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Some recent blog posts on learning programming languages and a thread on the VRA listserv about prioritizing too many professional responsibilities got me thinking.  I absolutely agree with the idea that – along with all other continuing education efforts – it is important for professionals to become more technologically proficient.  It makes me cringe a little when I read about library staff who don’t know the first thing about word processing, let alone developing a website or programming languages. 

What strikes me is that librarians seem to fall somewhere along a wide spectrum in this regard.  There are those who want NOTHING TO DO WITH I.T., NO WAY, NO HOW, there are those who get that gleam in their eyes at the mere mention of SQL or Ruby on Rails, then there are those (like me) who really want to learn new things and make databases more accessible and user-friendly and enhance the digital world with more and better information and all that good stuff, but….well….don’t get pumped up by the system side of things.  Maybe it’s a bit of intimidation, but really it’s more that there’s so much else to focus on, especially in a small institution. 

In much the same way that I could easily learn some basic car repair and yet choose the peace of mind of my trusty mechanic, I like to know I can make a call to my friendly local I.T. guy or gal.  I would just rather be spending my time focusing on the things that excite me about information management, such as collection development, cataloging, and reference.  And after all that, there’s just not much time left in the day to tweak the database.

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I was excited to hear another story on NPR about the pending introduction of the so-called $100 laptop to the U.S. The computer is not yet really in the range of $100 – really it will be closer to $400 – but regardless, from the reviews I have heard it is a pretty robust computer for a pretty low price. It will definitely put other laptop manufacturers on their toes as it enters the competitive market. Additionally, the use of open source software on these machines and the technology to allow them to network with each other should put Microsoft and the internet providers on alert. So, as per all the hype, hopefully Nicholas Negroponte’s “One Laptop per Child” program truly does represent a victory in the battle against the Digital Divide. Maybe we can get these laptops into poor rural libraries as well as classrooms.

Of course, as critics of the program in third world countries have pointed out, many classrooms are still in dire need of pencils and books and are not quite at the point of being able to receive much benefit from laptops. Many of the educators in these countries have probably never worked on a computer. Which made me think about the basic information needs that sometimes get lost in the great technology shuffle. Cheap online publications and open publishing models will not replace the need for print journals (The Free Range Librarian recently had a good post about the need for small literary journals to continue to publish in print – reading them online is JUST NOT THE SAME EXPERIENCE). Poor libraries still need new books in addition to an influx of technology, and not just donations of outdated materials from wealthier communities. The bottom line is that while technology (particularly cheap technology) is a wonderful tool, it will never replace traditional information tools.