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Library System Tech Needs for the Future

by Ryan Huffman, Library Computer Systems Director

Technology can be unpredictable–not only in the way it works (or doesn’t) but in where it is headed. Fortunately for me, the library system is focused on providing basic technology needs to patrons before investing in the latest and greatest gadgets, so we don’t necessarily need to be able to predict the future of tech trends but we do need to keep up with what’s current and that’s not always an easy mission by itself.

One element of that mission is maintaining the current conditions. Did you know the average life-span of a desktop computer in a business setting is about three to five years? Computers are certainly capable of lasting longer and quite a few in the library system have been around longer than that but the industry recommends planning for replacement after about five years.

Hardware failure is one aspect to this lifecycle but obsolescence in both hardware and software are important factors as well. When a new operating system or the latest version of a software is released, if the existing hardware cannot support the new features, new hardware is required. Perhaps you’ve run into this with a smartphone you’ve been hanging on to for years and suddenly software updates are no longer available.

With over 100 computers in the library system alone (not including peripheral hardware, mobile devices, and other devices), maintaining the current conditions can be a task all on its own.

The other element of keeping things current is adding new technologies in order to provide the patrons and library staff with the right devices to meet their current needs. With the ubiquity of network connected devices, networks require upgrades for better cabling and newer hardware allowing for faster speeds. Improving cabling infrastructure in an older building like the one in Gettysburg can be time consuming and expensive. Newer “smart” network switches and devices make it easier for me to maintain networks at six branches around the county.

The pandemic the last few years has caused the industry to pivot toward video conferencing–a change that might have happened eventually but probably not at the rate it did. Suddenly the bare minimum in terms of at-home technology came to include a stronger network connection, a passable video camera, and a reliable microphone if we wanted to interact “face-to-face” with our friends and coworkers. It has been a great example of how suddenly an industry can be turned on its head.

Another, less instantaneous trend is the emergence of mobile devices. While computers and laptops undeniably have a place and a purpose, some tasks can be achieved more efficiently with a tablet. Their smaller size makes tablets ideal for some library programs. They take up less space and require less cabling when used as a quick access library catalog. They facilitate an easy way to make a donation to your local library or pay a fine. Updating library technology to include more modern technology like tablets would make it easier for patrons to find what they need and easier for the library staff to do their jobs more efficiently.

So maybe you won’t run into the latest and greatest virtual reality technology at your local branch of the library any time soon but you will find we are constantly maintaining and reevaluating our technology needs to determine how the Adams County Library System can best serve the needs of the county.

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