Wednesday, December 16, 2009

If You Build It, Will They Care? Tracking Student Receptivity to Emerging Library Technologies

Booth, C., & Guder, C.S. (2009). If you build it, will they care? Tracking student receptivity to emerging library technologies. In Mueller, D.M. (Ed.), Pushing the edge: explore, engage, extend. Proceedings of the Fourteenth National Conference of the Association of College and Research Libraries, March 12-15, 2009, Seattle, WA (pp. 247-257). Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries.

The title of this paper is a question that has been lingering in my mind for the past year or so. "If you build it, will they care?" As I've mentioned several times in this blog, my Library has implemented a number of Web 2.0 tools. As a staff we have been quite excited about their implementation, but they have not provided the interactivity with the community that we had hoped for. Just as I did in my last post, I am going to highlight a couple of points from this paper.

Background: This paper is based on the results of two surveys conducted at Ohio University. These surveys were fueled by "discouraging results from several of our more experimental pilot programs." (248) The findings presented in this paper are selected. The authors write that "a more comprehensive treatment of survey findings will be published under separate cover." (250) (I believe this separate publication is Informing Innovation: Tracking Student Interest in Emerging Library Technologies at Ohio University.)

"...led us to consider whether our approach to public service innovation privileged technology itself before user needs." (248)
I think a lot of well-intentioned librarians (myself included) take this approach. We become so focused on integrating new and exciting technology intending to enhance or improve our patrons' experience, that we sometimes neglect to address what our patrons actually want or need regarding technology. We simply assume that if we build it, they will come, they will use it, and they will love it. The authors of the paper point to Michael Stephens' use of the term "technolust," namely the "belief that inherent library/information potential lies within every new social networking application and mobile communication technology." (248) Librarians need to keep their "technolust" in check when integrating 2.0 tools. However, this does not mean that we shouldn't take 2.0 risks...perhaps our patrons don't know that they want or need something until we offer it to them. In addition, we might be able to reach a very specific group or groups of users that we would otherwise not be able to reach (e.g. Second Life-ers, gamers, etc.) We need to be very clear about our 2.0 goals and audiences when planning for implementation.

"These assumptions underestimate a critical element of successful technology development, namely, that the local climate of library , information, and technology use at a given institution is paramount in determining the need for and potential success of a given service." (248)
This is, obviously, one of the remedies to the "technolust" phenomenon. However, as I mentioned in yesterday's post, many of us (myself included) have a tendency to make assumptions about our patrons that aren't necessarily true. In order to remedy this, Ohio University conducted 2 surveys to learn more about their patrons. I think that interviewing patrons or holding several focus groups would be other great ways to gain a better understanding of patrons. However, getting patrons to participate in these is a problem unto itself. Ohio University held prize drawings (prizes were $100) in order to draw more patrons to their survey, but not all libraries have the resources to do this. Of course, there are less expensive options - donated gift cards from the bookstore, candy or other edibles.

I found some of the surveys' results to be quite surprising:
"Only 6% reported owning a 'smartphone' such as a Blackberry or iPhone..." (251)
I expected more of the participants (81% of whom were undergraduates) to own smartphones. This is a great example of a false assumption.

"Contrary to assumptions that digital natives spend more time online, higher age and academic status are both closely correlated with increased time spent engaged with the internet...graduate students and digital immigrants were twice as likely to spend over 40 hours per week online as undergraduates or digital natives, who are more likely to spend 21-30 hours online per week." (252)
This is exactly the opposite of what I expected to read.

"Students were most likely to indicate interest in us[ing] downloadable toolbars in Firefox and/or Facebook library applications." (253).
Because toolbars require the patron to be proactive (they must download the toolbars to their computers), I assumed that they would not be popular. (In my mind, the least amount of work or clicks is better...perhaps another false assumption.) Also, I was surprised to read that students were interested in Facebook apps. Many articles that I have read regarding Facebook and academic libraries indicated that students didn't really want the library to infringe on their turf. Perhaps this is a sentiment that varies from institution to institution.

This article left me wanting to know more about how the authors and Ohio University used the surveys' results in the implementation of new technologies. If I get my hands on Informing Innovation, I will let everyone know if it is worth the read!

Thank you for reading!

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