I mentioned the concept of cloud computing in an earlier TechTip on Netbook computers. Network Diagram

Many library staff members are already experienced users of cloud computing – without even knowing it.  Some are using the cloud in the form of GoogleDocs. Staff users of Facebook  take advantage of cloud, as do those that use photo sharing services such as Flickr.

In very basic terms, cloud computing is when data and software applications reside on and are drawn from the network rather than locally on any one workstation or a particular device. The ‘cloud’ is simply a metaphor for the Internet since that is how it is depicted in most computer network diagrams. The important point to know about cloud computing is that represents a paradigm shift in how we think about our data and the role of our computing devices.

Most people rely entirely upon their devices (desktop or mobile) to store information and run applications. How many have panicked over misplacing a presentation disc, accidentally deleting a presentation file, copying the wrong file version onto a USB key, or simply grabbing the wrong USB key? A misplaced mobile device or a PC crash is devastating since all data and applications are lost if not aggressively backed up (and we all back up, don’t we!?).

With cloud computing, the focus shifts away from which devices can effectively store data and able to run applications to which devices provide the easiest access to data and applications – which are stored at various places on the Internet. The iPhone has become very popular since it is in essence a cloud computing oriented device.

How libraries can use the cloud is a current topic of discussion within many library organizations and associations. At this point in the emergence of cloud computing in libraries there are many questions being asked. How can libraries use the cloud to both personalize and localize the user’s information seeking experience? Can the cloud save libraries money and resources by using computing devices more efficiently? How our users interact with the cloud, how our services may need to be modified to fit into emerging user patterns?

One thing that is certain, the way in which we think about library computing infrastructures and architectures need to change in order to effectively incorporate cloud computing.

Yes, I know.  What happens if an Internet connection goes down or the servers crash? How do we get our spreadsheets on the cloud when offline? After all, the most important files are the ones we need access to at ALL times! The reality is that these issues can be placed in the CON side of every service or solution libraries are talking about implementing today. Without the network most libraries services are shut down.

The cloud is already out there and libraries need to start thinking about how they may need to adjust services in order to effectively adapt to how users are interacting with it.

Eric Schnell