Center on Appropriate Library Media and Technology (CALMAT)

Exploratory Description
Walt Crawford


Libraries must deal with an ever-changing array of media, media equivalents, and technological support for media and information. In any plausible future, changing media and technology will continue to be a factor in every active library. New media and methods provide new resources, sometimes (but not always) replacing aspects of older media. Older media require conservation and preservation decisions, particularly when and if the supporting technology begins to disappear.

Libraries and librarians have all too many sources of advice in these areas, but many sources are advocates rather than advisers. Centers tend to be for a specific technology or medium. Futurists tend to favor simplistic solutions and to overlook the special role and needs of libraries.


There may be a role for a center on changing media and technology as they affect libraries. CALMAT would help libraries and librarians maintain realistic perspectives on ongoing changes in media and technology as they effect libraries. CALMAT would serve as a source of information and perspectives, a reality check on projections as compared to actuality, and a center and clearinghouse for informed opinion.

CALMAT would work from an acknowledged bias toward diversity, complexity and evolution, and an express distrust of simple futures and simple solutions. CALMAT should provide balance within the spectrum of digiphiles and digiphobes, historical perspective to season the stew of speculation, and broad-ranging analysis and synthesis to encourage deeper understanding among librarians and libraries.

At this point, CALMAT is a concept (and, for its author, one realization of an "ideal future position.") This description offers some possibilities toward a realization of that concept, partly as a way of exploring such possibilities, partly as a way of uncovering the worth and salability of the concept itself.

The Center and its Head

Affiliation and Location

CALMAT could reside in an ARL library, major public library, or library consortium. An expanded CALMAT with feedback and awareness networks would be, at least in part, a "virtual center." Conceivably, at least initially, CALMAT could be a "virtual center": an idea and set of activities with no physical locus.

The Head

This person would provide:
1. Extensive background in, and continued tracking of, media and information technologies that affect or might affect libraries;
2. Analysis, synthesis, and "reality checks" on the likelihood that specific aspects of media and technology are becoming important or are likely to begin fading away;
3. Communication with library/consortium staff, both to gain additional insights and reality checks, and to maintain current awareness of important trends;
4. Intellectual and organizational leadership for CALMAT as a center.

The position would include:
5. Speaking, writing, involvement in national and international library activities as appropriate;
6. A heavy commitment to reading and maintaining current awareness in a variety of fields;
7. An equal commitment to communicating the results of that awareness in a timely and useful fashion.

The head of CALMAT should bring an existing national reputation to the position, and should continue to speak and write on a variety of topics, with that speaking and writing identified with CALMAT where appropriate. The head must have the freedom to express his own opinions as separate from CALMAT findings.

Other Staff and Resources

It’s not clear whether CALMAT would need other full-time staff, depending on its location and initial scale. CALMAT assignments as part of other staff responsibilities would be needed in such areas as:
1. Understanding and monitoring telecommunications and network-related technologies;
2. Establishing and supporting CALMAT listservs;
3. Establishing and supporting CALMAT Web services;
4. Maintaining liaison for CALMAT subscription and other financial aspects, as needed and appropriate.

One scenario for CALMAT would involve private listservs or Web-based discussions for advisors in various areas of media and technology, with some form of compensation for some of these advisors. The extent and nature of that compensation would be related to the scope and success of CALMAT itself.

Functions of the Center

Primary Functions

CALMAT, which should provide information and services to more than one institution or consortium, would:

  1. Summarize developments in new media and technologies on an ongoing basis, to reduce the information overload of participants and increase awareness both of significant new trends and of apparent hype;
  2. Test and evaluate some new technologies and media, as appropriate, and report on those evaluations in terms of real-world library use;
  3. Attempt to track market forces that affect libraries directly and indirectly, possibly even preparing appropriate marketplace summaries;
  4. Participate in and encourage attempts to make orderly transitions from "submerging technologies" and media to more current forms;
  5. Help to build and maintain locators for obscure technologies and media—for example, libraries and related institutions that can provide replication or conversion services for orphaned media.


CALMAT would develop its historical database and ongoing perspectives by:

  1. Widespread reading across a range of relevant literature, including both print and online literature;
  2. Analysis of and synthesis from that literature, to establish the most important trends and to distinguish between assertions of change and verifiable change;
  3. Depending on success and feasibility, discussion and feedback from a variety of knowledgeable people within various fields.


Depending on the locus of CALMAT, its ability to build and maintain both historical and current information bases, and the desires of those in charge, CALMAT could produce some combination of the following:

  1. Local reports intended only for the institution or consortium, with the highest currency and level of detail;
  2. Public Web-based information, with good currency but the lowest level of detail;
  3. Publications as articles within existing print or online journals, with somewhat less currency and an intermediate level of detail;
  4. Subscription-based Web access or subscription-based print reports, with good detail and good currency:
  5. Sponsor-based Web or print reports with currency and detail equal to local reports.

Stuff and Nonsense

One motive for this description is to see whether it should be shot down.

Would CALMAT serve a function that libraries would consider valuable?

Are there ARL libraries that would support such an initiative?

Are there public and smaller academic libraries that would support such an initiative, philosophically and financially?

Are there consortia ready and able to support such an initiative?

Is there a foundation that would consider such an idea worthy of support?

Or is this just a dumb idea, or a good one that won’t garner real-world support?

Layout modified 7/17/99