July 14, 2009

Top Technology Trends Today

I just returned from one of my favorite cities, Chicago, where I attended the American Library Association's annual conference. Of the ten workshops I attended, my personal favorite was the Top Technology Trends panel put on by the Library & Information Technology Association (LITA).

The panel consisted of Library Technology experts: Eric Lease Morgan, Joan Frye Williams, Clifford Lynch, John Blyberg, Geert van den Boogaard and Roy Tennant. Their comments and predictions were presented to a packed ballroom, humming with the clicks of blogger's keyboards and tweeter's mobile phones. At the time of the event, the discussion was streaming live. The entire presentation can now be viewed on Ustream.

Mobile and Accessible

The panel confirmed many of the technological advances we have already written about here at The Tech Desk. Much of their discussion was devoted to the rise in mobile technology and the practical application of mobile devices in libraries. When asked to address the access gap, Williams stated: "More people have mobile phones than have ever had computers." Lynch added that "mobile devices are rented by the month. In some ways that makes them more accessible."

Panelists also spoke on the rise of cloud computing. While the concept of cloud computing is an exciting trend, some heeded caution. Said Lynch, "Bandwidth is a problem and it's getting bigger. The rise of the cloud is pure rhetoric if the bandwidth can’t support it."

Lynch also spoke on the disappearance of data: "How much are we willing to put into the cloud, and how much are we willing to trust it? ... Some things are just vanishing suddenly, but we aren’t dealing with the consequences. Corporate records, corporate history, public records."

Blyberg addressed end-user technology tools creating rapid trending. However when asked if Google, Twitter, and Facebook are encouraging group-think and making us dumber, he was quick to argue the contrary: The internet is a tool that has made us smarter than ever before.

The Flow, The Cloud, The Rain

In the end, it was Tennant's metaphor for technology trends as the Water Cycle that resonated the most with me. Tennant's comments were broken into three segments, The Flow, The Cloud and The Rain.

"The Flow" is information flowing on the internet as streams of data. A prime example of this is Twitter's constant stream of user comments. The downside to this flow is that after a significant period of time, the data is impossible to find: too far buried beneath new information.

"The Cloud" refers back to previously mentioned trends in cloud computing and their effects on servers and data storage.

"The Rain" symbolizes our state of economic recession, which seems to be affecting all libraries, large and small. Tennant's advice was, "Think carefully about how to cut wisely." He warns that in order for libraries to come out of the recession "on top" and continue to serve our communities in the best way possible, we need to be cautious and innovative with the ways in which we save money.

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