By Andrew Youngkin, Emerging Technologies and Evaluation Coordinator, NN/LM, SE/A Region
As Emerging Technologies Coordinator, I often encounter great questions on the relevance of a particular technology or social media site, and whether libraries need to be aware of it or not. Most recently, I have encountered ‘bigger picture’ questions, such as “how do I stay current on new technology trends?” and “what resources should I be looking at?” The question of how to stay in the technology trends loop is one of the bigger questions I am constantly revisiting and rethinking. For what it is worth, here are some strategies I have used to scout out those upcoming tech trends.
Below, I have outlined some general categories and named some specific sources I find helpful. By no means is this a complete list or the best list of sources for everyone. Feel free to pick and choose those that will work for you. You may notice several themes as you continue reading. First, I try to diversify in terms of the types of information sources I use and the formats in which they are delivered. Second, I strive to make it as easy and seamless as possible. I think information overload is more avoidable if the information itself remains the focus and the process by which the information is delivered or organized can become more automated. Diversify sources and automate where possible.
I subscribe to a handful of print publications that are delivered to me at my office that I skim during breaks or when I am traveling. When I see something of relevance or importance, I scan them with an iPad app and create a PDF. The PDFs are organized and sent to my Inbox and ready when I need to reference them. Some of my regular print publications include: Wired, Information Today, Internet Librarian, Computers in Libraries, Technology Review, and Fast Company. I also look at reports such as The Higher Education edition of the NMC Horizon Report, which provides a wealth of insight on trends perceived to become more relevant in higher education at a number of different time intervals.
In addition to print publications, I have set up RSS feeds composed of various technology topic searches and terms from within the databases to which our library subscribes. I have the search results fed to my Inbox, allowing me to quickly scan titles of relevance and obtain full text if needed. I use both broad terms and specific technologies. I also create feeds around specific technology companies like Apple, Microsoft, HP, Amazon, Google, etc., so that I can intercept announcements, patents, or press releases that may reveal new technologies to review. I also subscribe via RSS to various blogs, websites, and online sources and have them streamed to my Google Reader account, which I (try to) scan weekly. From there I can make notes and ‘favorite’ the best articles for me. Some sources I subscribe to via RSS include: NPR Technology, FUMSI magazine, NY Times Technology section, Washington Post Technology section, Search Engine Land, and Search Engine Watch.
Sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, and even Pinterest can be used to intercept news on the latest emerging technologies. Search for and subscribe to people/groups/topics that may be talking about technology topics. I would especially recommend Twitter Feeds of technology focused/interested librarians/libraries. And let’s not forget YouTube. Search with specific terms or subscribe to various technology channels. CommonCraft is another site that specializes in explaining difficult or abstract concepts such as augmented reality or cloud computing with short, succinct video tutorials.
Conferences, especially library conferences, play a big part for me in pinpointing what is new. Attending, participating, and contributing to conferences and sub-groups is huge. Computers in Libraries, Internet Librarian, Educause, SLA, and LITA (ALA group) are some that I have attended or plan to attend. I have recently joined and intend to be active in the Medical Library Association’s Educational Media & Technology Section (EMTS) and the Medical Informatics Section (MIS). Conference papers and poster presentations are also great ways to see how librarians and other practitioners are using technology out in the real world. If you cannot attend your conferences of choice, you may also look into availability of the conference proceedings/recordings to see what was presented, discussed, and potential new directions for the organizations.
Various professional development activities such as workshops and classes can provide insight into new technologies. NNLM SE/A offers many free classes—both on site and online to groups like libraries, healthcare professionals, educators, and community activists. The class, “Geeks Bearing Gifts: Unwrapping New Technology Trends” is specifically designed to give participants a glimpse of a handful of new technologies and allow time for hands-on practice and application. “Super Searcher: Enhancing Your Online Search Super Powers,” exposes participants to a wide range of web search techniques, strategies, and tools to focus, enhance, or better use Internet search results.
To be honest, I usually don’t seek out news from television or radio. But often, while at the gym, in a restaurant, or in the car, I will overhear a news story about a particular technology that has been relevant to a topic I am teaching about, and I will mention it during my next class. Local and national news stories can offer helpful context to understand a new technology. When choosing sources, I have been known to favor NPR, CNN, and PBS.
As you identify which sources best suit your information needs in finding new technology trends, remember that the strategies of getting to the information (or getting it to you) can be as valuable as the sources themselves.
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