ASSOCIATES (2009, March, v. 15, no. 3)


Has the Advent of Technology Changed Your Identity?

massey.gifTinker Massey
Serials Librarian
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

Sitting at my work computer, I think of my days without this higher technology. Starting to work at the University of Florida in 1963, there were no computers, no Xerox machines, no electric typewriters, no palm pilots, very few electric machines and nothing electronic. Our world was simpler, but very labor intensive. We were known by the work we did and what skills we used to complete those tasks. If you did binding, for instance, everyone knew that you retrieved materials from the periodical shelves, checked for paging, issues, indexes and completeness, made our slips either by hand or on the standard typewriter, tied the bundles for each binding, attached slips and boxed them for the bindery. Today, we have computer programs that create the slips for us and produce written reports that we circulate to our staff so they can assist patrons looking for the material. Technology hasn’t found a way to collect the materials, attach the slips and box the materials, but the binderies use computer software to put the materials together and electronically sew or glue the materials into a “perfect” binding. Circulation has changed drastically over the years. There are no checkout cards any more. Our barcodes scanned by a machine will check the material out to the patron and we slide the book over demagnetizing heads to allow that patron to take the book from the building. When it comes back, we re-magnetize the material so that it will be safe again. My goodness, I can remember a “twixing” machine that checked other libraries for materials our patrons wanted to use. The stuff was sent through the mails to our desk and we let our patrons know they could pick up their information. Sometimes this process took a week, sometimes a month to six weeks. Now, much of the material is sent electronically through a computer, and we have new systems that can scan the material and send it electronically. Reference is changing incredibly fast through electronic resources (CDs and databases). We still use print and microform sources, but the amount of information a reference person needs to do their job is amazing.

How have these changes in technology modified your personality and ultimately your identity to others? I have noticed in myself and others that there is less diversity in our knowledge of other library jobs and more dependence on our co-workers for answers to some basic problems. That makes us more unidirectional and less able to see a “big” picture. This, I believe, has created an isolation of the individual worker, greater dependence on others, and a frustration of impatience when we have to wait on the help we need. Sure, my job is a little easier from the use of computers and recorded archive of materials, faster contact with external sources (namely vendors), but I have a great deal more to do, and must press myself to be constantly aware of more radical influences on my work and time. I actually look forward to the loss of electricity sometimes, to remind us that we can still do the jobs manually. I try not to become so dependent on the technologies, and yet, that is what we are doing. I no longer feel defined by my job or skills. In a way, I feel lost in the midst of the technology. I insist on doing human and humane things with my job, so that I don’t lose my identity altogether. I’m old fashioned and have some trepidation around new technology, but I plow on, using the new resources to accomplish my job faster. I’m just not sure it’s better. To that end, I feel guilty about using the new technology, but I am able to accomplish my job with some new methods and possibly more thoroughness. How about you? How has technology changed you and your attitudes in your job? It is something to think about!