It came to me last night in a dream.

Okay, not the greatest of hooklines, but the subject of today’s post very much came to me last night. I was delivering a lecture to a group of bored post-graduate education students on the importance of using technology in their studies and research, but not just any technology – the most appropriate. I talked them through the development of the journal citation indexes from study, to paper, to online resource and then even dipped into the world of online citation, bibliometrics and repository hit counts that are begining to have importance today.

By now you’re saying to yourself “Thankfully my dreams are less dull oh Llaird of Llamas” and you’re probably right.  But what I really remember from this dream was the example of the glass milk bottle (and for some reason carrots, but I think that was a bit of the dream that went off at a tangent!).

Lacking a USB port still

Consider the milk bottle.  It’s been around for well over a hundred years.  In form it has subtly changed, gaining a foil top in place of a stopper.   But in function remaining very much the same.  Certainly you might today more commonly pick up a plastic flagon of cow juice from the supermarket, but the glass milk bottle can still be found on many door steps, milk floats and petrol stations.  Why?  Because it’s a design classic, eminently fit for purpose, more readily recyclable (and reusable as an arguably attractive vase) and in terms of technology a most appropriate design.

This was the point I was trying to get across to my illusionary students, and in this post.  In a Web 2.0 world it’s all too easy to try and jump on the band waggon of the most exciting or media savvy bit of new technology.  But we have to remember that just because something is new, doesn’t automatically make it better.  I hear people talking about all kinds of developments they want to see their libraries take on, but rarely do I hear people talking about evaluating what they’ve already got against it.  Newer is better continues to be the mantra for many.

I’m aware in many cases user and public perception can be the driver.  “If we don’t introduce user reviews on the catalogue like amazon, our users will perceive the library to be behind the times.  If we’re behind the times then the Powers That Be will reduce our funding, thus we must do new for the sake of novelty and not efficacy” seems to be the thought process.

So next time you’re in a position to introduce a novel technology, step back for a moment, pause and think of the milk bottle.  Consider.  Reflect.  Heck, run a SWOT analysis on the current situation and see just how many Weaknesses, Opportunities or Threats the new implementation will answer (or indeed create) to your service.  Will the new technology replace something that works, and works well, for the pure sake of novelty and appearance; or will it really offer a superior service.  Try it, and you might just be surprised by how little would be changed by most endeavours.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all this talk of milk has brought on a craving for tea.


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