Once upon a time, I had an assignment due the next day. I had worked all day on the assignment and had thought it saved to my flashdrive. As I attempted to access the document from home I found that it was lost. After much frustration (and I admit, quite a few profanities) I trekked it at midnight to NCB (aka the batcave) to access it from my UWO U drive. This situation could have been fixed if I had merely saved it in “The Cloud.”
The ephemeral title of “The Cloud” refers to the internet and its capability to store information on it instead of backing up data on your computer or a flashdrive. In this manner, the information is accessible from any internet connection and this portability is a benefit of the cloud. Instead of storing files on your hardrive and being restricted to accessing them from that one location, when files are in the cloud, you can access your files from any computer. When I save files by emailing them as attachments, I am using the cloud.
An example of using the cloud in libraries is the web-based citation management software RefWorks. I use this software at work when doing literature searches. Once I find references for clients I export them from the databases to the clients’ RefWorks account. The client is able to view the references I found from any computer connection. This accessibility is why the library I work at switched to a site licence to this software from the previous hardrive-specific RefMan.
Another example of using the cloud by libraries is how Bibliocommons (catalogue system) allows users to store a “wish list” or “on my shelf.” When I see a title on the catalogue I want to borrow someday, but not presently order, I add it to my wish list and can place holds from this list at a later date. I effectively have a list of books, CDs, DVDs, etc. that I will order someday and which is accessible from any computer.
The accessibility that the cloud provides comes along with some distinct disadvantages. The issue of consistency is important to note. What happens when you do not have a dependable internet connection? There are many areas in Canada where there is extremely limited internet connectivity, or no availability at all. This issue is exacerbated in developing countries. How can the cloud be useful to users in Cambodia when they don’t even have internet access? Also, will the site you are storing your information on exist in a year? Many internet companies go under fairly quickly—will your information be lost?
The issue of privacy is also a huge downside. When you upload pictures to Facebook for example, you effectively give Facebook ownership. (Check out this fb group). When you upload files to a website are you giving ownership to that company? Also, sensitive material may be susceptible to hackers. Do we want libraries storing patron files in the cloud where hackers may be able to access our borrowing records?
Although the cloud offers some useful applications to libraries we must weigh these against the inherent disadvantages. Policies should be established to evaluate cloud uses by libraries to ensure that the risk is worth it.