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Future Directions in Library Technology

Computers in Libraries [December 2021] The Systems Librarian

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The future of library technology will be shaped by the evolution of society and by the ways that libraries exist in the world of the future. To continue to make a positive impact, it will be critical for libraries to receive adequate funding from their communities and parent organizations in order to have the proper resources. Trends in publishing and changes in laws and regulations related to copyright and intellectual property may also determine how libraries will make information available to their members or communities. And finally, libraries will continue to exist within the broader context of business and consumer technologies.

The products and services developed for libraries benefit from taking advantage of current technical architectures and components of the broader computing sphere, although they must also remain distinct when necessary to support the unique noncommercial character of library services.

From the Backroom to the Frontline

Historically, much of the technology infrastructure for libraries has been directed toward supporting behind-the-scenes, back-office activities—especially technical services, circulation, and other aspects of collection management. Technology to support those activities remains essential. Libraries will continue to acquire and implement resource management products that are capable of improving efficiency and productivity. Functionality for staff workflows has become mature and quite complete.

New technology acquisitions will be driven primarily by outward-facing services. Patron interfaces will be expected to deliver an exceptional user experience, moving beyond the outdated styles currently seen on library websites. Libraries will gravitate toward product suites, unifying the website and discovery, event management, and other services via a consistent user experience. Just as the library services platform brought together many components of staff functionality, similar product consolidation can be anticipated for front-end services. These preintegrated product suites will lessen the complexity of implementation and maintenance while addressing the fragmentation patrons experience on the library's web presence.

Outreach Without Overreach

Patron engagement technologies have attracted considerable interest in the last few years, especially among public libraries. These products are on their way to being a standard component of the technical environment of a public library. Public libraries often have positions dedicated to outreach, and they need sophisticated tools for carrying out their marketing initiatives. Automated marketing technologies will become core expectations for public libraries, alongside (or within) their ILSs and discovery catalogs. Libraries will increasingly include advanced patron engagement capabilities as standard requirements for automation. These tools will be tuned to respect the policy, values, and tone that are appropriate for libraries. Library marketing technologies need to enforce strict privacy safeguards and to increase patron engagement without being overwhelming.

Harnessing Privacy

It seems possible, if not likely, that the level of technical surveillance in society—and the potential or actual threats to individuals based on what they read or the information they access—will be a critical issue in the next decade or 2. Libraries represent a safe haven for access to information outside the view of commercial and governmental organizations. Technology services used by libraries must confront privacy issues and implement safeguards that ensure that personal details about patrons are sparsely collected and are shared only upon urgent need.

The increasing aggressiveness in capturing and monetizing personal information among consumer services, commercial business settings, and social networks will increasingly drive backlash by society. Business models based on personal data as economic currency directly contradict library services that must protect the identity of those accessing the library's content resources and services. In the future, libraries will be increasingly attentive to how their technology infrastructure enforces strict patron privacy. Many of the technology components implemented by libraries are riddled with gaps that expose patron data and use patterns to the commercial ecosystem, with the library often unaware of the leakage. Going forward, privacy and security will play a central role in how libraries acquire and implement technology. Libraries will exercise more scrutiny, and organizations developing technology for libraries will address privacy as a fundamental requirement. As global companies with business strategies based on analytics extend their reach into the library domain, ensuring privacy protection will be challenging and important.

Adopting Cloud Services

The last decade has seen great movement toward technologies deployed through some form of cloud infrastructure. Library technologies have generally followed this trend, although a considerable number of applications continue to run on hardware and software implemented on local equipment. In recent years, libraries have chosen hosting services or cloud-native applications for almost all new system implementations. We can anticipate that in the notto-distant future, almost all technology applications used by libraries will rely on cloud infrastructure. The high cost of operating on-premises data centers—along with the overwhelming complexity of defending systems against relentless attacks—will drive most organizations toward cloud infrastructure housed in industrial-strength data centers with multiple layers of security protection and sophisticated monitoring. Fewer libraries will have systems administrators with the deep technical expertise needed to responsibly operate complex applications on local servers. A decade from now, we can anticipate that libraries operating their major systems on-premises will be rare.

Embracing Environmental Computing

Given current trends, we can expect that concern for climate change and other environmental factors will impact the technologies selected and implemented by libraries. Shifting from local computing to cloud technologies generally means a lower environmental impact, since most large-scale data centers work toward highly efficient energy consumption. Moving from desktop computers to laptops and tablets means more efficiency for the equipment used for service desks and for library personnel. Selfservice kiosks and related devices will increasingly be designed to consume less power. Libraries will also take into consideration how their vendors deploy their products and prompt them toward energy-saving infrastructure facilities.

Tackling Industry Consolidation

The library technology sector has seen deep consolidation, resulting in a small cadre of global companies responsible for a large portion of products and services. For now, many smaller vendors have avoided the mergers and acquisitions frenzy. These independent companies represent important competition for the global players and offer distinctive products and services. Although consolidated, the competitive landscape today spans an interesting variety of vendors and product offerings.

Taking current business trends forward, we can expect more consolidation and fewer independent companies. At least some of the smaller and midsized companies will likely be acquired by larger players in their next phase of business development. Some could persist indefinitely, specializing in niche technologies. Will new players emerge? The library technology industry does not have a great track record for startups, but the possibility remains for disruption.

Deeper consolidation seems likely. An optimistic view of consolidation focuses on possibilities for the creation of new generations of technology services emerging from the vast development capacity of the corporate giants. Will these technologies empower libraries to better meet their strategic priorities, or will they constrain libraries within closed ecosystems?

Looking forward a decade, we can anticipate substantial transformation of the library technology arena. The library community will benefit from collective strategies that anticipate trends. As industry consolidation tips the balance of power toward vendors, libraries can benefit from large-scale collaboration and cooperation. Libraries have a long history of partnering with vendors toward the creation of new technology products. That approach has benefited libraries and vendors. The library community will need to act strategically and collectively to ensure their interests are well-represented in future generations of technology products.

View Citation
Publication Year:2021
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Computers in Libraries
Publication Info:Volume 41 Number 10
Issue:December 2021
Publisher:Information Today
Series: Systems Librarian
Place of Publication:Medford, NJ
Notes:Systems Librarian Column
Record Number:27215
Last Update:2024-07-11 23:03:58
Date Created:2022-04-09 08:20:40