March 17, 2018

ALA Annual 2011: Top Tech Trends: Apps on the Upswing

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TALKING TRENDS A five-member panel of experts (center) drew a crowd during LITA’s Top Technology Trends presentation at the ALA Annual Conference, moderated by Jason Vaughan, LITA Top Tech Trends committee chair and director of library technologies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (far left). (clockwise from top) 2011 LJ Mover & Shaker Jennifer Wright of the Free Library of Philadelphia (speaking) foresaw the growth of social reading; Nina McHale of the University of Colorado, Denver’s Auraria Library raised accessibility issues; Douglas County Libraries’ Monique Sendze pointed out the importance of mobile apps; Clifford Lynch of the Center for Networked Information spoke of apps as well as computational photography; OCLC’s Lorcan Dempsey weighed in on the “physical cloud” of shared print collections. Photos Copyright 2011 Sean Gardner/Getty Images


The Top Technology Trends panel, presented on June 26 by the Library & Information Technology Association (LITA) at the American Library Association Annual Conference in New Orleans, focused heavily on mobile apps, user experience, and social networking, but also tackled more left-field tech, such as three-dimensional printing (thanks to a cameo appearance by an audience member and former Top Tech Trends panelist, Jason Griffey of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga). Despite some sound problems in the auditorium (which reportedly caused some attendees to leave), the panelists provided a lively discussion of tech issues facing libraries.

The rise of apps
Mobile apps, enormously popular among both libraries and library vendors, were a major focus of the panel (despite a past Top Tech Trends prediction—by Griffey—that 2010 would be “the year that the app dies,” at the 2010 ALA Midwinter Meeting).

Clifford Lynch, executive director of the Coalition for Networked Information, talked about the “extraordinary rise” of mobile apps, and the “wonderful burst of creativity” they have fostered. But he pointed out that many apps were highly platform-specific and have the drawback of requiring institutions to “make bets on winners and losers” regarding hardware and software platforms, and makes content in the apps more vulnerable to the success or failure of those platforms. He did say, however, that “apps are at least in the near term clearly winning the field,” compared to other options such mobile-optimized websites.

Monique Sendze, associate director of information technology at Douglas County Libraries, CO, said that mobile apps will become a key component of a library’s marketing strategy, which she said was already successful in other public spaces, such as malls and airports, and “it’s time that public libraries and other public places and institutions begin to leverage some of that.” A library that embraces mobile marketing will be seen as hip or innovative, she said, which can become a library’s “brand.”

She pointed out that mobile apps are also cost-effective as libraries already have some of the infrastructure to take advantage of mobile marketing; 87 percent of public libraries have free wi-fi available already, she said.

Jennifer Wright, assistant chief of the Free Library of Philadelphia‘s Materials Management Division (and a 2011 LJ Mover & Shaker), talked about apps in the context of social-reading trends, including the use of Goodreads and LibraryThing (see LJ‘s recent Social Mediator article on the subject). She also pointed out popular features of Amazon’s Kindle and the Kobo ereader, which feature user rating and online community interaction. BiblioCommons (which most recently partnered with the New York Public Library) could also move into the social-reading arena, she said, as they already have an extensive collection of reviews, tags, and ratings data from patrons. “It would be a very short step for them to incorporate this,” she said, and it would be an easy way for libraries to get further into social networking.

Sendze also later addressed social-reading trends, noting that as ebooks become more web-connected, they may cease to be books as we know them-and simply become “the Web.” It would give rise to a situation that could be “tricky” for publishers, authors, readers, and libraries, she said, and could redefine the whole idea of what a book is.

An audience member’s question about apps’ staying power later in the session drew more comments from the panel. Lynch expressed concern about apps’ transience: “I really get nervous when I see substantial amounts of content that’s only available as apps.” Nina McHale, web librarian at the University of Colorado, Denver’s Auraria Library, thought that libraries might in fact move away from creating in-house apps merely because they are expensive and time-consuming to produce. Sendze noted that, due to apps’ dependence of specific platforms, common Web-based standards will become ever more important.

User-experience trends
McHale took on user-experience issues in her examples of emerging trends. First, she cited the open-source Drupal content management platform as a tool to create websites that can make a patron’s experience appear more seamless when using multiple databases. The sharability of Drupal, she said, encourages the sharing of innovative code among a wide range of libraries. “There are some libraries out there are just never going to have programmers, and are just never going to have the budget; they’re going to be too small,” she said. “Yet they’re still going to want to keep up with all these great online developments that are going on.” Software like Drupal, she said, “can help make that happen.”

She also spoke about the accessibility of electronic resources, and the evolving awareness and response of database vendors in that area. “Things were pretty bad,” she said. “They’re getting better.” At McHale’s campus, she said, about ten percent of the students have a disability, and, in her experience, vendors have generally been more aware of and responding to her school’s accessibility concerns. But she also cited a University of Michigan study that said 72 percent of academic databases surveyed were ranked “marginally accessible or inaccessible,” noting that “we still have a long way to go.” She also noted that the upcoming EPUB3 standard will bring improved accessibility to ebooks.

Wright, meanwhile, declared “the death of the mouse as an input device,” due to both the ongoing popularity of laptops and, more specifically, the advent of tablet computers. She also noted that using cameras as input devices—for augmented-reality apps and other purposes—will likely gain in popularity. “It will be a training issue” for librarians, she said, as patrons learn the new interfaces.

Other observations
A disparate array of other topics was also touched upon by the panelists.

OCLC VP and chief strategist Lorcan Dempsey saw a rising trend toward “managing down” print collections due to space and other considerations, and predicted the ongoing growth of systems and services to meet the needs of such initiatives. The Center for Research Libraries, he said, has already begun work on pieces of infrastructure that might be required to scale down print collections. He also discussed how the multi-institutional Western Regional Storage Trust is handling shared resources, and how the HathiTrust is handling electronic versions of stored materials. As the trend grows, there will be more and more shared warehouses of stored materials among institutions, in what Dempsey called a “physical cloud.”

Dempsey also noted the rise of resources like LibGuides, and software such as Library à la Carte from Oregon State University and North Carolina State University’s Library Course Tools (formerly known as CourseViews), which help unify various academic course resources for patrons (a similar observation to McHale’s earlier comments regarding Drupal). He said that such collections of resources are similar in some ways to music playlists, and, over time, he believes that such “microcollections” could become less tied to individual websites and become more portable and sharable.

Lynch went in a completely different direction, and spoke briefly about imaging and, specifically, computational photography, in which data sets can be interpreted to produce a wide range of images, and which he believe could have implications for image preservation.

Griffey, from the audience, answered another audience member’s question on three-dimensional printing, calling it the “next massive technological revolution,” and directed the audience to his recently posted YouTube video on the subject.

[A video of the Top Technology Trends panel is available (with a few technical difficulties) on LITA’s Ustream channel.]

David Rapp About David Rapp

David Rapp ( was formerly Associate Editor, LJ.