Book Reviews

Nicole Hennig. Keeping Up with Emerging Technologies: Best Practices for Information Professionals. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Libraries Unlimited, an imprint of ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2017.

At 177 pages, including index, this densely packed volume attempts to address all aspects of the role of an Emerging Technologies Librarian. The first glance or quick flip through a few pages would seem to show a bibliography style of handbook, a list of resources for further consultation. However, once one begins to read through the work, it becomes obvious the book has quite a bit more to offer. The book draws on author Nicole Hennig’s experience at the MIT libraries and her extensive writing, research, and teaching on subjects related to technology and libraries.

Book cover: Keeping Up with Emerging Technologies: Best Practices for Information Professionals

The chapters of the book are logically arranged, with clear subheadings to allow readers to quickly find information they wish to review, meeting Hennig’s goal of having the work serve as a handbook. Each chapter is broken into clearly delineated subheadings, making a particular concept or idea easy to find. One is tempted to simply choose a section to use as a reference. However, it is well worth the reader’s while to read through the entire book before using it in that manner, as doing so will uncover some unique interrelationships between concepts in the book. Throughout each chapter are sprinkled the experiences of the author, adding helpful tips to avoid pitfalls or increase efficiency.

The introduction neatly sums up the intent of the author to not only list valuable resources for staying current; the author wants to provide methods for managing the flood of information available. As an added benefit, Hennig provides a definition of the skill sets needed by an emerging technologies librarian. Part of her discussion involves placing the job description on a scale from visionary to implementer. She sees an emerging technologies librarian as being a visionary—someone who “has the ability to look at the big picture without getting bogged down in details.” (4) At the other end of the spectrum is the implementer, the person who is all about the details of project management and analysis of user study data and equipment specifications. In other words, someone very much concerned about the details. Having this sort of clear definition of what an emerging technologies librarian is helps to add clarity to the job title that was previously lacking.

The first five chapters deal with gathering information in a very general way, including reviewing websites, blogs, social media, podcasts, and video. Chapters 2 and 3 are extensive listings of resources, but they also contain suggestions for how to deal with the flood of information available. In fact, there is a section of chapter 2 called “Dealing with Information Overload.” A brief discussion of scanning techniques for reading as well as some tools for managing the websites, articles, and media you will want to review later. More important, the author makes the excellent suggestion of expanding one’s reading to areas outside the traditional tech or library worlds. She makes the point that much can be learned about future patron behavior and needs by being attentive to trends in popular culture, especially science fiction.

Chapters 4 and 5 depart from discussing individual information gathering to discussing gathering information about your users. Chapter 4 contains a discussion of the importance of user feedback along with ideas about how to gather this valuable information. Hennig draws on her work experience to discuss user-experience surveys and how to construct and conduct them. Chapter 5 follows with a look at issues of ethics and inclusion. At first, the latter chapter seems to belong in a different volume, but the author demonstrates that any work on adopting new technology needs to take into account different abilities and circumstances of library users.

In chapter 6, the author tackles evaluating all the information one gathers or ingests. Of major importance is the discussion on telling a fad from a trend. One particularly comforting concept Hennig highlights is that of letting ideas percolate. Far too often, we find ourselves feeling like we need to constantly acquire more information. This section serves as a reminder that taking some time to process what we have learned and put it into context is at least as important as information gathering. Indeed, the author highlights the importance of wool-gathering: “[M]ind wandering may be part of a larger class of mental phenomena that enable executive processes to occur without diminishing the potential contribution of the default network for creative thought and mental stimulation.” (82)

Chapter 7 introduces the reader to ideas for adopting new technologies, including how to conduct a pilot program or other methods of testing new equipment or models for new uses of existing technology. Evaluating the testing is also covered, along with a valuable section on how to decide when a project just isn’t going to make it.

In chapter 8, Hennig discusses implementing a new technology. She focuses on not so much the technical aspects, which are really covered in the previous chapter, but rather how to convince a governing body of the importance of the new equipment or program. In this way, the chapter title “Moving toward Implementation” doesn’t mean quite what a techie might think, but it is likely more polite than “Selling Your Idea.” However, the suggestions include a reminder that your audience is not as immersed in your project and so you must aim any presentation at a beginner. Hennig also points out that administrators are interested in good community relations and value for money spent, so any attempt to sway them to your side should address these points.

Chapter 9 takes a look at job descriptions for Emerging Technologies Librarians. While she provides examples of current descriptions, the real value in this chapter is in Hennig’s own definition of the job. As there is, at present, little agreement as to what an Emerging Technology Librarian is and does, it seems important that this chapter be more widely read by, and shared with, administrators.

If a criticism of this book can be made, it would be that there are too many topics addressed in one place. Each chapter could easily have been a handbook in its own right. However, were that the case, the intended reader, the overwhelmed Emerging Technologies Librarian, could easily miss the interrelationships between, for example, the ethics of their job and the mechanics of the same. The book serves as an invaluable guide not only to resources and methods for staying current and performing the duties, but also as a tool to place the role of Emerging Technologies Librarian into the broader context of librarianship.—Michael C. McGuire, Colby College

Copyright Michael C. McGuire

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