The Travelin' Librarian Libraries Interview: NYPL’s chief digital officer says public is better off when libraries are ‘risk averse’ about tech

Interview: NYPL’s chief digital officer says public is better off when libraries are ‘risk averse’ about tech



First: It’s not just about digitizing books.

That’s the biggest misconception that the public has about the role of digital technology in libraries, according to the chief digital officer of what is arguably the world’s largest public library.

New York Public Library’s Tony Ageh was recently in Seattle to talk about libraries’ digital transformation. Ageh made the point that tech now permeates pretty much all of a library’s operations, from ebooks and article databases, to systems for checking out materials and tracking fines.

Still, don’t look for your library to be on the bleeding edge of digital. What I previously imagined was a weakness I think is a strength, which is that libraries have been very reluctant to move too quickly.

“What I previously imagined was a weakness I think is a strength, which is that libraries have been very reluctant to move too quickly and have allowed the marketplace and allowed other organizations to kind of prove things work before libraries have taken the plunge,” said Ageh, who before joining NYPL oversaw internet and archive efforts at the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation). “I think that has actually inoculated us against waste or harmful behavior.”

That kind of fad-or-trend, wait-and-see behavior appears to generally suit libraries well.

“Librarians are incredibly risk averse,” he said. “I think they do care very much about patrons and about the impact that their work does, and so we’re very unlikely to take a chance when we’re dealing with public money and when we’re dealing with patrons; we have a personal relationship with them.”

Read the full interview @ Geek Wire

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