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Future-Proofing Your Library's Technology Infrastructure

Computers in Libraries [December 2022] The Systems Librarian

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Libraries make substantial investments in a wide array of technology products and services, both from their operational budgets and capital projects. This infrastructure includes equipment and connectivity for physical facilities and software and other technology components in support of operations and services. All technologies have a limited life span, both in terms of becoming obsolete relative to newer offerings, as well as falling behind in the capabilities needed to support a library's evolving requirements. Libraries must continually strive to shape their technology environment to meet their current needs and to anticipate future changes.

The cycles of change in technology seem to turn faster than ever, making it quite a challenge for libraries to keep up. While the replacement of components is inevitable, libraries can take measures to ensure that their technology infrastructure is flexible and can endure through cycles of change with the least expense and effort.

Invest in Current Technologies

When acquiring new equipment, aim for the most recent hardware and software versions. Avoid the temptation to purchase items released in previous years that may be less expensive. Those short-term savings may end up with higher expenses during the life of the product and lower performance relative to current versions. This concern especially applies to network hardware and all types of computing equipment, including laptop and desktop computers, tablets, and other mobile devices.

I previously recommended that libraries acquire technology products a bit behind the current offerings (see "Benchmarking Technology: A Theory of Penultimacy," Computers in Libraries, March 2003; librarytechnology.org/document/10344/ benchmarking-technology-a-theory-of-pen ultimacy). That approach made sense at the time, when the latest versions of computer equipment were considerably more expensive than the previous models. Today, those differences are less significant, and it's beneficial to take advantage of the power and features of the latest offerings to maximize the financial investments.

Flexible and Fast Connectivity

Working with current hardware will improve security and performance. Current wired and wireless network gear will support the current protocols to deliver optimal bandwidth and, hopefully, will have the best security features in their firmware and OSs to defend against malicious attack. The need for ever more bandwidth has been a constant trend since the beginning of networks and the internet. Physical connectivity should always be implemented using the latest media. Fiber optics are generally needed for core connectivity among network devices. Wired connections to computers for service desks, public computers, and staff workstations should be made through latest-generation cabling (currently, Category 6) and Ethernet switches (1GB per second).

Wi-Fi wireless connectivity can now deliver similar throughput. In most cases, libraries can gain performance and flexibility by investing in highperformance wireless networks rather than updating their building's cabling and Ethernet equipment. Currently, most new models of laptop computers do not come with Ethernet jacks, and we can anticipate that wireless connectivity will be preferred in most networking scenarios in the future. Wireless connectivity means less cost for cabling, gives flexibility in the placement of equipment, and enables staff members to work from any location. Special attention should be given to using the latest protocols and authentication mechanisms to ensure security and privacy.

Connectivity to the internet is a crucial aspect of technical infrastructure. In addition to the need to support general access to web resources by staff members and patrons, critical business applications are increasingly provided through SaaS arrangements in which both the software and data reside externally. Going forward, fewer options will be available for software applications residing on local computers, making it essential to deliver fast internet connectivity. Inadequate internet bandwidth impairs almost all aspects of technology use and constrains the ability to implement new services. This critical infrastructure must be continually assessed and regularly upgraded.

Interoperability

The technical environment of a library includes many different components; every one addresses a specific need. In most cases, each of these pieces interacts with many others rather than operating in isolation. Given these many touchpoints, technical infrastructure should follow a modular, interoperable approach. Hardware and software components must be implemented in ways that conform to industry standards and protocols or that offer programmable APIs.

Despite efforts to acquire software and hardware that will last as long as possible, it is inevitable that many components will be replaced over time. These replacements may take the form of upgraded products from the same vendor or different components that address similar functions. By following a strategy based on flexible interoperability, the technical infrastructure can evolve gracefully over time. This approach enables components to be added, removed, and replaced with minimal disruption.

Technology as a Service

One of the key trends in business and consumer computing and in the library technology industry has been the shift to SaaS. This model provides access to the functionality of an application with minimal need for local infrastructure, usually accessed entirely through a web browser. The software resides on infrastructure managed by the vendor. For most business applications, individuals or organizations gain access to SaaS products through monthly or annual subscription fees. Some services are supported through advertising and may be offered without fees.

Libraries increasingly acquire their main business applications through SaaS subscriptions. These include library services platforms such as Ex Libris Alma, WorldShare Management Services, or FOLIO, as well as the many content management applications from Springshare. ILSs are increasingly hosted remotely by vendors and offered through annual subscription fees, even when some of the interfaces require software to be installed on library computers. Almost all content products to which libraries subscribe are likewise delivered through web-based interfaces and annual subscriptions.

The providers of SaaS-based applications continually develop and deploy updates and enhancements. This software model avoids obsolescence, provided that its vendor continues active development and support. Libraries using a SaaS product do not have to worry about maintaining hardware, installing updates, or doing other disruptive procedures. This model has proven to be effective and efficient if the institution has fast and reliable internet connectivity. Software subscriptions can endure for many years, and libraries can change to other vendors as needed.

The subscription model can also be applied to hardware components. Leasing desktop and laptop computers is not especially common in libraries, but can be seen as an approach to have continually upgraded equipment for a set annual payment. Leasing may not be cost-effective compared to the standard model of purchase with regular replacement cycles. I do anticipate that some library-specific equipment may eventually shift to a subscription model. Current practice generally involves purchasing equipment and paying annual maintenance fees. An alternate model would involve a subscription fee that may be more than currently established maintenance fees, but would include regular upgrades or replacement of equipment.

Libraries often keep purchased equipment and software long beyond their expected life expectancy, which can lead to considerable frustration. Subscription models can help futureproof library infrastructure by ensuring the deployment of current technology components. However, the annual subscription payments can be a challenge for library budgets that may be more amenable to one-time purchases.

Proactive Strategies

Maintaining technical infrastructure that meets current needs and that is prepared for the future requires strategic planning. It's important to anticipate changes in all aspects of library operations and service. Are there new services planned that may need technology support? Do the current infrastructure components remain wellaligned with the work of the library? What technologies do library staff members or patrons find especially frustrating?

A proactive technology strategy means regularly reassessing the current environment and making adjustments as needed to improve services and to help the organization work more efficiently. It also means continual investment. Incremental investments in technology every year will usually be more cost-effective than trying to update infrastructure that has become severely outdated. Libraries depend on technology for almost every aspect of their work, and it is important to allocate budgets accordingly and to engage in proactive planning processes.

Marshall Breeding is an independent consultant, writer, and frequent library conference speaker and is the founder of Library Technology Guides (librarvtechnology.orgl. His email address is marshall.breeding@ librarytechnology.org.

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Publication Year:2022
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Computers in Libraries
Publication Info:Volume 42 Number 10
Issue:December 2022
Page(s):9-11
Publisher:Information Today
Series: Systems Librarian
Place of Publication:Medford, NJ
Notes:Systems Librarian Column
ISBN:1041-7915
Record Number:28455
Last Update:2024-07-17 11:18:43
Date Created:2023-01-30 06:21:29
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