Thursday, November 5, 2015

From the desk of the "Reluctant Blogger"....

Guest post written by Brian Hannemann, Milwaukee County Library System

So this is a first for me. Writing a blog post I mean. To be honest I have generally avoided blogs, not to mention Facebook and Twitter. It’s not that I am a technophobe, more of a tech sceptic. I love my smart phone, my tablet, and my high definition television/dvr. I have a love/hate relationship with Google but that seems pretty commonplace among librarians. I am just not enamored with technology whose utility has to be explained to me. To me, the latest technologies represent nothing more than electronic tools and should be treated with the same lack of respect as a hammer or screwdriver. In other words, tools are only as important as the job they do for you. Maybe I am an unusually private person but I rarely feel the need to use a website to share my thoughts, experiences, and observations (to paraphrase the definition of blogging I found with Google on dictionary.com) so by the measure of utility, blogging has not held much use for me.

With this background, when I was asked if I wanted to write a post for the resource sharing blog, my
Man holding up hands
Wait, no, not me.
first thought was no. My second thought was definitely not, and my third thought was I am the worst possible choice in the history of mankind to write a post. Yet in the back of my mind was a creeping suspicion that a tech sceptic might have something valuable to say about the interesting relationship between resource sharing and technology. How many times in the last 10 years have you heard that technology will eliminate the need for resource sharing? The line of thinking goes something like this: In the near future all books, recordings, video, etc. will be available instantly on the web for free. All people will have high-speed internet and wireless devices to deliver. You will not need a library card or worry about a due date. Everything will be at your fingertips. So why would you possibly take the time to fill out a request, wait a week or more for something to be sent from another library and then make the trip to your own library to pick it up? This prediction seems especially popular among technology advocates.

Pardon my skepticism but in practice, technology and resource sharing have a much more complicated relationship. It is true that online publications have greatly impacted ILL. Periodical photocopy requests have declined (along with print periodicals generally) because of the availability of online material. Also, Hathi Trust and Google Books have brought full length books to your computer free of charge. Searching for subject material and requesting material has also become much easier and less time intensive because of technology. However, the idea that all material will be available to everyone instantly and for free is looking more and more like an unrealistic dream. In fact, the last few years have seen an increase in the monetization of the internet. Google removed the full-text versions of almost all of the material on Google Books after being sued for copyright infringement and Hathi Trust followed suit. Periodicals that once provided free online access now charge a subscription fee and internet providers have introduced usage fees designed to curb usage and limit access.

Further, technology has impacted library usage in unexpected ways. Instead of reducing the need for
physical space as predicted by the elimination of card catalogs and reference areas, technology has created a demand for more space in libraries to accommodate server rooms, charging stations, and maker-spaces, not to mention classrooms to teach people how to use new technology. These new demands for space have caused most libraries to reduce the size of their physical collection thereby increasing the need to supplement their holdings with shared materials. Also the advances in search technology, while saving time have also expanded the ability of the average person to search far beyond their local library. The result is much higher expectations in regards to the material available through sharing. In short, every advance that reduces need or increases efficiency, seems to be offset by new issues and increased demand. The result, at least in my corner of the world, is the misperception that demand for resource sharing is decreasing, while it is in fact stable or even increasing.

So what does the future really hold for resource sharing? To be honest, I think predicting the future is a fool’s errand but there are plenty of reasons to think resource sharing will continue to be a core service demanded by patrons, technology be damned. Of course, that’s coming from a technology skeptic.

Written by:
Brian Hannemann
Interlibrary Loan Coordinator, Milwaukee County Library System