Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Leveraging Technology for Success in a Challenging Economy

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Leveraging Technology for Success in a Challenging Economy

Article excerpt

The global economic crisis of the past 2 years has brought harsh circumstances to most libraries, calling into question many of the ways that we allocate resources. Lean budgets force us to devise strategies that make the very most of the resources available. Many libraries face the reality of doing more with less, often much less. It seems like each week brings news of libraries forced to close branches, reduce hours, trim their work force, or reduce or eliminate new collections acquisitions. Even in the best of times it seems that libraries find themselves making due with fewer resources than optimal. I've rarely encountered libraries flush with generous levels of funding such that they don't have to make painful choices among competing priorities. In recent times, this pain has been extreme. This context of libraries struggling through the economic downturn makes it necessary to consider the ways that technology can be used not only to reduce costs but, hopefully, to strengthen libraries' standing relative to more prosperous times.

When it comes to technology, I think that libraries need to form their strategies on how they allocate their resources based on a formula involving value and expense. The key challenge lies in finding the right balance in an equation between cost savings on one side and the value added to the organization on the other. Depending on the circumstances, the library might need to focus more on the expense side of the equation or on value propositions. For some libraries, circumstances require that they find ways to eliminate cost, including expenditures on technology. Others, however, may need to operate within lean budgets but still have the flexibility to make some investments in technology in order to preserve or improve their operations and services. Either approach should result in helping the library make a more powerful strategic impact through technology. It's the tough times that force libraries to think hard about how to make the best strategic use of technology. While we should have that mindset all the time, it's easy to be complacent until circumstances demand action.

Organizations of all types are often able to lower their operational expenses through improved automation infrastructure. The entire history of automation involves creating ways to help libraries operate more efficiently, increasing the productivity of each person in the organization. It's hard to imagine libraries working today without the computer-based systems that automate the routine tasks involved in every aspect of their operations. The current economic climate presents libraries with the challenge of finding any additional efficiency that might be gained beyond the automation systems in common use today and what new ways of delivering library services might be possible that will improve the relative impact of the library on its users.

Cost Savings

Collaborative technologies. Libraries facing budget reductions may need to look at how they can maintain their current services in ways that involve savings, including the basic automation support. The different infrastructure deployment models available today involve a range of budget scenarios. Deployment options span a range between local computing, where a library owns and maintains its own servers, and cloud computing, which involves an abstract computing platform provided externally. Each approach involves technical considerations, but especially relevant in this context are the opportunities to make choices between facing higher up-font expenditures with more modest, ongoing operational costs or avoiding initial capital investments in favor of somewhat higher annual payments.

One of the most expensive computing models involves a library operating its own discrete automation platform. The classic example of a library operating its own integrated library system falls into this category. The costs of this approach include not only the server hardware and software but also the technical personnel to manage the installation, the facilities overhead including physical space allocations, and the energy costs to power and cool the equipment. …

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