Reflection #4: Embracing Techno-Reality in Rural Libraries


Stephens (2004; 2008), vividly describes the need for ‘techno-planning’, in order to avoid the pitfalls of ‘techno-stress,’ ‘techno-lusting,’ ‘techno-divorcing,’ ‘techno-shame,’ and ‘techno-phobia.’

The key is to develop open and transparent, user-centric, emerging technology committees who can begin to sift past the emotional responses elicited by the thought of new technologies, and begin to answer the questions: “What are we ready for? What can we wait to do?  How do we teach, build, teach more, build more incrementally?”

In 2015, Stephens noted that:

In a report by Wells (2014), industry analysts predict that by 2020 more than 50 billion mobile devices will be connected worldwide. In the next few years, the world will be using mobile services and devices we cannot imagine today. The library that builds value and thrives will be fluid enough to anticipate and quickly respond to new technologies and user expectations…. Exploring the hyperlinked library model as a mobile platform for discovery, interaction, and participation is just one facet of the rich and varied possibilities for our future. Delivering easy-to-use, unique, and just-in-time services to the palm of a user’s hand, however, may be one of the most important goals we take on as information professionals.

Techno-planning in an urban community is generally supported by a strong technology infrastructure. Users have exposure to, and generally ubiquitous access to, a multitude of services (broadband, cellular, satellite, wi-fi) and a multitude of devices and apps to harness them.

What are the specific challenges facing rural librarians as they seek to increase access to emerging technologies in their spaces?

Pushing Past Techno-Lust and FOMO

Rural librarians share that lust for new technology that is experienced by many tech-geek librarians, staff, and patrons world-wide. As a new technology emerges, we are instantly afraid that if we don’t grab it right away, we will never have another opportunity. However, in a small-budget library, in a digitally-divided landscape, we can’t leap in to be a beta user simply because we have a fear of missing out.  We wait, impatiently, for local infrastructures to expand. We wait, impatiently, for the bugs to be tested out. We wait, impatiently, for larger libraries to develop the relevant uses for the technology, to write the protocols and the policies for the new technology. We wait, impatiently, to see if the technology even survives! Goodbye, Google glass and QR codes! We never had an opportunity to play.

So much of techno-planning entails thinking about an emerging technology in terms of what people in our community really need. Do we really need virtual reality at this time? Are other technologies more important?

Google Glass, for example, was a technology that no one in my rural community actually needed, nor did we have the consistent wireless infrastructure to support it outside the library walls. As Oremus states: “Glass’ problem is that the technology today simply doesn’t offer anything that average people really want, let alone need, in their everyday lives. At some point in the future, it might. But not anytime soon…. Project Glass was an attempt to answer the question: What might a consumer augmented-reality device look like, and how would one use it? It was, in short, an experiment. And, as often happens with experiments, the results forced the researchers to modify their hypotheses.” (Oremus, 2014).

Some of the 23 Things we are using or exploring at my library are:

  • Facebook & Instagram: our following is growing slowly
  • Twitter: We have a presence, but only one follower who actually prefers FB. In the future, we may see our Twitter feed grow, but for now, it is silent.
  • Online presence: Too much duplication of effort. Shall we send an email newsletter? Write a blog on our website? Or continually post in FB? Which is more useful? Is the combination useful? How much time is required to sustain our online efforts?
  • We have a great website. Sadly, too few people visit or use our website, or explore the links provided there. How can we lead users to the website with as little techno-chaos or techno-duplication as possible? How can we guide users through passive exploration and toward….
  • Library virtual spaces? Dreamed of, but not yet built. I envision online spaces for uneasy newcomers to play with social media communications with relative privacy. A space where they can set up virtual book discussions; collaborate on local solutions; learn collectively using MOOCs, webinars, and podcasts; share feedback on library programs and activities; and participate in “gamified” reading programs.
  • 3-D printer? No established maker space at the moment. The library has been dedicated to housing collections, with programming and people as a distinct afterthought. We have entered a phase of ‘imagineering’ for a much-needed facility update.
  • Scanners? Just added in 2016!
  • Digital Studio? On the wish list.
  • Smart tables, Promethean walls? Wish list.

Differentiating Between Techno-Phobia and Techno-Failure

Lu (2017) reports that older people use smart phones and tablets but prefer to read on computers, why? For our patrons, the answer comes down to usability. Simple things like the screen size for video is too small on a phone or tablet; the font size is too small in most phone apps; the inability to change screen glare under changing light conditions [not that the technology is unavailable, but that no one has taught the user how to change the device settings]; too many choices of apps, with not enough instruction about how to use each one productively; not enough storage space in less expensive phones. Forcing people who have never played with technology to adopt new technologies scares the pants off them [Will I erase all my data? Will my data be private? Is social media safe?]

For more tech savvy, but perhaps justifiably tech-resistant patrons, huge advances in AI and data collection threaten their privacy. Just because we CAN create a technology does not imply that we SHOULD.

Kastanis (2015) describes a future that is intriguing but also nightmarish to any person who is a Star Trek or Philip K. Dick fan. “In the future, I believe these brain-computer interfaces will be universal. Rather than say, “Hey, Siri,” you’ll think, “Hey, Siri….  Some of the most promising players in this area right now include Emotiv, a bioinformatics company using EEG technology to develop brain-computer interfaces, and BrainGate, a research team that’s created a wireless transmitter for paralyzed patients.”

The implication here, is that one day the library and the user will occupy one virtual space. There will be no separation between the patron and the collection.

Recognizing Techno-Gaps & the Evolution of the Digital Divide


(Kovach, 2014).

The reality is that mobile tech is with us everywhere, even in digitally divided regions. As Holmquist (2013) stated, smartphones and tablets put information in peoples’ pockets. He also cautioned that before we can use technology meaningfully, we must understand its reach and its implications.

In New England, as in many rural areas in the United States, true broadband is limited to larger business and to public libraries. Generally, home internet providers do not have the infrastructure to provide high-speed broadband services in private homes. We do not have consistent mobile services. Libraries are heroes here, because that is where the wi-fi lives!

Jessamyn West, a librarian from Vermont, describes how people, rather than infrastructure, are also now the cause of the digital divide:

This, to me, is the real digital divide in 2016. [People] have to pay someone for help, they don’t have the money, the​y​ don’t have options because their communities do not have this level of free tech knowledge available. They are vulnerable to people trying to sell them things. ​They are vulnerable to relying on “closed” communities like​​ facebook to do everything online. ​ Media only heightens this anxiety​ and makes them feel at risk,​ and phishing and other scams increasingly targeted towards them amplify this issue. (West, August 2016).

In my community, there are:

  • people who have never needed computer technology for work or life and who are unhappy that tasks in their lives can now ONLY be done online [government, financial, insurance, medical];
  • people who have used technology (or even built technologies for IBM, Wang, and other pioneering companies), who feel they have earned the right to ‘retire from technology’. They share the feelings of the group above, and in some cases, are even MORE resistant to mandatory technologies;
  • people who have grown up in an analog world, but evolved with computer and telephone technology changes, and who are comfortable playing around with software, applications, cloud-based sharing, and other digital technologies;
  • people who have never lived in a world that was not digital, and who are fluent in a variety of technologies before they attend school;
  • people whose parents/grandparents believe they should be limited in their exposure to technology until they attend school (or sometimes, even longer).

How do we provide guidance and instruction for so many types of technological experience? We begin the conversation person by person, and we build individual confidence step-by-step. “People are not just needing technology to find a book to read or a form for the IRS, they are using it to manage their LIVES. And that becomes the latest thing for us to manage. Help people live, because living in 2016 includes technology.” (West, November 2016).

Embracing Techno-Reality

In our tech-planning processes, our Emerging Technologies Committee must evaluate current trends in library technology [Maker Spaces; Competency-Based Education; Virtual Reality; Data Analytics and Machine Learning; Accessibility; Mobile First; Wearables; Video; Wireless Infrastructure (Kelly, 2016)]. Are these technologies relevant in our communities? Will they become relevant in the near future? Are they supported by infrastructure [regional, local, or facilities]? Who needs or will need this technology in our community? How do we reach these users?

Step by step, person by person, app by app, we need to find or create individual solutions for individual realities. There are reciprocal benefits implied…. If we want to increase our library Facebook presence, we need to introduce new users to Facebook. If we want users to participate in virtual spaces, we need to create those spaces and teach people how to participate there.

We are their coaches and online guides. We need to mentor their online presence, answer their concerns about privacy and data collection. We need to teach technologies that help people sustain and enrich their lives. We need to begin instruction where they already live and participate [Luddite, minimalist, participant, or enthusiast]. Technology is not one-size-fits-all. We need to focus on giving techno-encouragement, providing techno-enrichment, and building techno-empowerment.

Words courtesy of Tod Colegrove, 2013 TEDx Talks.




Colegrove, T. (2013, 10 June). Libraries of the Future. TEDx Talks, Reno, Nevada. Accessed 20 October 2017 at:

Cummings, S.X. (2011, October 16).  Why the QR code is failing. [website]. Accessed 26 October 2017 @

Da Silva, M. (2017, 12 April). Proximity marketing: How to attract more shoppers with beacon technology. Shopify POS [website]. Accessed 28 October 2017 at:

Higgins, A.J. (2017, 17 September). Verizon Wireless terminating service for 2,000 cellphone customers in Washington County [Maine]. Bangor Daily News [online]. Accessed 28 October 2017 at:

Holmquist, J. (2013, 24 August). MOOC [Mobile Library]. Accessed 25 October 2017 at:

Kastanis, D. (2015, 15 November). What technology will look like in five years. TechCrunch [website]. Accessed 22 October 2017 at:

Kelly, R. (2016, 13 January). 9 Ed Tech trends to watch in 2016. Accessed 29 September 2017 at:

Kovach, S. (2014, 13 January). Google’s multibillion purchase of Nest is just the beginning of ‘The Internet of Things’. Accessed 28 Oct 2017 at:

Lu, K.. (2017, 12 June). Growth in mobile news use driven by older adults. Pew Research Center. Accessed 25 October 2017 at:

Oremus, W. (2014, 19 November). The moonshot that missed: Google Glass was a grand experiment, but it’s time for Google to move on. Slate: Technology. Accessed 25 October 2017 at:

Stephens, M. (2004, 1 November). Technoplans vs. technolust. Tame The Web [blog].  Accessed 29 September 2017 at:

Stephens M. (2008). Taming technolust: Ten steps for planning in a 2.0 world. Reference and User Service Quarterly 47:4, 314-317.  Accessed 1 October 2017 at:

Stephens, M. (2015). Serving the user when and where they are: Hyperlinked libraries. Accessed 27 October 2017 at:

Stephens, M. (2017). Lecture, Module 8, INFO 287, San Jose State University. Accessed online at:

West, J. (2016, 11 August). There are multiple digital divides, still. [blog]. Accessed online 27 October 2017 at:

West, J. (2016, 3 November). Solve the digital divide with one neat trick! 2016 FHLA Fall Conference & Business Meeting, Hooksett, Massachusetts. Accessed 28 October 2017 at:




2 Thoughts.

  1. Thanks for sharing all of your insights – I especially was very interested in your breakdown of how people in your community use or do not use technology! Jessamyn’s work is always a touchstone for me.

  2. Your breakdown of the community and how they use/don’t use technology is something I see within my community (large city) too. I find that libraries are becoming the place where people go to for help with technology. This is especially true now that so many aspects of our daily lives are moving online, like job applications or filing taxes being the two big ones I encounter working at the library.

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