Information and communications technologies (ICTs) have had a dramatic influence on society, and the way people use public libraries. In fact technology has been a key driver in service development across library sectors for decades, but the advent of the internet and the world wide web (WWW) has begun to change the way the public use and interact with information, and as a consequence how they expect some services to be delivered.
This chapter will discuss the impact ICTs have had on public libraries, how they are altering how many traditional services are being provided, and what this means for the public librarian charged with managing these developments.
Understanding the use of technology in libraries
The term ICT is a relatively new acronym for describing computer technologies, replacing the term IT (information technology), which was used for decades. The addition of the communications tag has largely been the result of the ability to use the same technologies for communicating with others via the internet. The terms tend to be interchangeable for many people, and thus it is common to hear people still refer to IT. Indeed in the USA it is common to find professionals in information and library work who do not use the term ICT and continue to use IT to describe the technologies.
ICTs can be found in many aspects of the modern public library service. In Chapter 3 we discussed equity of access, and indeed public libraries remain crucial gateways for many people to access ICTs who otherwise could not afford to do so. Yet long before the first library user interacted with a computer in the public library, the technologies that underpin them had been transforming how the services they used were delivered.
The library management system
The gateway to the library's collections is the catalogue, more often than not nowadays in the form of an online public access catalogue, or OPAC. The OPAC can be accessed within the library building, and for most public library systems in the developed world, via the internet using the website of the public library authority concerned. Indeed, in the UK this latter access was a cornerstone of e-government expectations for local authorities.