Tech tools: Critical for access to library resources

How technology can expand access to valuable information, items, and services

This adapted piece by Dennis Pierce originally appeared in Library Journal in March 2023.

One of the biggest takeaways from the pandemic is the sheer number of people whose needs aren’t being met by traditional library programs. As libraries seek to expand opportunities for the patrons in their community, technology tools and resources play a critical role in ensuring access to valuable information, items, and services.

The right digital tools can make a library’s resources more accessible to patrons by giving them a simple way to access materials online, by extending the library’s presence to more locations, or by providing after-hours services. The right tools make it easier for patrons to engage with the library in ways that meet their diverse needs.

MIT Press publishes about 300 books and 40 journals per year on a wide range of subjects; many of which explore the benefits and pitfalls of these new technology tools. Every book is peer reviewed, and many are authored by academics written for a general audience.

From the spring 2023 catalog is More than a Glitch: Confronting Race, Gender, and Ability Bias in Tech by Meredith Broussard. Broussard—a New York University professor who is one of the few Black female researchers in the field of artificial intelligence—explores the implicit bias encoded in computer systems designed overwhelmingly by white, cisgendered men.

The book takes readers through many examples of how people are being harmed by software that has been developed from an insufficiently diverse pool of individuals. “This is a really important book,” says editorial director Gita Manaktala. “Academics are aware of these problems with technology, but the general reader is not.”

In Technology’s Child: Digital Media’s Role in the Ages and Stages of Growing Up, author Katie Davis draws upon empirical research to bring clarity to the role of technology in a child’s development from toddler to early adulthood.

Davis is an associate professor at the University of Washington Information School, where she runs a Digital Youth Lab. Her overall conclusion is that technology can support healthy child development when it’s self-directed and community-supported; when it’s not, it can impede development.

“This book is a useful and nuanced alternative to the more typical ‘moral panic’ narratives about children and screens,” says acquisitions editor Susan Buckley. “She’s bringing real scholarly knowledge to questions that every parent is asking these days.”

Invention and Innovation: A Brief History of Hype and Failure by Vaclav Smil, looks at several technologies that were touted as the “next big thing” but failed to catch on. Smil—Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Manitoba and best-selling author of more than 40 books—methodically yet humorously dismantles the myths around innovation and reminds us to better align our expectations with reality.

“In 2018, the Harvard scientist David Keith called Smil ‘a slayer of bullshit,’ and I really think that should be the tagline for this book,” says senior acquisitions Editor Beth Clevenger.

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