Planning: Developing a local technology plan

Room with brightly coloured modular furniture and computers at a desk
Woollahra Library

The pace of technological change is being felt in public libraries. These changes influence library design, function and management.

The main issue for public library buildings is not only what will change, but how these changes can be accommodated. To meet this challenge, it is important in the initial planning of a library building project to identify how technology is likely to be used. This can then be used as input into the design brief.

Considerations include:

Involve relevant stakeholders in the development process. Information technology is integral to local government operations, with many councils actively involved in improving the information available both internally and to the public via technology and online services. It is imperative to involve library and council staff, particularly officers responsible for council’s information technology systems.

Plans should have short and long-term goals.

Plans should have appropriate levels of capital and recurrent funding, i.e. acquisition of computers, and replacement, staff to run computer courses and develop online services, upgrades etc.

Opportunities to gain funding for technology through other government resourcing programs or partnerships with other agencies, e.g. TAFE and universities have co-located additional computer resources within public libraries.

Layout and design
The local technology plan will have significant implications for library layout and design.

Automation of library processes including technologies such as Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), Automated Loans & Returns and Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (ASRS). RFID tags have many advantages over the use of barcodes for item identification. Benefits include greater productivity and better collection management due to the ability to simultaneously process several items regardless of orientation.

Be aware that the transition to RFID can be time consuming and labour intensive, so it is important to understand the implications of the proposed system before commencing.

Automated loans and returns technologies are becoming increasingly common in libraries. As a consequence, library staff are able to direct their valuable time and energy towards client service.

An automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS) is an effective method of managing very large stack collections with tight spatial constraints. The technology provides dense storage of items in a climate-controlled environment with quick access via robotic delivery. The relevance of ASRS in the context of NSW public libraries is limited due to small collection size and the prevalence of open browsing collections, however, the technology is gradually being implemented in universities and may become more relevant in the public library context over time.

Self-check terminals are used in most NSW public libraries and can operate with either a barcode or RFID system.

Many libraries have found that locating self-check terminals at or near the front desk makes it easier for staff to assist with any problems. Analysis of typical client and staff workflow and interaction should be undertaken to inform optimal location of self-check and return chute technologies.

Digital access
Many libraries are also providing quick access Internet computers for people who want brief browsing use of online information and catalogues. Often these are provided at standing-only workstations.

Online journals and newspapers use less storage space than the paper versions. Access through computers, tablets or electronic display terminals requires a different layout. 

Checklist for a local technology plan

Developing a technology plan is recommended to ensure that local technology needs will be met by the new library. An overall technology plan should be prepared for a local government area or for a regional library service. This will cover broader issues and goals and will be quite complex. This plan should link to an individual local technology plan for each library facility or service point. The local technology plan will look at technology provision that relates to the actual design and function of a specific library building. A technology plan for a central library may be more complex than that for a branch library. 

The following list provides direction for developing a Local Technology Plan but the needs and issues for each community will be different.

Computer on desk, displaying library catalogue
Dubbo Library
  • staff computers
    provision is often based on one dedicated workstation per full-time staff member 
  • library management system
    to manage collections, including acquisitions, cataloguing and circulation
  • self-check equipment
    for borrowing library resources
  • telephone system
    capacity to deal with number of different lines, cordless and headset options, use of Skype and Internet-based services
  • public access computers
    including Internet and database access and Online Public Access Catalogue (OPAC) terminals. Based on the needs assessment approach outlined in Community needs, particularly the Service Based Calculator
  • portable devices
    some libraries are addressing expanding needs for computer access through loan of in-house laptops, iPads or tablets
  • video games
    consider public access computers for computer games particularly in the children’s and/or youth areas. These may also come as dedicated Playstations, Wii or Xbox consoles (subject to licence terms and conditions of the particular game).
  • appropriate furniture and equipment
    to access technology within the new library should be provided for all users, particularly for people with a disability
  • provision for bring your own device (BYOD) and wireless technology
    power outlets for laptops and mobile phones should be provided throughout the library together with provision for Wi-Fi access. People using mobile devices frequently enjoy more casual settings such as lounges. Furniture with built in power and USB connections is available.
  • tablets or end of shelf catalogue computers
  • printer, photocopier, scanner and fax machine
    for staff and public use
  • audiovisual equipment
    CD player, DVD player, projector and other resource equipment should be provided based on the needs of community and services to be provided
  • media-specific software and hardware
    specific software and hardware relating to digital media and music
  • digital signage and display
    via projection or flat screen
  • IT-enabled collaborative workspaces
    including tablets, webcams, projectors and monitors
  • security systems
    which interface with the library management system, e.g. Radio Frequency Identification technology (RFID)
  • server room
    note that the spatial requirements can be quite large. Centralising the room to avoid long cable runs should be considered. Mechanical ventilation/air conditioning will be required.
  • flexible cabling
    to allow relocation of IT equipment
  • flexibility
    this should be incorporated into the Technology Plan to react to changes in community needs and services to be offered, potential partnerships, and local business developments.

Community needs and current technology use will help inform the technology plan. The level of community access to the internet from home should be considered. Data on the use of computers at home and use of the Internet within the local area is available in the latest Census of Population and Housing from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Information on existing computer use in public libraries is available from the NSW Public Library Statistics. Local councils may also have data on use of online resources and other relevant information to inform the technology plan.

Related content