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Library Technology in a Slow Economy

Submitted by Daniel A. Freeman on August 13, 2008 - 2:39pm

This past weekend CBS News ran this report, which examines how in an economic downturn, many families using their libraries for low-cost fun and entertainment.

While it’s clear that a rough economy increases the demand for public library services, that hardly means we’re recession proof. From Boston and D.C. to California, hard times have meant budget cuts for libraries. (check out ALA’s Funding News page).

The effects of these budget cuts affect all aspects of library service, and technology is no exception. Despite the fact that providing access to new technology is a high priority to many public libraries, in many cases libraries have had no choice but to reduce their technology budget.

Having your budget cut is always difficult, but if there is a silver lining, it may be that these budget cuts will help us appreciate yet another dimension of Library 2.0. One of the biggest and least discussed benefits of Web 2.0 is that it often allows users to disseminate and provide access to information at a very little or even no expense. Any librarian can create a blog or a wiki as long as their library has Internet access. These types of tools can be used to help patrons have their questions answered efficiently at a time when demand for services is increasing.

It will also be interesting to see if the current budgetary conditions lead to an increase in the popularity of open source software. Many libraries use an open-source ILS, which is often found to be a cost-effective alternative to using proprietary software. Many libraries are using open-source workstations to cut down on software costs.

While its hard to tell how long our current economic conditions will persist, adapting to a budget crunch is nothing new for librarians. Still, this is probably the most significant economic challenge to libraries since we entered the 2.0 era. We’d love to hear more about how your library is adapting its technology to the economic conditions.