Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Interview: Technology and the Library

Interview: Technology and the Library
            Technology is becoming more and more useful, especially for librarians and library patrons. In order to fully understand the role of technology in the library, specifically a school, I interviewed the media specialist at Hamlet Middle School, Karen Brewer. She has been working at Hamlet Middle School for four years and has been a media specialist for much longer than that. Before becoming a media specialist, she was a teacher. She taught before technology was common in schools and is now a media specialist that has seen technology come in, be upgraded and enhanced, and be used by kids of all learning abilities.
            First, I wanted to know about the budget for purchasing new technology. I asked Mrs. Brewer how much money is allotted each year to purchase technology and equipment for the library. She explained that the budget comes from the state instructional/state library fund. For the 2014-15 school year, she has been given a budget of $9000. All technology, subscriptions, books, management, or other purchases have to come out of that $9000. This led me to ask about the process for choosing what types of technology to purchase or use for that particular library. She said that the technology that is purchased all depends on what the specific need is at the time. I asked how it is determined that a specific piece of technology will meet a need. She replied, “We try to research prior to purchasing. There have been some goofs like when items were fond to not be ready for testing or not allowed on testing.” An example of a need might be to purchase a MacBook Pro to manage all of the iPads for the school. Computers are currently out of her specific budget and will have to be acquired elsewhere. There is a group of computers that suggest items for the school, as far as technology is concerned. There is also a committee that meets regularly about technology. The final decision ultimately rests with the school administration and the staff at the county Central Office.
            This information led me to my next question. I asked Mrs. Brewer what technology she currently has in the media center. She said that the Hamlet Middle School media center has twenty student computers, two teacher computers, a SMARTboard, video cameras, nine Nooks, projectors, a poster maker, and a printer. The poster maker is for staff but the librarian uses it. Video cameras and spare projectors may be checked out. Computers are used to research, locate books with the Alexandria system, print student and teacher work, and general internet-based assignments. Mrs. Brewer said that, of all of that technology, the computers are the most used and the cameras are the least used. “All technology is used to incorporate the standards that are being taught in all classes,” she explained. This means that she tries to make all of the technology available that she possibly can. I wanted to know how often the media center’s technology is used. Brewer sighed and explained that the computer lab in the media center is on a flexible schedule, which means “the first to sign up, gets it.” There is another open computer lab in the school, but it’s only partially working, so the eighth grade teachers closest to it generally use it.
            Naturally, I then had questions about the support and management of all of this technology. I asked Mrs. Brewer who handles problems regarding technology. She said that teachers try to troubleshoot problems first, then the computer teachers or librarian tries to fix it. If neither teacher nor computer teacher nor librarian is successful, they have to submit a work order and get county personnel to come out to the school. “On site, we do the best we can, but we really have limited rights to fix any network issue. The technology staff – four members – does a good job, but they service the entire county,” she explained. I also wanted to know how she manages all of the technology in the library. She said that most equipment is inventoried, so it is managed through the library system. Teachers are allowed to check out equipment, and she keeps track of that through the system as well. My next question was about the process to remove obsolete technology. Brewer said, “If it’s not a fixed asset item [that’s worth over $500 at the time of purchase], the item can be thrown out. If it’s a fixed asset item, it must be retired and then is removed from inventory and auctioned.”
            My last few questions were all about the use of technology. I first asked whether technology is used effectively or is just for show. I wanted to know if it really enhanced lessons or if it was being used just because it is “supposed to be” used. She replied very courteously to her teachers at her school and simply said that it depends on the teacher as to whether or not it is used for show. She explained that technology is being used as one of the major methods of communicating information to students and she can’t imagine not using technology throughout most of the school day. My next question was whether or not technology has ever proved to be a hindrance or if she has ever seen technology go unused. She said that the Nooks that are in the library are rarely used. This is because “students want complete access to accounts to buy the books they want and we do not have that kind of funds.” There is another complaint with the Nooks: they do not allow internet access. “We were only allowed to order the simple touch Nooks. Our Nook Colors cannot be monitored, so we do not allow them to be checked out by students.” She went on to express that she feels like this is one of the situations mentioned earlier in the interview where they ordered something before really looking into how it would or could be used. They ended up being a waste of funding.

            To end the interview, I asked two more questions. The first was how the digitizing of material was affecting the future of the library as an institute. She laughed and said, “oh, I get this question all the time!” Brewer believes that there are people who will never give up their books. They are attached to the “touch, smell, and security of books.” The cost of digital material is quite high when compared to having a physical copy. There are other people who are ready to jump in and completely convert to all technology and no paper. “I still see the library as a brick and mortar building but transitioning to a more social meeting place to acquire and share information.” I loved this answer. Finally, I asked her to name three things that her library would have in a perfect world. She laughed, again, and said “mobile and flexible furniture, enough technology for every person in the school, and an unlimited budget.”