Still Talking about Old Technology?

I’m guessing that your organization is still talking about how to implement old technology. You are holding meetings, creating working groups, forming committees. All based around implementing something that still seems new to you, but in reality is pretty darn old!

“Old technology? No way!” you say. Wanna bet? Here’s a short list of technology that gets discussed in libraries right now, with origin/founding/first appeared dates (yay for Wikipedia!):

  • Twitter – 7 years old (founded 2006)
  • Facebook – 9 years old (founded 2004)
  • ebooks – 42 years old (we’ll say 1971, though prototypes and patents go all the way back to the 1940s!)
  • ebook readers – 15 years old (1998, probably earlier)
  • QR Codes – 19 years old (created in 1994)
  • PC with OS’s newer than XP – 7 years old (Vista came out in 2006, though no one actually used it)
  • Apple Mac – 29 years old (Came out in 1984. I’ll guess many people remember the commercial, but haven’t actually used one)
  • Cell phones – 40 years old (First call made in 1973)
  • smart phones – 12 years old (started appearing in 2001)
  • text messaging – 21 years old (created in 1992)
  • IM/Chat messaging – 25 years old (IRC appeared in 1988)
  • wifi – 25 years old (appeared in 1988)
  • RFID – 30 years old (first patent in 1983)
  • Youtube – 8 years old (founded in 2005)
  • mp3 files for music – 19 years old (appeared in 1994)
  • digital media labs – 93 years old (ok, this one’s really hard to date. DMLs are really just small recording studios, which have been around in one form or another since at least the 1920s)
  • hackerspaces – 47 years old (This is another hard one to date. The Chaos Computer Club, an early hackerspace, was founded in 1981. But I think you could put the Homebrew Computer Club in this list, started in 1975, which helped spawn Apple. And my dad and my uncle Bob have had workshops in their basements with all sorts of crazy machinery since I’ve been alive. So I’m dating these at 47 years old :-)
  • Cloud computing – 63 years old (There have been mainframes/dumb terminals since the 1950s, which could be argued to be early cloud-based computing)
  • 3D Printing – 29 years old (the first working 3d printer appeared in 1984)

So I ask again – are you talking about old technology … like it’s new technology? Do you have staff who can’t use ebooks, are wary of smartphones or text messaging reference, or look at you crazy when you introduce the concept of a hackerspace to them? Is your library/city/governing board still wary of new-fangled social media tools like Facebook or Cloud computing?

Makes you think, doesn’t it!

Steampunk mobile phone pic by Urban Don

  • Andy Woodworth

    Setting aside some of those highly disputable “invention” dates, I think there is a distinct difference between “old technology” and “economically viable technology”. Some of the things you have listed here did not reach a tipping point for cost and availability until recently, arguably within the last decade. If people are treating it like its new, it’s because it is to them. And why not? It wasn’t a possibility to them before recent times.

    Whether you intended to or not, this post really makes you sound like some sort of technology hipster, talking about the irony of people are treating these ‘old’ technologies as if they were new. While some people are still wary of the things you have listed, it’s not exactly welcoming either to act like they are dramatically behind the times on the basis of their ‘invention’ date.

  • davidleeking

    Two things:

    1. I’ll include myself in the list, because my library is talking about ebooks, RFID, digital media labs, etc.

    2. “within the last decade” – so even if we go with those dates, that’s a good 10 years old. Again – not new.

    I’ll agree – something that isn’t new can definitely be “new” for a library if they haven’t done it before. I get that. But at the same time, many libraries have staff that ARE still wary of things that their own place of employment has been doing for a LONG time. Are those staff “dramatically behind the times?” Probably so. Is that good for their organizations? Probably not.

    “technology hipster” – I’ll own that one.

  • Kathy Dempsey

    Here’s what gets me about still discussing “old” (no matter how old) stuff:
    It’s realistic for most libraries to adopt things on the latter side of the curve due to economic viability & other factors. And if your patrons still need classes on “old” stuff, then by all means, serve them.

    But I do see a problem when some library directors are still wondering whether it’s really ok to have a presence on social media, whether to offer text reference, etc. (assuming cardholders are in those worlds). It’s a bigger problem if leaders are still letting their frontline employees remain clueless about “new tech” / old stuff. Because that feeds the “libraries are obsolete” beliefs.

    I get mad when a library puts under-trained part-timers or volunteers or students at visitors’ main contact point, because if they can’t field questions about “old stuff” such as “How do I get into your wi-fi?” or “Can I use your electronic stuff on my laptop?” then the library looks tech-stupid, even if it really is tech-savvy. Everyone in front-line jobs needs to know something about this “old” new stuff and also about the newest stuff. It hurts our field’s reputation if we don’t put our best folks in front of our guests.

    I loved writing about this small library that made tech knowledge a job requirement for every single employee. Why aren’t we all doing that?

  • caysedai

    It’s not my library that’s the problem – it’s the genealogy society. As one of the “youngest” members (I’m 52), and the current president, it’s a battle to get “new” things done – like having our own website instead of a page on (which is not under our control), getting a new computer (we finally did 2 years ago) and offering our newsletter in digital format along with the hard copy that we mail out. The thing I hate to hear the most? “I don’t know why we need that.”

  • Kenneth Simon

    It’s a provocative truth that libraries as a general rule are behind the technology curve. (Don’t we all love the exceptions!) And it’s also a truth that we shouldn’t implement something new only because it’s new. On a day-to-day basis, I’m interested in serving my patrons with what we can afford and what our skeleton crew can manage. If our patrons want to meet us on Facebook and we don’t have a page there, well then I’ll invest time and energy in it. (But — sorry, no coin-operated typewriters. Even I have my limits!)

    But even if we can’t afford to be cutting edge at my community college library, I make sure that I at the very least stay informed about and conversant with what’s coming down the pike. I want to be ready to adapt, maybe even to manage implementation, whether it’s next year or when I’m 64.

    So, it doesn’t tremendously bother me that my library talks about old technology. We do what we need to do. But it bothers me immensely when my colleagues in the profession hem and haw over it, reject it out of hand, assign all things tech to “the Millennials,” and refuse to participate in the old tech, let alone the new. It’s still happening way too much, with librarians of all ages.

    I guess my bottom line is, work with what you need, old or new. Deliver the services that people want in the best way possible. But keep eyes and ears on the new, and never avoid it out of fear or a feeling that you’re “too old.” Because then you’ll be too old, whatever your real age.

  • davidleeking

    Ouch. That would be a horrid thing to hear! Wow…

  • davidleeking

    thanks for the comment and the link – good stuff! Interesting comment about the volunteers/students, too – I hadn’t thought about it that way, and you’re right!

  • davidleeking

    I agree completely – thanks for sharing!

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