by Adam Beatty
Information Technology Specialist, NTRLS
I was asked to talk about the changes in library technology since I came to work for NTRLS in 1999. Well let’s take a walk down memory lane shall we?
When I started working for NTRLS, a few librarians in our smaller libraries were trying to overcome their fear of technology. Some libraries didn’t even have a computer. Some had computers, but they were still in the box, unused. Librarians were concerned about whether patrons would know how to use computers even if they were made available to them. Back then people were using computers mostly to do research or maybe occasionally to submit resumes. On the flip side of that coin, some librarians embraced all new technology and were eager to offer it to their patrons. It was a very confusing time for technology in libraries.
Most computers in libraries were running Windows 95 and Windows 98. Some were running Windows NT 4.0, and some were, believe it or not, running Windows 3.1 and 3.11. Back then computers were still running 1st generation Pentium chips such as the 166 MHz CPU with maybe 8 to 16 Megs of RAM, CD-ROM drive, floppy drive, 400 MB to 1 gig hard disk drive, Windows 95 and either a dial-up modem or a network card depending on the size of the network and the library budget. Some libraries could afford a T1 connection but the others were usually stuck with dial up.
Through the years technology began defining itself. Wireless networking was starting to become more widely used and USB was introduced so that devices like printers, scanners, and bar code scanners could take advantage of the new speed that was available.
More libraries started getting automated, but most were separated automation packages and only a few were conjoined (MetrOPAC). Then the new broadband technologies, like DSL and Cable Broadband, started being more readily available to libraries. And in some areas even wireless Internet access was available.
The early stages of the wireless network saw the introduction of 802.11a, a standard where wireless speed was about that of 10BaseT wired network. As time went by, we saw technology advance more quickly and libraries were struggling to keep up. We were seeing more DVD drives, Windows XP, and networking with 100BaseT. We also saw a larger, more sophisticated, patronage using the technology that was available at their library.
Now we arrive at current technology such as much bigger hard disk drives (40 gig+), and faster network connections such as 1 gigabit Ethernet, 2 to 4 gig RAM, Windows Vista, Dual Core and Quad Core CPU’s, USB 2.0, Broadband Internet and wireless networks. Wireless technology caught the eyes of librarians thanks to a lot of the new hot spots that have popped up around the Metroplex. Now several libraries are running hot spots for patrons who wish to bring their own notebook computers to use.
Patrons are able to use new features at most libraries with Broadband Internet access. Things like blogging, taking on-line courses, watching movies, playing interactive games, podcasting, and more. Patrons are also no longer using floppies to save their work. For the most part, they are using jump drives, also known as Thumb or USB drives.
And now we look to the future of technology in NTRLS libraries. Librarians are exploring the possibility of an integrated library system to be shared between participating libraries. They are trying to stay at the front of technology, no longer fearing it. I can’t wait to see what else is in store for NTRLS member libraries concerning technology, because I’m sure it will be exciting!