Lots of people who work in libraries, archives, museums and other cultural heritage organizations need to become more familiar with Information Technology. While some staff are well-grounded in the subject, many have gaps in knowledge of fundamental terms, concepts and trends.
This is a problem. The pressure is on to implement social media services, put holdings online, develop innovative websites and manage digital collections. Organizations—and staff—that lag in this area run the risk of losing relevancy. And loss of relevancy can have an unfortunate economic impact.
Organizations need to have staff who are familiar with IT basics. Doing this is tricky. What exactly are “the basics”? How are they best explained? And most importantly, to what end is this knowledge supposed to be put?
I know of one pretty good example: Technology Made Simple: An Improvement Guide for Small and Medium Libraries, by Kimberly Bolan and Robert Cullin. The American Library Association published this book in 2006. It looks pretty good, but in full disclosure I haven’t actually read it. But I have browsed the “web extra” page for it, and can say the online information provided is worthwhile (not to mention free).
Before I list some of the details on the web, it is useful to consider what the authors say about their intent: “…librarians need a how-to technology manual for vision, planning, and understanding, not a how-to manual for configuring a router and server.” Just right. Add to that a starting place to learn foundational information needed for working with vendors, selling ideas to funders and positioning themselves for taking quick advantage of the next new tech wonder.
The web content covers a range of topics:
- Worksheets and More
- Resource Libraries
- Job Descriptions
- Publication and Marketing Ideas
All of these topics are useful, but a highlight is the worksheets section, which has all sorts of checklist templates that can be used to do a variety of self-assessments. My experience is that these kinds of tools are very useful for staff to gain quick (and relatively painless) insights about institutional capacities and areas that need improvement. Checklists are not a silver bullet, but they can put an organization on the road to meaningful improvement.
The resource does have some limitations. It is going on five years old, and that is a long time in Internet years. There is no mention of Facebook, Twitter or any other social media service. Same for mobile Internet, Flickr, YouTube or other Web 2.0 tools. Plus the book itself appears to be only available as a physical object, not as a downloadable file or e-book. The resources web page alone has about 30 dead or broken links according to the W3C Link Checker. While not unusual for information this old, still is a big problem.
Here’s an idea for ALA and other professional organizations that cater to cultural heritage professionals: produce more of this kind of basic help and keep it current. There could even be a some kind of centralized resource for archivists, librarians and museum staff to cover common areas—and there are many—with more specialized information for each kind of institutional type. That would be an efficient, collaborative way to maintain a useful resource.