Thursday, 18 June 2009

Where will it all end? - Emerging Technology in the Library: part 2

The afternoon sessions kicked off with Fiona Emberton talking about RFID and how libraries have the choice as to whether they let such technology automate their service or transform it. As with Les Watson’s morning session, this session was particularly relevant to me as LJMU looks to implement RFID as part of the Aldham Robarts Refurbishment project this summer. So far, assistants have been slogging it out all day everyday for the past 2 weeks tagging the book stock to get it ready for the opening of the new Aldham Centre in the autumn, running totals so far have reached 36,737 books with the overall target standing at 251,000. But anyway, that’s a whole different story…!

Fiona began her session by advocating that you should never let technology push you along or push you into doing something – there should always be a need for it first. Fiona claimed that RFID has gone beyond bleeding edge and leading edge, and is now very much a mainstream occurrence. RFID helps with security control and stock management, it has the capacity to read multiple-items making the issuing/returning process more efficient for users and it is good for instilling independence in users with disabilities. So why RFID? What can 21st century libraries gain from RFID? Fiona felt strongly in her view that in the current economic climate, libraries must invest to save and that an investment in RFID would have long-term economic benefits. RFID implementation results in an increase in staff effectiveness, freeing up staff time from routine functions in order that they have the time to provide a more personalised service, making better use of their complex skills set. I have encountered this notion during my current research into roving reference librarians equipped with mobile technologies also. The self-service nature of RFID is also compliant with information commons/social learning zone study environments as it allows these spaces to remain student-centred, without the need for imposing service counters/desks. Furthermore, RFID allows for opening hours to be extended thus providing a more relevant library service to busy 21st century learners who do not have the opportunity to study within the traditional 9-5pm time-scales.

Fiona highlighted the opportunities for new approaches to ways of working as a result of freeing up staff time and new learning opportunities also. For example, the STAR (strategic training for accurate reference) system of answering enquiries ensures that over 95% of enquiries are dealt with effectively and efficiently in the first instance (I think Fiona said typically, without the STAR approach, this number is as low as 55%).

And Fiona’s final words of wisdom (which I absolutely love by the way!): We should entertain a bit more humour in our libraries, students respond to it and appreciate it (rather than our current ‘just say no’ attitude…)

The afternoon drew to a close with an interesting session lead by Nick Woolley centred on e-learning and the role that web 2.0 can fulfil within the e-learning environment. Web 2.0 has been a bit of a buzz word for the last few years now, in terms of the ‘hype cycle’ Nick questioned as to whether we are now on the ‘slope of enlightenment,’ and if so, if now is the right time to adopt web 2.0 in libraries…??

When considered against an e-learning back-drop, it is fair to say that e-learning has never quite reached its full potential – since its emergence it has remained quite a passive approach to learning with virtual learning environments generally being a place for retrieving and reading text-based documents. There is little or no interaction the majority of the time…is this the place where web 2.0 technologies can be integrated to improve the e-learning experience?

Nick indicated that we (as librarians but educators also) need to take the initiative with web 2.0 or we will continue to face disintermediation. Furthermore, students are now paying customers and they want value for money. Some of the key points Nick highlighted about today’s students include:

· Students are part of an instant gratification culture
· They are assessment orientated
· They are competitive
· They hold a different view of intellectual property as a result of the digital age
· They are prepared to be educated.

The possibility of librarians losing clout, coupled with student expectations are key drivers to a more web 2.0 orientated library (and indeed education) system. I personally feel now is the time to adopt more interactive and collaborative working environments, and having completed the Learning 2.0 @ LJMU 12 week training course feel that library staff at LJMU are well equipped to take the lead with such trends.

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