Five Changes that Impact Technology Plans

I’ve discovered that the feedback from technological change is sometimes more severe than technological change itself. While it is important to keep up with technology, sometimes you have to keep your ear to the community as well.  Here are 5 non-techy things that I feel technology managers need to understand very well.
Macro-Economic Change:

So, the economy climbs, exports climb and people start buying your currency in droves to collect those great products. Factories are put up in rural or suburban areas to meet the increased demand for products. This drives the price of the dollar up.

But then your little waterfront retail shops fall because no one wants to visit your town with such a high cost of travel to your country. Walk-in traffic decreases. But those busy rural and suburban folks still want those books on gardening. All of the sudden your from-home website use increases and your public-use computer use decreases.

The reverse situation can have its own problems. The dollar shrinks and all of the sudden you have busloads of tourists at your doors. Your city council says the computers ought to be left open for your “taxpayers” but the tourists definitely want to upload their photos to Flickr and so-on.

Demographic Change:

Your city is hosting the Olympics and people are moving into the core in droves. You can’t buy a beaten-up shack for less than 1/2 a million in the downtown and the housing projects that used to be affordable to the poor are now being torn down for condos.

The poorer folks move out into the suburbs to find affordable homes and bring their teenagers with them. Their neighbours, who have loved their little township to death for decades, start to panic that the place is being run-down by a bunch of rowdy hoodlums. The teenagers come to the library, of course, because there is free access to games and Internet. They are good kids, but they get loud and excited since this is their time out of the house. But the townsfolk like their old, quiet place of higher learning stocked with as many old copies of Agatha Christie that it can handle. Moreover, they get on the computer to do “real” work like finding out gardening tips, or catching the latest news.

Fights start. The youth get rowdier as they realize they are not accepted in this community. The townsfolk have pull because they elected their boy “Tommy” to council and know his phone number off by heart. Add a case of violence to the mix. And then add an off-handed racial remark or two. The technology, including every decision from what goes on the computer to how long people can stay on it, sits in between the two.

How will you advocate for the youth while respecting the wishes of the townsfolk?

Labour Market Changes

You got a job posting that needs someone who can code in every computer language from Fortan to Ruby on Rails. It turns out that Google is hiring en masse and everyone with tech skills is moving to Palo Alto. I guess you are going to have to train someone and you don’t know the half of what this person needs to.

Changing Policies

So political party one finally kicked out political party two. It was about time the pendulum swung right? But wait. That technology grant you used to get every year has all of sudden changed its focus. It used to be all about economic development and now its about encouraging diversity in the workplace.

The previous government used to be concerned about family values and the protection of children from harmful materials. Now the government thinks that public spaces do not do enough to ensure that persons with disabilities have equal access to services, including the internet, but also to e-government services.

Privacy was the big concern before; but now opening up databases to authorities to prevent emergencies is the big deal.

Where does the library stand and what priorities do you make?

Cultural Change

Not that long ago, you used to serve a predominantly English-Speaking society. Through immigration or culture, you now have three or four different languages represented in sizes big enough that they can’t be ignored. Many of these non-English speakers want resources to help them learn English. At the same time, they want recreational reading in their own language, just to relax. But you can’t even sound out cyrillic letters, nevermind try to read Russian or Ukrainian.

And another language is much more offended by certain kinds of literature than you suspect. Your website can’t hack the new languages either. And you Public Computers are not configured for other languages.

So, these are just five changes that impact technology in libraries — Web 2.0 or otherwise. It is perhaps even more imperative that technology managers read these trends than it is that they read new tech trends.

To me Web 2.0 is like air conditioning in your car. Of course you want air conditioning. But if you can foresee something that is going to hurt your engine, then I think you need to deal with that first. Many of the sorts of things I described above are engine-type threats. If we are really going to approach a Library 2.0 world, we have to consider future impacts as well as possibilities.   Technology management is not all about technology.

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