Last week, I wrote about the workforce becoming more freelance and the policies that have been proposed to deal with this change. In this post, I continue the discussion about work in general and more broadly economic trends.
According to the standard measures, the economy is doing ok. But there are unsettling, even bizarre, trends that make people feel anxious about their economic future.
For example, much has been made about the shift of jobs to China and India – even in popular culture. About ten years ago there was a movie, Outsourced, about an American who was sent to India to train his replacements.
But last month, the New York Times had a story that “Chinese Textile Mills Are Now Hiring in Places Where Cotton Was King”. As manufacturing costs in the US become relatively competitive again with China, Chinese companies are buying American plants and sending their workers here to train Americans on how to do their jobs – jobs that were once in the USA.
I’ve noted before in this blog that the nature of work life is changing in ways that are more fundamental than whether the work is in the US or China or whether you work as a freelancer or in a traditional job. Ross Perlin pulled together a list of some of these changes in an article in Fast Company magazine. Its title: “These Are The New Rules of Work: Forget everything you’ve always known about work. The rules have changed.”
Here’s his list:
But it’s not just that the nature of work is changing. Many people worry that old jobs are disappearing and new ones not being created fast enough to replace the old or that the economy is not just changing, but somehow imploding.
For example, in the cover story of last month’s issue of the Atlantic Magazine, Derek Thompson provided a thorough analysis of these issues in an article titled “A World Without Work: For centuries, experts have predicted that machines would make workers obsolete. That moment may finally be arriving. Could that be a good thing?”
Of course, there are other, more positive responses, to the changes that are happening.
Twenty years ago at the 1995 General Conference of the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA), Chris Batt of the Croydon Libraries in the UK gave a talk on the library of the future. This was his prophetic conclusion:
“What are the implications of all for this [the Internet] for the future of public libraries? … The answer is that while we cannot be certain about the future for our services, we can and should be developing a vision which encompasses and enriches the potential of the Internet. If we do not do that then others will; and they will do it less well.”
So from the relatively early days of the Internet – three years before Google was even founded – libraries have been warned about the challenge to their future.
Although many librarians have been innovative in various ways since then, it is fair to say that during those twenty years many players have been offering services that were once the exclusive function of libraries.
Libraries have been challenged even as a source of collected books, with the introduction of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited subscription service and similar services from Oyster and Scribd over the last year. [Skip past the pictures to continue reading.]
For roughly $120 per year, a person could have access to a very large collection of books. It would be interesting to see what libraries could do if they had a similar amount of money to work with. But they don’t.
The most recent year in which national statistics were collected about public libraries is 2012. Earlier this year (2015), the US Government’s Institute of Museums and Library Services issued its final analysis of that data. IMLS noted that public library operating expenditures were $35.47 per person – and, of course, that’s for more than just offering e-books.
Of course, libraries are not alone in facing change. All of us do.
In addition to the Internet revolution we already deal with, there are several technology trends whose impact is only beginning — machine intelligence and analytics, a ubiquitous interface to the Internet and high-quality visual conversations that will finally enable the virtual world to replicate the trust, the serendipity and the nature of normal face-to-face human communications.
These technology trends intertwine with and reinforce trends in the economy and society – the transition in employment to a post-industrial, digital economy where many people will earn their living providing knowledge-based services and intangible products; innovation as the competitive edge in the knowledge economy; the increase in the number of people who are both producers and consumers of content; the resulting requirement for cost-effective lifelong learning for adults.
As with all change, while one part of your world is nibbled away, other opportunities open up. So it is with libraries.
As part of the effort to disseminate the ideas in the report, I was asked to be the keynote speaker at the annual meeting of the New Hampshire Library Trustees Association last week. I then joined with Maureen Sullivan, former President of the American Library Association and long-time consultant in the field, to run two workshops for the trustees.
The gist of my talk was straightforward. Libraries do not exist in isolation from the rest of the world. They need to be embedded in their communities, which means that they need to understand and respond to how their patrons’ lives are changing. Library leaders need to understand how each trend will have an impact on libraries.
Libraries need to lay the foundation for where they need to be in the future. Not to put too fine a point on it, but continuing just doing a good job with things as they are now is insufficient and unsustainable.
While the Aspen report notes the continuing importance of the library building, it is more for a future role than merely the warehousing of books. Moreover, successful libraries services can no longer be constrained by the walls of the library building. Every space in the community should be considered to be virtually part of the library. The library should be everywhere – physically and virtually.
Librarians need to provide access and intelligent guidance not just to their local collection, but to a national, eventually international, and fluid combination of materials. Indeed, the global digital network makes possible an emerging model of networked libraries that promotes economies of scale and broadens each library’s reach.
As Maureen Sullivan has stated:
“With a nationally networked platform, library and other leaders will also have more capacity to think about the work they can do at the national level that so many libraries have been so effective at doing at the state and local levels.”
Libraries can be the central institution of the knowledge/innovation economy, but to do so they must take the lead in helping their communities deal with the future so that both the libraries and their communities flourish.
I’ve written before about the important work of the Aspen Institute’s project, “Rising to the Challenge: Re-Envisioning Public Libraries.” (I was a member of their Working Group and am still involved with the project.)
Yesterday, April 13, 2015, Aspen took the Dialogue on the road in a joint all-day meeting at the State Capitol in Connecticut, co-sponsored by the Connecticut State Library. It was the first such statewide dialogue about the future of libraries.
It brought together more than 100 elected officials, policymakers, business executives, leaders of civic organizations and those involved professionally and as trustees in libraries. The diversity of participants was unusual – too often librarians just end up talking to themselves.
The intent was two-fold:
“To identify strategic opportunities presented by the state’s public libraries in response to the educational, economic, social and technological transformations that are affecting individuals and communities across Connecticut.
“To explore how to leverage the assets of public libraries to build more knowledgeable, healthy and sustainable communities.
Two themes caught my attention during the day. First, the necessity and value of library networks in a digital world. Second, the library as a community asset, in building the community that surrounds it and as a platform for people to achieve their economic potential.
The former State Economic Development noted the role of libraries as something that will attract people to a community – in a situation where every community is competing for people.
There was a panel on a fundamental issue, but one that is seldom discussed —Library Alignment with State Priorities in Economic, Workforce and Community Development. As Aspen noted:
“In addition to providing a platform for learning, public libraries are also hubs for community and workforce development, creativity and innovation. They provide a variety of technologies, tools and resources; diverse spaces including maker-spaces, STEM learning labs, hacker spaces, innovations centers, co-working and collaboration spaces; and access to mentors and conversations among creative people. Public libraries are well positioned to work with government, businesses and community partners to design and deliver skill development opportunities and promote the development and use of advanced high-speed Internet connectivity.”
Governor Malloy gave the keynote address at lunch, offering the perspective of an elected chief executive:
“With information at the fingertips of everyone wherever they are, the ground is changing under libraries.
"Relevancy is a key issue for libraries. A future role for libraries has to involve more than those people already involved with libraries.
In addition to the traditional role of being a place for 6 year olds, libraries are "where you go to get information [and training] and to change your life. It’s where you prepare for the next career you want or are forced to have.
Creating a new role for libraries, in the face of stagnant or declining local funds, requires more collaboration. As an example, he pointed to Connecticut’s statewide purchases of e-books.
During the afternoon, a subset of the leaders were invited for a roundtable discussion on next steps in implementing the ideas of the Aspen report. (See the picture below.)
Amy Garmer, director of the program, concluded by promising that Aspen plans to continue these statewide efforts, which will involve some of us from the working group. Maureen Sullivan, past President of the American Library Association, and I will be bringing these ideas next month to the New Hampshire Library Trustees annual meeting.
If you want to bring this vision of the 21st century library to your state or region, please contact one of us.
Two hundred years ago in an era dominated by agriculture, most of the people in the US had little use for money. Then the industrial era arrived and a majority of Americans were paid for their labor in cash and used it to obtain the necessities of life.
Now we are in another transition. So how should we think about money in the Internet age? How is the traditional role of the dollar, pound, euro, etc. being disrupted by the changes the Internet is bringing to the economy?
I’m referring to money as a form of exchange of value which can be easily transferred. There have been barter exchanges for many years, even before the Internet. That’s not what this post is about.
Below are some of the answers I found.
First there’s Bitcoin. Despite the woes of the Bitcoin exchanges earlier this year, Bitcoin has been, in some quarters, proposed as the Internet’s new version of money. However, its major difference from traditional currencies is its independence of government control. Beyond that not unimportant aspect, Bitcoin doesn’t seem to be based on a fundamental difference in how money is viewed or used.
While the Internet made it possible, Bitcoin hasn’t so far really answered the question: what is the Internet doing to money? What is money in an Internet economy?
Last year, in his book “Who Owns The Future”, Jason Lanier focused on what he described as “off the books” activities in the Internet. In other words, things we do that used to have a monetary value, but are not now monetized. (More on Lanier’s proposals in another blog post.)
I’ve also mentioned before the inadequacy of GDP as a measure of economic activity, when much of it is not monetized. Continuing that theme of a need for a different kind of accounting, in its Networked Society City Index 2014 report released this month, the Ericsson company states: “GDP will be redefined to capture a new understanding of sustainable value creation and wealth in cities and in nations.”
Then, in a recently posted TED video, Michael Green presented his alternative Social Progress Index, which is intended to capture some of that non-monetized value by assessing the quality of life. But how can people measure this so it can support individual exchanges and thus provide incentives for more social progress?
The TimeBanks movement is, in a sense, in the business of creating a currency based on social progress. For almost two decades, this group has been getting people to provide and receive social services through a system of credits based on the number of hours of service a person provides.
Value can go beyond social contributions to social reputation. More than ten years ago, Cory Doctorow, the science fiction writer, coined the term “Whuffie” for a currency based on social reputation. As social media have developed, the idea has been recurrent, more recently – as in this article “Why Social Accountability Will Be the New Currency of the Web”. There was even a short-lived Whuffie Bank.
I’d suggest going to his website for more detail and the many videos which I can’t begin to elaborate in this short post.
What we do about measuring the products and services that are generated in the digital world is still unclear. Perhaps one of the ideas I’ve listed will lead to the world’s dominant form of currency or perhaps something else will arise. But I would expect that the way we’ve thought about and used our money in the past will indeed be changed – and not all that far into the future.
It started by describing how China successfully followed the previous model of industrialization by Japan and South Korea, among others. In turn, many other emerging economies are now planning to follow the same road as China did – initiate a wealth-creating manufacturing sector that can export to the world.
However, the Economist offered a cautionary note about this strategy:
Governments across the emerging world dream of repeating China’s success, but the technological transformation now under way appears to be permanently changing the economics of development. China may be among the last economies to be able to ride industrialisation to middle-income status. Much of the emerging world is facing a problem that Dani Rodrik, of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, calls “premature deindustrialisation”…
For most of recent economic history, “industrialised” meant rich. And indeed most countries that were highly industrialised were rich, and were rich because they were industrialised. Yet this relationship has broken down.
The article went on to point out that:
Another mechanism through which new technology is changing the process of development is the dematerialisation of economic activity. Consumption the world over is shifting from “stuff to fluff”
The Economist article, however, was not complete. While it noted the impact of robots who can work cheaper than humans anywhere, it didn’t address the role 3D printing will have on manufacturing.
In my presentations to mayors of North American cities, I’ve emphasized that they cannot base their future on an old industrial era model of the economy. The same is true for countries which haven’t industrialized yet. In a global economy, even with vastly unequal positions of different nations, the same rules of the game apply.
I won’t repeat here the themes of my other blog posts, but, to get into that game, communications and information technologies (ICT) are a requirement.
Of course, it is frequently argued that ICT has to take a back seat when a nation doesn’t have clean water, etc. I understand this argument and sympathize to a degree, but I’d also note that in fact in many poor countries there are more people with mobile phones and access to the Internet than access to a bathroom. Maybe they understand that you need, to use an old analogy, to spend some money to drain the swamp or you’ll forever be stuck fighting the alligators.
For them, ICT is a path out of poverty. And, of course, from a public sector viewpoint, ICT can also help to manage and implement cleaner living conditions, sewer systems, etc.
The ultimately pessimistic view of the Economist article may not be justified, since these new rules and approaches to economic growth are beginning to be understood by a number of leaders in developing nations. By ICT investments, experimentation and innovation, they are also beginning to create the new post-industrial template for growth.
Yesterday, in the stately Trustee Room of the New York Public Library, the Aspen Institute released its report “Rising To The Challenge: Re-envisioning Public Libraries." It was based on the results of their Dialogue on Public Libraries. (Full disclosure: I’ve been a member of their Working Group and I even helped out with the draft report a bit, including one of its sidebar stories.)
Readers of this blog will not be surprised that I’m clearly in synch with the central foundation of the report that "public libraries [are] at the center of the digital age”, our era.
The project was led by Amy Garmer of Aspen, who also wrote the report and who deserves enormous credit for this work. As Deborah Jacobs, Director of the Gates Foundation Global Library Initiative said, Amy Garmer is now the most influential non-librarian in the library world.
She begins the report by setting the stage this way:
“The process of re-envisioning public libraries to maximize their impact reflects:
Principles that have always been at the center of the public library’s mission—equity, access, opportunity, openness and participation
The library’s capacity to drive opportunity and success in today’s knowledge-based society
An emerging model of networked libraries that promotes economies of scale and broadens the library’s resource reach while preserving its local presence
The library’s fundamental people, place and platform assets”
In addition to these points, another strategic, but infrequently stated, point was made in the report – there needs to be a new model for sustainable funding for library services that recognizes and supports their fundamental role in our society and economy.
As part of the event surrounding the report’s release, there was a panel discussion with some more interesting observations:
Linda Johnson, CEO of the Brooklyn Public Library, said that we need to understand that libraries are not centers for books but for learning – and centers of enjoyment.
Ralph Smith, SVP of the Casey Foundation and Managing Director of its Campaign For Grade Level Reading, said he had learned over time that libraries have a unique combination of “hi tech and hi touch” which is what is required for education these days.
Nashville/Davidson County Mayor Dean said that “building libraries is the most popular thing I do. Demand always outstrips supply.”
Although not directly related to this event, the Atlantic Magazine also had a recent article about the public library of Columbus, Ohio, titled “Not Your Mother’s Library”.
What immediately stood out were two contrasting word clouds. First, the words people associated with past libraries, the libraries of their childhood.
Then the words they used to describe the library of the future …
In a more elegant and profound way, the Aspen report expanded on these simple descriptions:
“The Dialogue’s perspective on the 21st-century library builds on the public library’s proven track record in strengthening communities and calls for libraries to be centers of learning, creativity and innovation in the digital age. No longer a nice-to-have amenity, the public library is a key partner in sustaining the educational, economic and civic health of the community during a time of dramatic change. Public libraries inspire learning and empower people of all ages. They promote a better trained and educated workforce. They ensure equitable access and provide important civic space for advancing democracy and the common good. Public libraries are engines of development within their communities.”
Aspen intends to follow up to implement and move the vision forward, so look for these ideas to take root in your city with your help.
I was recently reading Simon Winchester’s book, “The Men Who United the States: America’s Explorers, Inventors, Eccentrics and Mavericks, and the Creation of One Nation, Indivisible” which was published last year. It’s an interesting exploration of important parts of American history that have gotten lost in the standard renditions or even the standard counter-renditions.
He spends a bit of time on New Harmony, Indiana, Robert Owen’s failed utopian experiment because its establishment enabled the growth of geology and geological exploration in the US, which was an important part of his story.
But the description of New Harmony raised a question in my mind. For those of us who have studied even a basic history of the industrial revolution, we’re aware of various reactions over more than two hundred years.
Just for a few examples … There were the Luddites who tried to stop it. There were the utopian communities, like New Harmony, which hoped to offer an alternative to the way industrialization was occurring – sometimes even using industrial tools, but in new forms of society. Along with that, the Romantic Movement in the arts and the Arts and Crafts movement in the US were a kind of a reaction to industrialization.
The modern corporation was invented in response to the need to somehow manage and then build the industrial revolution’s manufacturing plants.
Marx, of course, developed his critique of capitalism which was the predominant form of economic organization that supported and was supported by the industrial revolution. Later still, governments started to enact various laws to improve labor conditions, reduce monopolies, and provide for the more even distribution of the wealth created by the industrial revolution.
We’ve learned to understand these reactions, see them in context and know which failed and which succeeded. That’s easy with the benefit of hindsight.
Although some parts of the world are still in an industrial transition, as I’ve written in various posts, the more economically advanced societies are now going through a transformation as great as the industrial revolution. We are at the beginning of developing and emerging into a post-industrial society, a knowledge economy, a sharing economy, a digital economy, or something we haven’t coined a name for yet.
So here’s my first question: what responses and reactions to this new economy are we seeing now?
Thinking about the longer term:
Which responses will flame out the way New Harmony did? But what residual benefits will such short-lived responses leave for the rest of this century?
What new laws do we need and really expect to see? Or even new forms of governance?
What new business arrangements do we really expect to see? Will we need to invent something as new in the same way corporations were invented?
Trying to look out over many decades into the future as this new economy develops, I only have some inklings and guesses – but no answers. What are your guesses or boldly stated answers?