? And what do you do with all of those 2400-baud modems when the world has gone T-1 and higher? Gasp! Was there ever even such a thing as a 300-baud modem? How do early adopters know when it's the right time to move on? Do pioneers just line up to be first for everything? What do they look for before taking the next giant step?

Very often, keeping up with, or ahead of, the technology curve is dependent on the state of one's budget. For purposes of this discussion I'm assuming that budget is not an issue. If budget is eliminated from consideration, what then am the deciding factors for early adopters?

In recent discussions with colleagues, I've noticed three predominant points mentioned time and again when I asked why they decided to move ahead with beta testing products -- and sometimes even becoming involved as early as alpha testing new products. When assessing a new product concept, they wanted first and foremost to solve a day-to-day problem within the organization. Second, they wanted to reduce expenses and increase efficiency. Third, they wanted to satisfy requests from their constituency, either staff or patrons.

Streamlined Operations

One of the largest technology investments made by libraries was -- and is -- the online public access catalog (OPAC). This single idea was eagerly embraced by early adopters in several different forms. The very first generations of OPACs consisted of "dumb" terminals hardwired directly to the central computer, which, by the way, was the size of a small refrigerator.

The bibliographic databases accessed by these terminals were nothing like today's rich depositories of standard-format records. …

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