The Case for Non-Digital Technologies

06/02/2012 § 8 Comments

so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white

The literature fan in me can’t help but begin with William Carlos Williams’s well-known poem from his collection Spring and All (1923), if only with the flimsiest excuse of lifting the phrase “so much depends” for this post (and for the chickens—blog posts can always do with chickens).

As a second semester MLIS student, I have only been immersed in the LIS world’s discussions about half a year, but in that time, I have noticed that digital, computer-based technology is clearly at the forefront of concerns faced by librarians and libraries today. These conversations revolve around the costs and benefits of incorporating new technologies, with concepts like technostress and financial burdens on the one hand and concepts like efficiency, engaging with digital natives, and transforming information access on the other. In general, responses seem to gravitate towards the idea that so much depends on a variety of factors, including your institution’s finances, your community members’ level of comfort with new technologies, your members’ access to technologies inside and outside of the library, and what other industries are doing with those technologies.

So much depends. . . I would love to hear from all of you in the comments about the kinds of discussions that you have in your schools about library technology and about how the curriculum in your programs deals with training students for an increasingly technological library.

This post, however, is about engaging technology and librarianship without getting mired in the technophobia-technophilia dyad, and in particular, it is about the importance of exploring non-digital technologies—rather than just computer-based ones—as ways of building future libraries and reinvigorating the mission of librarianship. I’m pulling my thoughts for this post from a course paper I wrote last semester in which I argued for thinking of dogs as a kind of library technology, recalling that technologies are in a broader sense merely systematic knowledge of processes for the accomplishment of goals. The focus of that paper was the recent emergence of literacy programs for young children in schools and public libraries that employ dogs as reading companions.
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