Another perfectly good word that’s been pressed into service describing a modern concept is “cloud.” The Cloud (speaking of the concept itself) is nothing all that mind-blowing (and has existed since the 1950’s): instead of your computer performing a task, your computer acts as a gateway to services, storage space and computational power existing elsewhere on the Internet. Collectively, these services and resources are thought of as being “somewhere out in the nebula of computers we call the Internet,” an idea that parallels the distance and intangible nature of a cloud.
In the library world, there is one very significant application that jumps out: library automation. Good news, many automation solutions (look at the Remote Hosting column) are already in the cloud. This is only the beginning of how libraries can take advantage of cloud solutions, often for free, and can improve their services in the process. Since there isn’t as much need for having powerful computers, libraries can also save money by extending the lifespan of older computers or buying lower-end workstations that use cloud-based solutions for common user tasks.
For example, basic productivity software. Even acknowledging that there are free alternatives to Microsoft Office, being able to direct users to the web means no need to update or maintain the productivity software. For example, Google Apps is a free solution that’s compatible with Office. Zoho has its own suite of productivity applications, but adds the advantage of tying them in with collaboration and business applications. Clayton State University uses the added functionality to provide live web reference.
Speaking of web reference, how many libraries are using the chat functionality in Skype, Facebook, or some form of instant messaging service for online reference? It might be worth trying cloud services like QuestionPoint or LiveChat that add more features than your standard IM provides. Of course, there are full suites of customer service solutions that go far beyond what most libraries would need, such as ticketing systems and automatic archiving of chat logs, but these two are relatively limited in scope and keep the focus on establishing universal availability of your reference services.
How about the curation of web resources or digital content? Delicious and Flickr are two of the more notable, but you can create visually-appealing resource portals with services like Symbaloo, Weblist or Bundlenut. You can even create a virtual magazine with Flipboard. LibGuides will integrate with your website to maintain a similar visual appearance – your users may never realize they’ve left your virtual building!
We’ve all read about some of the more obvious resources for reader advisory and online book reviews and discussion, as with LibraryThing, but how many know about LibraryThing for Libraries and its resources? BookLamp is an offshoot of the Book Genome Project, using computer analysis to offer book similar to a given title or written by a specific author. Integrate BiblioCommons into your current catalog to provide a new method of online discovery of media.
Finally, how does one store and protect the essential files in an organization? Previously, you’d back-up information onto a tape or removable hard drive, and take it off-site in the event of disaster. Now, there are enough storage and backup solutions that the idea of taking a storage device from the library is antiquated. Here’s a relatively recent comparison of several storage solutions. Likewise, here’s quite a few of the existing cloud backup solutions. For sharing and backing up of important information, mix and match these solutions and forget about the removable hard drives.
So, is your head in the cloud yet?