:: Digital Libraries Columns


Library Journal "Digital Libraries" Columns 1997-2007, Roy Tennant

Please note: these columns are an archive of my Library Journal column from 1997-2007. They have not been altered in content, so please keep in mind some of this content will be out of date. :: Digital Libraries Columns

Technology Decision-Making: A Guide for the Perplexed


   Technological change is rapid and constant. Yet our organizations now
   depend on technology to serve our clientele as they wish to and should
   be served. But choosing the technologies that will form the foundation
   of our future services from among the plethora available can be
   difficult and nerve-racking.

   Part of what makes it so difficult is that no one can predict the
   future with any accuracy. However, we can identify criteria and
   strategies for making good decisions no matter what technological
   wonders come down the road. In a previous column ([130]"I Know This
   Much Is True," LJ 11/15/99), I offered some advice (for example,
   "Neither an early adopter nor a latecomer be") among other comments
   about the state of information technology. Here's some more.

   Keep an ear to the ground and an eye on the horizon.
   Monitor key publications, current awareness services, and
   trend-spotters. Current awareness publications such as Current Cites
   can cut down on the number of publications you need to scan. But don't
   limit yourself to library publications. Take a look at MIT's Technology
   Review and commercial publications such as the ZDNet Anchordesk and

   Hold new technologies up to the light of your mission and priorities.
   Just because a new technology is "cool" doesn't make it right for your
   clientele. Make sure any new technology improves public service or
   efficiency. You can make very impressive web sites using Macromedia
   Flash, but your users must first download and install a viewer.
   Libraries may achieve a more animated web experience only for a few
   patrons, while the rest see the site as a barrier.

   Watch out for 800-pound gorillas.
   Large corporations that dominate a market (can you say "Microsoft"?)
   can shape the trajectories of technologies, sometimes regardless of
   usefulness or merit. For example, when Netscape began developing its
   web browser, it created its own HTML tags. Web developers began using
   these proprietary tags, which partly derailed and harmed the existing
   HTML standards process. Microsoft's entry into the market made it even
   worse, adding new proprietary tags. Even though the World Wide Web
   Consortium has attempted to establish and promulgate a markup standard,
   some proprietary HTML still works in only one brand of web browser.

   Don't ignore the upstart with a compelling new product.
   Syquest dominated the removable storage market until Iomega started
   shipping the 100 MB Zip drive in 1995. Far cheaper per megabyte and
   with more capacity than a standard floppy disk, it took the market by
   storm. By the time Syquest released a faster, higher-capacity product
   at the same price (the EZ135 MB drive), Iomega had already established
   an unsurpassable lead, and Syquest filed for bankruptcy last year.

   Don't bet the farm on things you can't control.
   For example, client-side technologies should not be used when a
   server-side technology will do. Also, site developers who depend on web
   users having particular plug-ins installed with their web browser are
   courting disaster.

   Get good advice. To keep up to date, consult experts, such as the "LITA
   Leaders" (including myself) of the Library and Information Technology
   Association (LITA) of the American Library Association. The LITA Top
   Technology Trends web site cites trends to watch, and Tech Experts'
   Reading Habits suggests useful publications.

   Watch for helpful workshops and programs.
   Human assistance is useful. OCLC offers a workshop tailored for library
   decision-makers, "Technology Planning in a Time of Rapid Change."

   All things being equal, open is better than proprietary. Open-source
   software allows you to alter software to your needs, as well as further
   develop the code base for others. It can also be used as the basis for
   cooperative development projects with other libraries.

   Know your source of support.
   Before adopting a technology, be certain that appropriate support is
   available. Don't assume that good support comes with all commercial
   applications. Not that free software lacks support; some of the best
   support can come from a network of open-source software users.

   You must make the best decision you can, given constraints of time and
   information. There is no magic formula or crystal ball. Do the best you
   can and learn as you go.

                                 LINK LIST

                                                             Current Cites
                                                LITA Top Technology Trends
                                              Tech Experts' Reading Habits
                             Technology Planning in a Time of Rapid Change
                                                         Technology Review
                                                          ZDNet Anchordesk