ALA Annual Tech Wrap-up

Panel: Marshall Breeding, Tabatha Farney, and Mirela Roncevic

This webinar was meant to serve as a supplement to the ALA Annual Conference which took place in Chicago in June. The session provided participants with an overview of technologies for the library sector.

Ebooks and Econtent: Trends and Possibilities ALA Wrap-Up – Mirela Roncevic

Ebooks need to be discussed in the context of the larger e-content ecosystem. Ebook players include libraries, disturbers, aggregators, publishers, schools and universities, learning platforms, tech companies, bookstores, and online repositories. In the past few years we have been trying to discover what works and what doesn’t through a lot of experimentation. We are becoming much more aware as an industry of what’s out there and what this ecosystem looks like. Ebooks first emerged 20 years ago. When they first emerged we talked about them in relation to publishing and libraries. In 2017 everybody is doing everything. All of the players are doing more than they were when they started. For example, tech companies are becoming publishers. Libraries are becoming self-publishing platforms. In this large universe, libraries are not the center. The truth is that no one is at the center of the ebook universe. The key trends are that companies and organizations are redefining and expanding their roles, content types merge and co-exist on the same platforms, and that there are more bold moves with business models inside and outside of libraries.

Trend 1: Companies and organizations redefine and expand their roles

There is more of everything in this model. There will be more options, opportunities, partnerships, accountability, simplicity, flexibility, and leadership. We are going to be taking more responsibility as an industry by learning from the lessons that have been presented to us in the past years in terms of what sells and what doesn’t. There has been an army of independent publishers that have been willing to work with libraries to develop non-traditional business models. Reading apps are getting simpler. There are fewer clicks separating ebooks from users. Users have not found borrowing ebooks from libraries to be a very user-friendly experience. The library market has been a hard one for publishers, especially smaller ones, to crack. It takes leaders in the library and other sectors to introduce new products and models.

Trend 2: Content types merge and co-exist on the same platforms

There is a merger of various content types into a single location. For example, ebooks and audio books are grouped together. Now one platform is used to house books, ebooks, journals, music, audio books, etc.

Trend 3: More bold moves with business models inside and outside libraries

On the public end there have been lots of frustrations regarding the ebook purchasing model. The old model of one-copy-one-user model which was routed in the print world caused problems for libraries. The phenomenon of self-publishing as really influenced the market. Self-publishing is here to stay and the content that is being produced by non-traditional publishing channels is providing opportunities for authors and libraries. Libraries are now in a position to help especial local and regional authors in promoting their work. There is more attention being paid to non-traditional business models.

Tough Questions for the Future of ebooks

Mirela shared questions that she asks herself and others when examining the ebook ecosystem. These questions and her answers are provided below.

Should ebooks be subject to borrowing/lending? Suggests that in order to come into their own ebooks might not be appropriate for borrowing. They might need to exist outside of institutions.

What are ebooks teaching us about categorization and curation? We live in a multidisciplinary world that defies categorization.

Have we (really) listened to the user? We haven’t, but we are starting to. The apps are becoming easier to use.

Have libraries been too dependent on the big players? I think they have, but that this is changing. Part of the issue is that libraries really want the books that the big players are publishing. If offers are made to libraries that do not include the big 5 publishers, then libraries are reluctant to test them.

Have publishers been open to experimentation and working with libraries? Yes. Despite the initial resistance from the big 5, the vast majority of the publishers out there have been willing to work with a variety of ebook platforms and services. We’ve been come a long way as an industry from where we started 17 years ago. The conference showed growth and maturity and greater awareness of the possibilities with ebooks.


Leading in Library Tech – Tabatha Farney

Rather than focusing on a specific technology, Tabatha talked about leadership in technology. She wanted to focus on the people who make technology work in libraries. The ALA conference had a full-day preconference section called AvramCamp which focused on the challenges faced by women in technology. Women are sometimes excluded from IT conversations. They are often underrepresented in tech teams. How does accepting sexism in tech teams influence young women in tech or the productivity of tech teams? The session taught how to be a good tech leader.

AvramCamp is based off of Ada Camp. Participants determine their own discussion themes without sharing their own professional titles or roles. The morning session was about imposter syndrome. Other discussion topics included onboarding and mentorship. The insights from the camp included:

  • Learn how to take (and give) compliments: Imposter syndrome is the feeling that you are unqualified for the work that you are doing. A lot of people have fallen into library technology jobs. They may not have a background in the technologies that they end up overseeing. They end up feeling like they are letting their library down and will tend to downplay compliments that they receive about their work, even if they deserve them. Really listen to what compliments are telling you and learn not to focus only on your failures. If you are someone who supervises people, don’t forget to compliment them when they do good work. Little things go a long way.
  • Hire the attitude; people can learn on the job: Many times there is a laundry list of skills that job candidates should have in order to do the job. Library leaders recommended that you should apply for a job if you have 60% of the skills on the list. Skills can be gained on the job, especially if you are enthusiastic to learn.
  • You can be a library tech leader: You probably already are a library tech leader. There is a misconception that only managers are tech leaders. If you’ve taken an active role in project management in your library or are responsible for making sure that a technology is running smoothly, then you are in a leadership role. These non-manager roles are often more challenging than management roles, because you have to get things done with people who don’t report to you. For this reason, these types of projects shouldn’t be sold short. Team managers should be concerned with fostering employee development. They may not be able to offer promotions, but they can provide projects to provide leadership development opportunities.

Final Shout Out: There are organizations out there for women who are interested in technology. One example is LibTechWomen –


Technology Observations 2017 ALA Annual Conference Chicago – Marshall Breeding

ALA offered a Top Technology Trends Panel. This panel gave an overview of several key technology trends impacting libraries. The topics covered in the panel included some of the following:

Cloud Computing: There is an increasing trend toward using cloud computing and centralized resources which allow IT teams to better manage and scale their IT resources. This is a major trend for all types of software. There are, however, several key questions about security. There is more reliance on vendors to provide adequate security for their systems. There was also an observation that libraries are very lax about the implementation of privacy and security mechanisms. There is an ongoing project to document how libraries are implementing security.

Open Source Disruption: Open source software is having a major impact on the library software environment. It hasn’t achieved dominance, but has entered the mainstream (see technologies such as Koha and Evergreen). The rate of adoption has been constant (gradual), but not aggressive. About 12% of public libraries and 5-6% of academic libraries in the US use open source integrated library systems. In other countries this uptake is higher. Open source software is often used inside proprietary systems. This raises the bar for innovation while placing downward pressure on costs. The FOLIO project has been getting a lot of press even though it is in its early days. It isn’t in use in libraries yet, but there have been quite a few sessions that have started looking at this software aimed at academic libraries.

Uneven Access to Technology: There are very large gaps between municipal libraries and those serving rural areas and small towns. There are hundreds of small public libraries in the US with no automation or modern websites. The reason for this is that pricing of technology products and services remain out of their reach. These technologies are increasingly scalable and could be deployed in small settings, especially given cloud computing, but there aren’t “scaled down prices”

Makerspaces in Libraries: Makerspaces offer far more technology and variety than people may think. They go beyond 3D printing. They can include many types of specialized manufacturing and prototype devices. There are significant costs involved in creating a makerspace. There needs to be an investment in equipment, staff expertise, and ongoing maintenance and consumables.

Open Data Licensing: There was a call for libraries to be clear about the type of licenses that they are associating with the data sets that they are creating. Libraries are encouraged to make data sets available under open access licenses and to work with data creators in their communities to promote open data and open access publishing.

Other themes that discussed at the conference covered the convergent of technology, content, and services. There has been a huge consolidation of companies that provide technology, content, and services to libraries. The big companies are developing a large portfolio of content and services for libraries through the absorption of smaller companies. What are the synergies that companies expect to achieve as they delve into both technologies for the management and access of content when they are also content suppliers? What kinds of synergies, bundling, or interoperability advantages will libraries tolerate? These are key strategic questions for libraries to consider.

Featured image by Mack Male


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