Emerging Technology Planning: Bringing Technology and Tech Literacy to Older Patrons via the Hyperlinked Library Bus

Introduction 

It is clear through the assigned readings we’ve gone over this semester that libraries must adapt, at least in part, to a hyperlinked and participatory model if they are to remain relevant in the age of Google. Sometimes called Library 2.0, the participatory model “empowers library users through participatory, user-driven services” (Casey & Savastinuk 2007 pp 5). In other words, the library continues to be a place of discovery and learning, but is user-centric, meaning that the patron can have a more hands-on experience in the library using new technology, and librarians are there in a more direct way to foster this learning. However, it is important to note that libraries cannot install the latest and greatest technology and just hope for the best. The key in hyperlinked libraries is not the technology itself, but the patrons who will be using it. For instance, in the blog post “Revisiting Participatory Service in Trying Times,” Michael Casey notes that “The participatory library engages and queries its entire community and seeks to integrate them into the structure of change. The community should be involved in the brainstorming for new ideas and services, they should play a role in planning for those services, and they should definitely be involved in the evaluation and review process” (Casey 2011). 

I currently work in the circulation department of a mid-sized public branch library in a county that is largely a retirement community. Our print collection circulates well, although the digital collection will certainly outpace it soon if it hasn’t already. One thing I have noticed is that our large print collection and collection of print magazines are very popular, but these collections are quite small compared to the larger print collection, and some of the magazines are reference-only. If some of our elderly patrons could learn how to use e-readers, they could have access to many more titles, because the print on e-readers can be enlarged to the user’s preferences, allowing them access to a much larger collection of titles. Also, if they could learn to use services like Flipster, our digital magazine service, they wouldn’t have to wait so long on the holds list for certain issues. However, many patrons do not have access to these services, and some find it hard to make it to the library in the first place. Others are hesitant to try new technology because they aren’t used to it or comfortable around it.  My solution to this is a mobile “TechBus,” inspired by the Marin County Free Library’s Learning Bus, to be driven around Jackson County, Oregon, to provide digital literacy skills to patrons of Jackson County Library Services. The TechBus would enhance participatory culture by allowing patrons to try technology in a hands-on environment with trained staff ready to teach patrons how to use the tech to download digital services the library already offers for free. 

Image result for marin county learning bus

Description of Community


The intended audience of the TechBus would be elderly patrons, but anyone from the public in Jackson County would be welcome to come to a TechBus stop to learn about the digital resources the library has to offer. 

Goals/Process

The TechBus would be like a bookmobile, but the emphasis would be on teaching the public (mostly older adults, but also anyone who may need help) how to use the library’s digital services and emerging technologies. It would roam the county on a rotating schedule, visiting retirement homes, community centers, and perhaps the more remote areas of the county where people may not visit their library regularly. It would be outfitted with a wifi hotspot, computers, e-readers, and tablets to be used to teach small classes on how to use each device, or how to use library services like Mango, Library2Go, and databases like LearningExpress and Flipster. Patrons could also practice downloading and reading items, navigating the library website, and using services while on the bus.

The intended goals of the service are as follows: 

  1. To meet the mission of the library: “to connect everyone to information, ideas, and each other
  2. To improve library service and the range through which patrons can access that service through direct connection with library staff and emerging technologies 
  3. To instill community awareness about the digital offerings of the library 
  4. To instill confidence in community members about using that technology, resulting in their continued desire to learn 
  5. To make bring library workers outside the library to meet community members who may not be regulars 
  6. To create a participatory culture within the community and through the library 

Benefits 

The benefits of participatory service are many, as discussed by several experts in the field of librarianship. For instance, participatory service breaks down barriers, according to Professor Michael Stevens. (Stevens 2016 pp 80). It also inevitably fosters and encourages learning. Lastly, active participation in the library “requires participants who feel welcome, comfortable, and valued” (Stevens 2016 pp 81). If people are able to directly feel a part of the library through active, hands-on learning, they will be more likely to view the library favorably and come again. 

Image result for elderly ipad program

Action Brief Statement 

For Users: To convince the public of Jackson County, Oregon, but especially those with low digital literacy skills, that by using the TechBus they will learn alternative methods to checking out print materials at the library, which will both allow them more access to information and increase their confidence about their ability to utilize digital materials because the small-group setting will make it easy for patrons to engage with the services, which fits in with the library’s vision of creating a place of free lifelong learning.  

For Staff: Convince staff that through teaching tech literacy on the TechBus, they will be helping to fulfil the library’s mission, creating a safe place for patrons not comfortable with technology to ask questions without fear of judgement, and increase awareness of the multitude of digital services provided by the library, many of which go unnoticed by library patrons. Better awareness will create better visibility, and therefore the potential for better funding, for the library. 

Image result for libby
Libby is Overdrive’s mobile app, which allows patrons to download ebooks and audiobooks onto their phone, tablet, or Kindle.

Evidence and Resources to Support Technology/Service (URLs)

Examples of Library Buses: 

Examples of Participatory Service and importance of teaching digital literacy: 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3650931/

https://journals-sagepub-com.libaccess.sjlibrary.org/doi/full/10.1177/0733464815609440

https://er.educause.edu/articles/2018/5/empowerment-experimentation-engagement-embracing-partnership-models-in-libraries

Mission, Guidelines, & Policy

The mission of the TechBus will be to meet the needs of more patrons by teaching them how to access the library’s services remotely. There of course will have to be guidelines and a policy established in order to make the bus accessible and usable for the whole community. Some guidelines and things to consider when creating the policy include accessibility, cost, and library card membership, for example. 

The bus will have to be accessible, especially by the standards of the ALA. For instance, the ALA notes that all patrons should have access to library materials “regardless of origin, age, background, or views,” and “regardless of sex, gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation” “possess a right to privacy and confidentiality in their library use. Libraries should advocate for, educate about, and protect people’s privacy, safeguarding all library use data, including personally identifiable information” (“ALA” n.d.). The bus should also allow for physical accessibility by following ADA standards and being equipped with wheelchair access. 

The expense of the technology will have to be considered, as well as guidelines for what should happen in the event that a computer, e-reader or tablet be damaged during one of the classes or on the bus by a patron. It would probably have to be decided by the manager of the TechBus team, but will probably be on a case by case basis. 

Patrons will need a library account in order to have access to the library’s subscription to Overdrive and Libby; at the very least, a computer card with access to digital items, though getting patrons to have full-service cards will be considered a mission by staff. 

Funding Considerations 

Obviously, neither the upkeep of a bus nor the inclusion of various tech devices are inexpensive, and the combination of both will be quite pricey. Included in the consideration of cost is the salary for either two full-time staff or several (4-5) part-time staff. Since the TechBus is based off of the Marin County Free Library’s Learning Bus, and that bus cost $300,000 dollars (similarly, MCFC’s bus is equipped with high end tech equipment like computers and has internet access, so the costs should be about equivalent). The library system already has extensive access to various databases and of course Overdrive, so luckily there will not be an additional cost there. The cost of staff salaries is a consideration though, so one might put the estimated total cost of the plan at $500,000 to be safe. 

Action Steps and Timeline: 

The timeline for the bus would be one calendar year, starting when the idea has been met with approval. Before the bus could actually be built, the plan would need to be finalized. That means that it would need approval by the Director, and funding would need to be secured. A plan for the number of staff to run the bus as well as their hours and schedules would need to be finalized as well. Perhaps a consultant would be needed to help design the bus for maximum usability.

Once the plan has been approved and funding secured, the building of the bus should be underway. A thirty-foot bus would need to be purchased and customized to meet the needs of the TechBus’s mission. 

By the following quarter, a training plan for staff and a route and schedule for county visitations would need to be formed. By the final quarter, any last-minute details would need to be arranged, and a few weeks of trial runs might need to be initiated. 

Staffing Considerations 

Staff members would ideally have some background in either IT, adult services, or outreach. They would need also to be certified to drive the bus safely around the county, so would need a valid Oregon licence. There would either need to be several part-time staff, or at least two full-time staff for the bus to be able to run on a weekly basis. 

Training for the Service 

Besides being trained to drive the TechBus (they would need to be well-trained in order to maneuver the bus and to keep the people and the tech inside safe), staff would need to be intimately familiar with the various digital offerings and how to navigate those on different devices (the Hoopla, Mango, and Libby apps, databases, downloading ebooks and audiobooks, etc). They would also need to be trained on how to best teach those services to patrons, especially elderly ones whose digital literacy may be low and who may need special accommodations (perhaps they are hard of hearing, for example). They would also need to have a knack for delivering good customer service and being patient teachers.

Image result for learning bus marin

Promotion and Marketing 

The bus could be heavily promoted on the library’s social media pages, and there could be a launch party held at the main library in Medford where community members could take turns seeing inside the bus and getting a tour of the various technology offered inside. There could be a “paint the bus” event, in which children could help paint the outside of the bus. The library system’s marketing department would be put in charge of getting the bus as much community hype as possible, and perhaps it could be driven in various parades around the valley (the Pear Blossom parade in Medford in May; the 4th of July parade in Butte Falls, and the Halloween Parade in Ashland). Flyers would be posted in each branch of the library as well as posted on the rotating event screens at the branches equipped with those, and the outreach department could connect with community centers and retirement homes to advertise the service there and get residents and visitors on the schedule and excited for the service. 

Image result for ashland oregon parade

Evaluation

In order to understand the effectiveness of the TechBus at meeting its intended mission and the mission of the library, the service would need to be evaluated. First, surveys could be given at the end of each class, asking patrons to give feedback and comments about what was helpful or not. Another way to evaluate the service would be to monitor the circulation statistics of downloadable ebooks and audiobooks, and whether there was a significant jump after the launch of the service. It may also be helpful to look at the circ stats of those items at branches in more remote locations in the county that the Tech Bus visits. A quiz could be given to patrons to determine their level of digital literacy at the beginning of the program and again a few weeks in to see whether there was improvement in the patrons’ confidence in using the technology offered. Lastly, it would be wise to count the number of patrons at each TechBus stop and the number of returning patrons, as well as the number of full-service library cards generated as a result of the service. 

In summary 

The TechBus would provide patrons of Jackson County Library Services direct, small-group contact with the various digital services offered by the library through a hands-on, participatory setting. The bus would stop at various locations around the county, targeting those who may have low technological literacy skills, such as at community centers and retirement homes, as well as rural areas where people may have a harder time getting to the library, or where their branch may have very limited hours. The bus would fulfil the mission of the library (connecting people to information and each other) by allowing patrons to engage with technology in a safe and non-judgemental environment. 

Resource List 

ALA Standards and Guidelines (n.d.). American Library Association, retrieved from http://www.ala.org/tools/guidelines/standardsguidelines

Casey, M. (2011). Revisiting participatory service in trying times. Tame the Web, retrieved from https://tametheweb.com/2011/10/20/revisiting-participatory-service-in-trying-times-a-ttw-guest-post-by-michael-casey/

Casey, M. E., & Savastinuk, L. C. (2007). Library 2.0: A guide to participatory library service. Medford, N.J: Information Today. Retrieved from https://287.hyperlib.sjsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Library2.0Text.pdf

County of Marin—News Releases—Learning Bus (3 Oct. 2019). County of Marin, retrieved from https://www.marincounty.org/main/county-press-releases/press-releases/2019/lib-learningbus-100319

Jackson County Library Services (n.d.). JCLS, retrieved from https://jcls.org/home

Learning Bus (n.d.). Marin County Free Library, retrieved from https://marinlibrary.org/learningbus/

Library Bill of Rights (n.d.). American Library Association, retrieved from http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/librarybill

Stevens, M. (2016). In the Heart of Librarianship: Attentive, Positive, and Purposeful Change. Retrieved from https://sjsu-primo.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/primo-explore/fulldisplay?docid=01CALS_ALMA71382387500002901&context=L&vid=01CALS_SJO&lang=en_US&search_scope=EVERYTHING&adaptor=Local%20Search%20Engine&tab=everything&query=any,contains,in%20the%20heart%20of%20librarianship&offset=0

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