This is a brief follow up to my last post about how librarians and artificial intelligence experts can
get us all beyond mere curation and our frustrations using web search
In their day-to-day Google searches many people end up frustrated. But they assume that the problem is their own lack of expertise in framing the search request.
In these days of advancing natural language algorithms that isn’t a very good explanation for users or a good excuse for Google.
We all have our own favorite examples, but here’s mine because it directly speaks to lost opportunities to use the Internet as a tool of economic development.
Imagine an Internet marketing expert who has an appointment with a local chemical engineering firm to make a pitch for her services and help them grow their business. Wanting to be prepared, she goes to Google with a simple search request: “marketing for chemical engineering firms”. Pretty simple, right?
Here’s what she’ll get:
She’s unlikely to live long enough to read all 43,100,000+ hits, never mind reading them before her meeting. And, aside from an ad on the right from a possible competitor, there’s not much in the list of non-advertising links that will help her understand the marketing issues facing a potential client.
This is not how the sum of all human knowledge – i.e., the Internet – is supposed to work. But it’s all too common.
This is the reason why, in a knowledge economy, I place such a great emphasis on deep organization, accessibility and relevance of information.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the second chance given to libraries, as Google’s role in the life of web users slowly diminishes. Of course, for at least a few years, one of the responses of librarians to the growth of the digital world has been to re-envision libraries as curators of knowledge, instead of mere collectors of documents. It’s not a bad start in a transition.
Indeed, this idea has also been picked up by all kinds of online sites, not just libraries. Everyone it seems wants to aggregate just the right mix of articles from other sources that might interest you.
But, from my perspective, curation is an inadequate solution to the bigger problem this digital knowledge century has created – we don’t have time to read everything. Filtering out the many things I might not want to read at all doesn’t help me much. I still end up having too much to read.
And we end up in the situation summed up succinctly by the acronym TL;DR, too long, didn’t read. (Or my version in response to getting millions of Google hits – TMI, TLK “too much information, too little knowledge”.)
“How do we find topically relevant, semantically related, timely information in massive amounts of data in diverse languages, formats, and genres? Given the incredible amounts of information available today, merely reducing the size of the haystack is not enough; information professionals … require timely, focused answers to complex questions.”
Like NIST, what I really want – maybe what you want or need too? – is someone to summarize everything out there and create a new body of work that tells me just what I need to know in as few words as possible.
Researchers call this abstractive summarization and this is not an easy problem to solve. But there has been some interesting work going on in various universities and research labs.
At Columbia University, Professor Kathleen McKeown and her research colleagues developed “NewsBlaster” several years ago to organize and summarize the day’s news.
Among other companies, Automated Insights has developed some practical solutions to the overall problem. Their Wordsmith software has been used, for example, by the Associated Press “to transform raw earnings data into thousands of publishable stories, covering hundreds more quarterly earnings stories than previous manual efforts”.
The next step, of course, is to combine many different data sources and generate articles about them for each person interested in that combination of sources.
Just a few months ago, Salesforce’s research team announced a major advance in summarization. Their motivation, by the way, is the same as mine:
“In 2017, the average person is expected to spend 12 hours and 7 minutes every day consuming some form of media and that number will only go up from here… Today the struggle is not getting access to information, it is keeping up with the influx of news, social media, email, and texts. But what if you could get accurate and succinct summaries of the key points…?”
Maluuba, acquired by Microsoft, has been continuing earlier research too. As they describe their research on “information-seeking behaviour”:
“The research at Maluuba is tackling major milestones to create AI agents that can efficiently and autonomously understand the world, look for information, and communicate their findings to humans.”
Librarians have skills that can contribute to the development of this branch of artificial intelligence. While those skills are necessary, they aren’t sufficient and a joint effort between AI researchers and the library world is required.
However, if librarians joined in this adventure, they could also offer the means of delivering this focused knowledge to the public in a more useful way than just dumping it into the Internet.
For some time now, the library world and its supporters have worried about the rise of the Google search engine. Here’s just a sample of articles from the last ten years that express this concern and, of course, push back against the Google tide:
And there was also John Palfrey’s 2015 book, “BiblioTech: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google”, which shares some themes of this post.
This concern has had such a profound effect that many libraries have effectively curtailed their reference librarian services as people instead “Google it”.
No doubt Google is formidable. While there have been ups and downs (like 2015) in Google’s share of the search engine market, it is obviously very high. Some estimates put it at 80% or higher.
But the world is changing and perhaps librarians aren’t aware of a nascent opportunity.
In an article about a month ago, the data scientist Vincent Granville took a closer look at the data about the ways people search and get information. He found “The Slow Decline of Google Search”. Here are some of the highlights:
“Google’s influence (as a search engine) is declining. Not that their traffic share or revenue is shrinking, to the contrary, both are probably increasing.”
“The decline (and weakening of monopoly) is taking place in a subtle way. In short, Google is no longer the first source of information, for people to find an article, a document, or anything on the Internet.”
“What has happened over the last few years is that many websites are now getting most of their traffic from sources other than Google.”
“Google has lost its monopoly when it comes to finding interesting information on the Internet.”
“Interestingly, this creates an opportunity for entrepreneurs willing to develop a search engine.”
As the New York Times reported recently about the announcement of the new Pixel phone, Google has noticed all this and is strategically re-positioning itself as an artificial intelligence company.
What has this got to do with the Apple story?
Apple is now the most valuable company in the world. That wasn’t always so. Indeed, it almost was headed for oblivion as the chart shows. Even now, its earlier business of selling personal computers hasn’t grown that much. It was able to add to its mix of products and services in a compelling way. It is one of the great turnaround stories in business history.
That history offers a lesson for librarians. The battle against what Google originally offered has been a tough one and libraries have suffered in the eyes of many people, especially the public officials and other leaders who provide their funding.
But looking forward, libraries should consider the opportunities arising from the fact that Google’s impact on Internet users is lessening, that the shine of Google’s “do no evil” slogan has worn off in the face of greater public skepticism and that artificial intelligence – really augmented human intelligence – is now a viable, disruptive technology.
As many once great and now defunct companies, other than Apple, show, there aren’t many second chances. Libraries should take advantage of its second chance to play the role that they should
The yearlong theme of the New York State Regents Technology Policy and Practice Council (TPPC) is data. Given the Regents’ responsibility for education, the council’s focus is on data in education, but not just data arising from schools. Beyond education, they are thinking about data that is or could be offered through libraries, museums, libraries, public broadcasting, and the like.
With this background, Nate Hill, Executive Director of the Metropolitan New York Library Council and I (in my role at METRO’s board president) have been asked to make a presentation on this subject when the group meets today. That is partly because of METRO’s role as the umbrella organization for all kinds of libraries, museums, archives and, more generally, information professionals in the New York area.
Here in a nutshell are some of the main ideas that we are presenting today:
-> There has already been the start of big data and analytics in K-12 education. Unfortunately, all of the tests that kids take is one manifestation of this application of analytics. But there are other good sources of data for the classroom, like that supplied by NOAA.
Data has another use, however. It can motivate students and encourage them to be curious. How? If instead of using the standard, remote examples in texts for most subjects, the examples were drawn from data collected and about their own community, where they live.
Drawing on themes from my Beyond Data talk in Europe, “Is Open Data Good Enough?”, it’s important not to just depend upon the data that some governments publish on their websites. There is a world of data that is of public interest, but is not collected by governments. And data alone isn’t insightful – for that, analytics and human inquiry are necessary, both of which students and older scholars can provide.
Libraries have been the curators of digital content and increasingly can be the creators, as well. Whether this is through mashups or linked data or the application of their own analytics skills, libraries will be extending and making more useful the raw data that has already been made public.
Libraries have historically been community centers where issues could be discussed in an objective manner. But when so many people are not satisfied with merely being consumers of content and instead act as producer-consumer, libraries can offer the intellectual resources, the tools and the platform for citizens to play a role in investigating data on public issues and in co-creating the solutions.
Our hope is that METRO can help to show the future paths for the open data movement in all of its venues and, maybe even provide the platform we envision in our talk today. If you’d like to join in this effort, please contact Nate Hill or myself.
I was asked to speak at the Cambridge (MA) Public Library’s annual staff development day a week ago Friday. Cambridge is one of the great centers of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and robotics research. So, naturally, my talk was in part about AI and libraries, going back to another post a year ago, titled “Free The Library”.
First, I put this in context – the increasing percentage of people who are part of the knowledge economy and have a continual need to get information, way beyond their one-time college experience. They are often dependent on googling what they need with increasingly frustrating results, in part because of Google’s dependence on advertising and keeping its users’ eye on the screen, rather than giving them the answers they need as quickly as possible.
Second, I reviewed the various ways that AI is growing and is not just robots handling “low level” jobs. Despite the portrait of AI’s impact as only affecting non-creative work, I gave examples of Ross “the AI lawyer”, computer-created painting, music and political speeches. I showed examples of social robots with understanding of human emotions and the kind of technologies that make this possible, such as RealEyes and Affectiva (another company near Cambridge).
Third, I pointed out how these same capabilities can be useful in enhancing library services.
This isn’t really new if you think about it. Libraries have always invented ways to organize information for people, but the need now goes beyond paper publications. Since their profession began, librarians have been in the business of helping people find exactly what they need, but the need is greater now.
Not surprisingly, of course, the immediate reaction of many librarians is that we don’t have the money or resources for that!!
I reminded them of the important observation by Maureen Sullivan, former President of the American Library Association:
“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.”
Thus, together, libraries can develop new and appropriate knowledge tools. Moreover, they can – and should cooperate – in a way that is usually off-limits to private companies who want to protect their “intellectual property.”
And the numbers are impressive. If the 70,000+ librarians and 150,000+ other library staff in the USA worked together, they could accomplish an enormous amount. Individual librarians could specialize in particular subjects, but be available to patrons everywhere.
And if they worked with academic specialists in artificial intelligence in their nearby universities, such as MIT and Harvard in the case of Cambridge Public Library, they can help lead, not merely react quickly, to the future in a knowledge century.
The issue is not “either AI or libraries” but both reinforcing each other in the interest of providing the best service to patrons. Instead of being purely AI, artificial intelligence, this new service would what is beginning to be a new buzzword – IA, intelligence augmentation for human beings.
Nor am I the only one talking this way. Consider just three examples of articles in March and May of this year that come from different worlds, but make similar points about this proposed marriage:
I ended my presentation with a call for action and a reminder that this is a second – perhaps last – chance for libraries. The first warning and call to action came more than twenty years ago in 1995 at the 61st IFLA General Conference. It came from Chris Batt, then of the Croydon Libraries, Museum and Arts in the UK:
“What are the implications of all this [advancing digital world] 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.”
Taking its work on the future of public libraries
to the next stage, the Aspen Institute has selected Winter Park,
Florida as one of five locations with which it will work closely to
develop a useful set of models for all kinds of public libraries.
part of that effort, Aspen and the library and City of Winter Park held
a day-long community dialogue and visioning meeting last Thursday. (I
was asked to participate because I previously worked with Winter Park and I’m one of the small group of advisors to the Aspen Institute.)
won’t use this space to repeat what I’ve said about libraries already,
but instead this is about the Aspen process of engaging citizens to
figure out the future of their communities. What I’ll report below may
seem simple or even obvious, but it’s clear that the Aspen Institute has
been conducting these dialogues for a long time and has a sense of what
Many of us, including myself, have seen enough such sessions accomplish little. We appreciate it when this works well.
also helps that Winter Park is a city with engaged residents. For a
city of about 26,000 people, the turnout of several dozen people for an
introductory session on Wednesday night was extraordinary, especially
considering that it was not well publicized.
So too was the
involvement all day Thursday of the Mayor, the City Manager, and another
member of the City Commission, in addition to the President of Full
Sail University, a leaders of Rollins College and Valencia Community
College. Of course, various other local leaders who have been much
involved with the library joined them.
Thursday’s roundtable began
with a discussion of two topics: Library Alignment With Community
Goals and The Library As A Platform For Community Development. This
framing is all important, since the focus is on the community, not about
the library as a solitary building.
Sometimes the discussion was
all over the field. Like the blind men and the elephant, this is
necessary for everyone to hear not so much what each thinks of the
overall thing (the library or even the community) but how it looks from
their particular perspective. Unlike the story of the blind men, this
can work as long people then put together their perspectives to achieve
an understanding of the whole picture.
The pressure from a number
of local futurists also had an impact on the nature of the dialogue –
more on how do we keep up with a changing world, instead of the
too-frequent complaint I’ve heard elsewhere that “we don’t understand
these changes”. I was pleased to hear local residents even talking
about the use of artificial intelligence in libraries, something that
I’ve blogged about but not heard even from many professionals. This is a
good indication that, at least in this community, the library won’t be
overtaken by onrushing technological changes, including one that was made public as we were meeting.
Rather than just continue a general discussion, Aspen’s Amy Garmer then presented 15 possible action steps.
She asked each person to vote on those steps (singly or combined) they
thought most important so that the group could generate a list of three
actions they would start to implement.
This voting and the
discussion around it also had the effect getting people’s commitment to
their choices and thus acceptance of responsibility for follow-up
tasks. And, indeed, as the day ended, several people stepped up to take
on the tasks.
So, in a day and an evening, there was a sequence
of futuristic visioning, discussion of community priorities and
commitments to substantive action steps.
The Metropolitan New York Library Council was invited to take part today in a working conference of the New York State Assembly Standing Committee on Libraries and Information Technology on the digital divide, broadband and especially library funding. We — Nate Hill, Executive Director, and myself as Board president — took the opportunity to address the large and developing problem of how to fund libraries in this century.
We noted that these subjects are all part of a larger problem. Libraries are delivering more and more digital content and services to larger numbers of people, especially those who are on the wrong side of the digital divide or who still need help navigating the digital economy. These increased services require much higher bandwidth than most libraries can now offer, which puts an unfair and arbitrary cap on how well people can be served.
While the need for broadband in libraries and its value to the community is clear, what has been unclear and, at best, sporadic is the financing to make the broadband-based services possible. When legislators only thought about libraries as just another one of the cultural resources for the state, library funding was limited to a piece of cultural funding.
Now that libraries offer a broader array of services and can offer even more in a digital broadband era, the funding should also be more diversified.
• To the extent libraries support entrepreneurs and small business as both location for innovation and “corporate reference librarian”, a piece of the economic development budget should support libraries.• To the extent libraries support students, especially with homework help and after school resources, a piece of the very large education budget should support libraries.• To the extent libraries support workforce development and are the most cost-effective, often the only, way that adult learners can keep up their skills to be employable, a piece of the workforce development and public assistance budgets should support libraries.• To the extent libraries support public health education, a piece of the health budget should support libraries.
There are other examples, but the strategy is clear. Library funding needs to come from a diverse set of sources, just as a good investor has a balanced portfolio and doesn’t have all the money in one stock.
Of course, in the longer run, public officials will recognize the role of the library as the central non-commercial institution of the knowledge age that we are entering. As such, perhaps the permanent funding of libraries should be a very light tax on the commerce going to through the Internet to support the digital public services that are provided by libraries.
To some degree, the principle of basing support for library broadband on telecommunications revenues has been established with the Federal E-Rate program. But the amounts are relatively small and the telecommunications base is traditional phone service, which is diminishing, not the Internet which is growing.
Whatever the source of funding may turn out to be, libraries need a consistent source of funding that grows with the demand for their services in this century.
Readers of this blog are aware that libraries have continued to adapt
to our evolving digital era. Most provide electronic materials, teach
people about digital literacy, help overcome the digital divide by
making Wi-Fi and even devices freely available, etc. Some even support platforms for self-publishing.
libraries have yet to collectively take advantage of the Internet as a
national (even global) network that connects them all. This is
especially true for reference librarians.
This is not really a new
idea. There are a few examples of collaboration within state borders,
such as Florida’s Ask A Librarian.
More than ten years ago, going
beyond one state to the whole nation, the Library of Congress helped
create the QuestionPoint service to provide
“libraries with access to a
growing collaborative network of reference librarians in the United
States and around the world. Library patrons can submit questions at any
time of the day or night through their library’s Web site. The
questions will be answered online by qualified library staff from the
patron’s own library or may be forwarded to a participating library
around the world.”
Although it’s now part of OCLC, QuestionPoint
certainly hasn’t grown in use as the Internet has grown in use. Indeed,
the movement for collaboration among libraries seems to have peaked
perhaps ten years ago. This is despite the fact that the demand for
these services has increased, while the tools to meet that demand have
become less expensive. The tools for collaboration – from social media
to videoconferencing – have vastly improved and become more common
In a world where everyone is drowning in a sea of
information, reference librarians have a unique and valuable role as
guides – the captains of the pilot boats on that sea. However, without
collaboration, every library would somehow have to have reference
librarians on staff who can quickly be expert on all matters. That’s
clearly impossible and no library can do the job adequately all alone.
in its last report on employment, the American Library Association
reported that the USA has 70,000+ paid librarians and 150,000+ other
library staff. Imagine the impact if they worked together and
collaborated, each person specializing in some – but not all – subjects.
Each of these specialist reference librarians, networked together,
would be available to patrons everywhere in the country.
In this way, collaboration through the Internet would enable each library to:
Promote economies of scale, both becoming more cost-effective and more valuable
Broaden the library’s resource reach to better serve its local residents
Sullivan, Past President of the American Library Association and my
colleague in the Aspen Institute’s working group on libraries, has
stated the situation clearly:
“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”
Neal, former head of the Columbia University Libraries, current member
of the board of the Metropolitan New York Library Council and hopefully
the next President of the American Library Association, wrote four years
ago wrote an article whose message was clear “Advancing From Kumbaya to Radical Collaboration: Redefining the Future Research Library”. While his focus was on research libraries, his call for radical collaboration should be heard by all libraries.
that in mind, Ronna C. Memer of the San Jose (California) Public
Library, reflecting on her 25 years of librarianship, wrote in a 2011
issue of the Collaborative Librarianship journal:
collaborative efforts have recently been curtailed due to rising costs,
it seems that more rather than less collaboration would be most
cost-effective to library systems in coming years. As distinctions
between types of library services (e.g. online vs. face-to-face)
diminish, so too do some distinctions between types of library systems
(e.g. academic vs. public) as well as between library systems and other
institutions such as museums. Libraries, their staff and their patrons
all benefit from creative sharing of library resources and services.”
fields of endeavor have created national networks. For example, the
National Agricultural and Rural Development Policy (NARDeP) Center is a
“flexible national network of scientists and analysts ready to quickly
meet the needs of local, state, and federal policy makers.”
Certainly, all libraries – networked together – can do the same thing for the residents of their communities.
At the end of the year, there are many top 10 lists of the best
movies, best books, etc. of the year. Here’s my list of the best
non-fiction books I’ve read this year. But it has only eight books and
some were published earlier than this year since, like the rest of you,
I’m always behind in my reading no matter how many books, articles, and
blogs I read.
Although some are better than others, none of these
books is perfect. What book is perfect? But they each provide the reader
with a new way of looking at the world, which in turn is, at a minimum,
thought provoking and, even better, helps us to be more innovative.
highlighted the major theme of each, but these are books that have many
layers and depth so my summary only touches on what they offer.
Humans Need Not Apply: A Guide to Wealth and Work in the Age of Artificial Intelligence by Jerry Kaplan
had a few scary books out this past year or so about how robots are
going to take our work from us and enslave us. Kaplan’s brilliant book,
published this year, is much more nuanced and sophisticated. It is not
just “ripped from today’s headlines”. Instead, Kaplan provides history
and deep context. Especially interesting is his discussion of the legal
and ethical issues that arise when we use more of these
Creating the Learning Society by Joseph Stiglitz & Bruce Greenwald
Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize winning economist, has been better known for
“The Great Divide: Unequal Societies and What We Can Do About Them”
which was published this year and is a sequel to his earlier book on the
subject, “The Price of Inequality” (2012). While those deal with the
important issue of economic inequality, at this point, that’s not news
to most of us.
Less well known, if more rigorous as a work of
economics, is his 2013 book “Creating the Learning Society”. With all
the talk about the importance of lifelong learning and innovation to
succeed in the economy of this century, there have been few in-depth
analyses of how that translates into economic growth and greater
incomes. Nor has there been much about what are the appropriate
government policies to have a modern economy to grow. Stiglitz provides
both in this book.
The End Of College: Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere by Kevin Carey
about lifelong learning, I found this book thought-provoking,
especially as a college trustee. Published this year, the rap on it is
that it’s all about massive open online courses (MOOCs), but it is
actually about much more than that. It provides a good history of the
roles that colleges have been asked to play and describes a variety of
ways that many people are trying to improve the education of students.
BiblioTech by John Palfrey
Palfrey was the patron of Harvard Law School’s Library Lab, one of the
nation’s leading intellectual property experts and now chairman of the Digital Public Library of America,
among other important positions. BiblioTech, which was published
earlier this year, describes a hopeful future for libraries – including a
national network of libraries. (Readers of this blog won’t be surprised
that Palfrey and I share many views, although he put these ideas all
together in a book and, of course, elaborated on them much more than I
do in these relatively short posts.)
Too Big To Know by David Weinberger
five years ago, I got to work a bit with David Weinberger when he was
one of the leaders of the library innovation lab at Harvard Law School,
in addition to his work at Harvard’s Berkman Center. When I was
introduced to the library lab’s ambitious projects, I joked with David
that his ultimate ambition was to do nothing less than organize all of
the world’s knowledge for the 21st century. This book, which was
published a year later is, I suppose, a kind of response to that
My reading of Weinberger’s big theme is that we can no
longer organize the world’s knowledge completely. The network itself has
the knowledge. As the subtitle says: now “the smartest person in the
room is the room” itself. Since not all parts of the network are
directly connected, there’s also knowledge yet to be realized.
Breakpoint by Jeff Stibel
the overheated subtitle this book, this book, published in 2013, is
somewhat related to Weinberger’s book in that it focuses on the network.
Using analogies from ant colonies and the neuron network of the human
mind, Stibel tries to explain the recent past and the future of the
Internet. As the title indicates, a key concept of the book is the
breakpoint – the point at which the extraordinary growth of networks
stops and its survival depends upon enrichment, rather than attempts at
continuing growth. As a brain scientists, he also argues that the
Internet, rather than any single artificially intelligent computer, is
really the digital equivalent of the human brain.
Previously I’ve devoted whole posts to two other significant books. Just follow the links below:
The fifth annual worldwide virtual conference about the future of libraries in the digital age, Library 2.0, is being held today. I just completed my keynote presentation.
Too often, discussions about libraries focus on how technological and economic trends are assaulting them.
warnings have been around for some time. Twenty years ago at the
General Conference of the International Federation of Library
Associations, Chris Batt, then Director of the Croydon UK Library, gave a
speech on the “The library of the future”. He said:
the implications of all for this 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 I followed the advice attributed to President Lincoln,
“The best way to predict the future is to create it.”
I chose instead to focus on the positive and the pro-active in my
keynote to the conference. I aimed to encourage the audience to push the
envelope, going beyond the constraints in their thinking about the role
of the library.
Its title tells the story: “How The Future
Requires Us To Re-envision Libraries: Trends In Technology, Society, The
Economy And Government Provide New Opportunities For Libraries”.
theme was that librarians should not just wait and see how to respond
to this century’s trends, but instead seize the opportunities these
trends open up and provide leadership to define the future of libraries
and society in our knowledge-based economy.
Here then are the eight trends I discussed and how each opens up another opportunity for library leadership in this century:
The maker movement is one of the hottest trends in the public library world. Maker spaces in libraries have the latest in 3D printing technology, digital media tools and other tools for the creative person who wants to make things. These are full-fledged STEAM (science, tech, engineering, arts and math) labs.
As you might expect, there are maker spaces somewhere in most major urban and suburban libraries.
But what is perhaps surprising and intriguing is the growth of maker spaces in small towns and rural areas — and why maker spaces are especially needed in those places and why those areas are fertile ground for maker spaces.
The countryside is known for the mechanical skills of many of its residents. Perhaps these skills were developed in response to distance from major service hubs and the necessity to keep farm and household equipment going.
For at least the last ten years, much traditional mechanical equipment has become computerized. And engines have become more reliable. So mechanical skills just aren’t as useful anymore.
Or maybe they are. That is what I think has caught the attention of rural librarians. Leah Hamilton, the manager of the Phelps Library in a small upstate New York town that had one of the first makerspaces in the USA, puts it this way:
“The library is a place for idea-sharing, … Our region has a wealth of manufacturing industries, and these businesses require well-trained, highly qualified employees. … We can provide the tools for inspiration of invention and the betterment of people’s livelihoods.”
Considering their limited budgets, it’s amazing how many of these libraries in rural areas have built makerspaces.
These are in small towns in Wisconsin, with populations well under 10,000 residents, like Sauk City’s 3D printer or Lomira’s MediaLab. They’re in the old, but small (population 12,000), city of Beaufort, South Carolina.
A couple of years ago, the Idaho Commission for Libraries began its “Make It At The Library” project, a network of makerspaces in small libraries across the state.
As interesting as the adoption of makerspaces is, it is part of a larger picture about the technology and leadership role of libraries in small towns and rural areas.
A few months ago, Professor Brian Whitacre of Oklahoma State University and Professor Colin Rhinesmith of the University of Oklahoma published interested research that dealt with another part of this larger picture:
“Rural libraries have long been a crucial part of the small-town way of life … Now we’ve found through a new study that rural libraries may also provide another important benefit: They may increase local rates of household broadband adoption.
“Our study found that, even after controlling for other things that likely influence broadband adoption (such as levels of income, education, and age), an additional library in a rural county was associated with higher residential broadband adoption rates … libraries were the only type of ‘community anchor institution’ to show any kind of relationship.”
Whether it is makerspaces or enabling necessary connections to the global Internet, these rural libraries are playing the role that all libraries should — fulfilling their potential as the central institution in a digital world and a knowledge economy.
There are some interesting developments happening in Winter Park, Florida.
Established in the late 1800s as a winter haven for the wealthy of
northern states, it is now a city of about 29,000 people in the Orlando
Although it has a nice quality of life, relative
affluence, other good aspects, etc., like every city, it faces its
challenges. What makes it interesting is how the city is responding.
many years, a significant part of the city felt that their library
needed to be replaced and brought into the new century. This effort
came closer to reality with the creation of a library facility task force more than a year ago and, more recently, with three workshops in which hundreds of community residents participated.
to say, this is not how the majority of new library building projects
go about planning. It is an example of the open and collaborative
spirit of ACi Architects, the
architecture/urban design firm that the city retained, which is leading
this effort. (This is clearly not the exercise in egotism that too many
In my role as a member of the Advisory Group to the Aspen Institute’s Dialogue on Public Libraries,
I was invited to talk at one of these workshops about how the changes
in the world and libraries provided the basis for Aspen’s report and how
that report could inform their own plans for a future library.
a good library is very much a part of the fabric of its community, it
is especially interesting that the library planning effort has been
conducted in parallel with a larger “community visioning” project to provide direction for all of the city for the next 50 years.
no city will ever achieve 100% agreement on anything, it’s been
fascinating to watch these efforts develop with generally civil
discussion – and visible in real time online to those who couldn’t be
This picture is from one of the breakout groups during a workshop.
the case of the library workshops, part of the challenge is that the
best site for a new building is in a city park named for Martin Luther
King, Jr. and that there is also a need for what has been a civic center
(community meeting building). So the design needed is not just for a
While this complicates things, it also
presents an opportunity to create something new which combines a new
library building and the recreational area around it – an opportunity to
create a kind of knowledge park or knowledge experience. The library
can offer its services not only inside the building, but on it and
beyond in gazebos around the park – and a new civic forum space.
combination library/park/civic space is not common, but not rare
either. Many large libraries sit in parks, most notably the New York
Public Library in Bryant Park. But these two public amenities – the
library and the park – are not all that often integrated together.
Recently, WIRED Magazine in its design issue article, “8 Cities That Show You What the Future Will Look Like”,
featured Medellín’s Biblioteca Espana library/park that is “Combining
Libraries and Parks into Safe Spaces for All”, while serving and helping
to upgrade the impoverished neighborhood that surrounds it.
New World Symphony in Miami Beach provides another model of how a park
can be integrated with cultural events inside a building. With a large
video wall on the outside, it is a natural place for people to sit or
even picnic while listening to great music and seeing great musicians.
Sometimes the park is jam-packed with listeners.
a library in a park offers similar possibilities. Even the always
necessary garage for a library can be turned into a set of display walls
for the projection of knowledge outside of the building – and thus
upgrading, perhaps, hiding its parking function. For instance, pictures
and text from the city’s African-American history museum could be made
more widely available this way.
Although no two cities are
exactly the same, Winter Park is a good example of an historic, but
relatively small, city that is now striving to re-define itself as part
of a larger metropolitan area in a 21st century digital economy. For
that reason, I’ll be reporting back on how the residents proceed to set
an example for many other places in the USA and the rest of the world.
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.
My last post was about the fight over intellectual property. A few weeks before that I wrote about what a book is in a digital age and suggested that librarians could become the equivalent of DJs for books.
Pulling those two themes together, this post is about what some libraries are already doing that can shift the balance in book publishing.
But, first a bit of history. When public libraries were first established well over a hundred years ago, one of their primary responsibilities was purchase books on behalf of their community. Then the community members could share all these books, without having to buy separate copies.
Until the mid-20th Century, this worked in favor of publishers since libraries were, in general, their most reliable market for books. Libraries also helped build markets of readers that the publishers would sell to or that many people eventually bought the books they borrowed because they liked them so much. The library was a kind of try-and-buy location.
As the industry grew, selling direct to an ever more educated public in the latter half of the 20th Century, many book publishers started thinking that libraries reduced their sales, rather than enhancing them. But that was a battle the publishers had lost long ago and couldn’t do much about.
Moreover, it is a moot point in this century when e-books have overtaking traditional print book publishing. Even if that growth trend has slowed a bit recently, the battle between publishers and libraries has been renewed around e-books, not printed books.
The traditional publishers – the Big 5 – have taken an especially restrictive approach to e-books, perhaps in the hopes of turning away from the historical role that public libraries have played for printed books. Until less than two years ago, some publishers even refused to sell e-books to libraries. They still restrict the number of times an e-book could be lent or charge extraordinary prices for them.
This pattern continues despite some good arguments that publishers could benefit from a more supportive relationship with libraries, as laid out by the marketing expert, David Vinjamuri.
But any significant change, like e-books, can be a two-edged sword. They may be an opportunity for big publishers to change the rules. But they are also an opportunity for libraries.
Unlike printed books, there is effectively no limitation on how many e-books a library can store. And librarians have noticed that many of their patrons are writing e-books. Much of the spectacular growth in e-books has been among self-published authors. (Amazon even makes this easy with its Createspace service.)
With this background, there has developed a movement among libraries to become the publishing platform for authors or to, at least, partner with self-publishing services.
Although he lost by a little, one of the candidates in the election a few days ago for president of the American Library Association was Jamie LaRue, who has built his reputation in large part as a leader of the library publishing movement.
There are already several interesting examples across the country. The Los Gatos Public Library has joined with the Smashwords self-publishing company. The Provincetown, Massachusetts library – proudly “Ranked #1 in the US by Library Journal” – has created its own self-publishing agency, Provincetown Press.
The much larger Los Angeles Public Library is using the Self-e platform from Library Journal and BiblioBoard. The February 2015 issue of Library Journal quotes John Szabo, LAPL’s director and one of the most innovative national library leaders:
“We are and will continue to be a place for content creation… It’s a huge role for libraries. … I want to see our authors not just all over California but circulating from Pascagoula, MS, to Keokuk, IA.”
Too often, news of new library services does not get widely publicized and is only seen by those already patronizing libraries. So it was helpful that LAPL’s platform for local authors was reported a couple of weeks ago in a publication they might well read – LA Weekly.
With the Internet enabling easier collaboration and co-creation than ever before, as I’ve noted in this blog, we are also seeing examples of self-publishing that go beyond an individual author.
Topeka Community Novel Project describes its ideal: “A community novel is one that is collaboratively conceptualized, written, illustrated, narrated, edited and published by members of your community.”
Publishing by academic libraries and other non-traditional publishers is an increasing factor in research, as well. While it publishes papers that are peer-reviewed as in traditional journals, PLOS (Public Library of Science) is perhaps the best known adherent of “open access” publishing. Open Access means that there are no restrictions on the use of the articles, available online, free to read.
Academic journals and books have been very expensive and not all of that cost can be eliminated by this new approach. For example, the peer review process still has to be managed. However, the cost is much lower. PLOS charges authors a relatively minimal fee.
Overall, all of the initiatives that I’ve highlighted here are a part of a digital age trend in which we’ll see more librarians going beyond being mere collectors of big publishing companies’ books to being curators and creators of content.
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.
With all the work going on in libraries to digitize materials and also to manage materials that are born digital, someone asked what this means for the traditional role of librarians as collectors on behalf of their patrons.
Someone else pointed out that librarians are beyond being collectors of materials to being curators. OK, but what does curation mean now and going forward into the future?
In many ways, the deeper question is “what is a book” in the digital age?
To provide some context, imagine all the books that have been written are each envisioned as a highway. Reading the traditional printed book of the pre-digital era was like getting on a highway and not getting off until it ends – unless, of course, you just stopped reading it at all.
But when you’re reading a digital book, you might see something interesting from this highway – at any point – and get off for a look. You might return quickly or keep going further and further away from the highway (i.e., the original book you started reading). You might also want to follow a meandering path that someone else charted or “discovered” before you.
So we are practically past the age when the book as a body of written material was siloed between hard covers and stood in isolation from other books. The book is no longer a discrete and fixed product.
Some developments have already begun to recognize this change. For example, there are the “adaptive textbooks” from McGraw Hill Education and Harvard’s H20 Adaptable Digital Textbooks.
Indeed, over the last few years, the Harvard University Library Innovation Lab has been doing some of the most interesting work along these lines anywhere in the world. Its relevant projects and experiments include:
Consilience: which “provides an interactive user interface to help users discover different ways of grouping sets of documents, to zoom into each cluster within a selected group, and to zoom in further into individual documents”
Atlas Viewer: a way to explore geographic materials spatially, rather than one page at a time
StackLife: which “lets you browse all of the items in Harvard’s 73 libraries and Book Depository as if they were on a single shelf.”
In the new world of digital reading paths, how can the reader not get totally lost and confused? – Or perhaps get lost enough to discover new things for himself/herself. Better yet how can people be helped to discover new things and new connections that no one had discovered before, that we would all benefit from?
How many of the people who have traditionally been trying to help readers – librarians, reviewers, editors, writers and others – are prepared to deal with the fact this is even a question they have to answer?
Perhaps librarians and editors should start thinking of themselves as the equivalent of digital DJs who organize and often mash-up music from a variety of artists. These DJs become star entertainers themselves – way more than mere musical curators. (Librarians should also note that the most successful of these DJs earn millions of dollars. See Forbes’ review “The World’s Highest-Paid DJs”.)
With a new mindset about the role of a librarian and more of the kind of experimentation and technology Harvard has created and the rest of us will be better able to navigate the digital reading highways and byways.
Last spring I wrote about my participation in a workshop on the role of libraries in open government, led by the Center for Technology in Government (CTG) at the University of Albany and funded by the Institute for Museums and Library Services.
Last month, CTG released their final project report. You can get the report from their website, but I want to provide a summary here.
Overall, CTG’s key finding is straightforward:
“The traditional and important role of public libraries as trusted information intermediaries provides a powerful platform for public libraries to be key facilitators in opening government … Libraries need to work with government partners and other key stakeholders to develop portfolios of programs and services geared toward helping community members access and use information and engage with their governments.”
As someone who has been involved in open government, public technology and libraries, the role of libraries seems obvious to me in at least three ways.
First, libraries are places that almost everyone recognizes as neutral, objective and fair purveyors of information. The trust in this role of libraries is a valuable asset for any government leader who wants constituents to take seriously his/her pledges of openness.
Second, librarians have the training and experience to help the average person make sense of vast volumes of information. And the open government initiatives around the US have certainly provided a vast amount of information. Just making this information available is a bit like trying to open a library by buying a million books and dumping them all into the middle of the floor. Without the assistance of librarians in these initiatives, the ideals of openness and transparency will not be achieved.
Third, following on the previous point, librarians can do even more than help to organize and make accessible all of this new open government data. Librarians can also help train the average person to know how to make sense of the information. They can provide the space and the platform for citizens to collaborate on their use of open data. For example, John Szabo, the head of the Los Angeles Public Library, has provided a digital forum for people in south Los Angeles to use public land and building data as they consider and debate a major new development project in their neighborhood.
Of course, while giving libraries a key role in open government initiatives can make those initiatives much more successful, library resources are limited. So it would be useful if part of the budget for open government be devoted to funding the role of librarians.
CTG elaborated on these six recommendations:
“1. Clearly define the role of public libraries in community-focused open government activities.
2. Adopt a focus on the demand side of open government.
3. Adopt a community-wide perspective on open government.
4. Build capability to create and sustain new kinds of partnerships with a wider range of community actors.
5. Build a knowledge base of public library open government initiatives.
6. Fund and carry out a set of pilot projects focused on building new understanding of preferred and best public library open government practices.”
If you’re involved in government, open data/information, public sector transparency or libraries, it will be worth it for you to read CTG’s report for the rest of the story.
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.
Earlier this month, I was invited to participate in a workgroup that focused on and merged two of my strongest interests – libraries and open government. This workgroup, made up of approximately two dozen leaders of the worlds of libraries, open government and the Internet, was pulled together by the Center for Technology in Government (CTG) of Albany University, as part of a project funded by the Federal Government’s Institute of Museums and Library Services (IMLS).
CTG describes the rationale for the project this way:
“State and local governments are exploring new ways to open their governments using technology to engage citizens, increase transparency and accountability. Such efforts provide new opportunities and challenges for public libraries as citizens turn to them for both access to and assistance in their interactions with government … An open government initiative will impact and can be facilitated or impeded by a community’s information ecosystem. Libraries can have a critical influence on an ecosystem and the success of such an initiative.”
The CTG staff will summarize the day and a half of intensive work at a later point. But I thought I’d share some of my observations from participating in it.
First, while open government, particularly the open data initiatives that have occurred all over the US and elsewhere, is clearly a step forward for transparency, it is not always very useful to the average citizen. That’s why too often, the data has been used mostly for “gotcha” articles by local news media.
Typically, the data is put out on the web. This is akin to setting up a library by buying 10,000 books and dropping them all in a big pile in the middle of the floor. Librarians have long developed skills in organizing knowledge and, as reference guides, in helping people find what they need. So the most obvious first role of librarians is to help open data initiatives succeed by applying their professional skills to the data.
Second, libraries can be the place where open government occurs. This role not only involves making available to citizens the printed and online forms they need to interact with government – or even extending that to enable citizens to have video conversations with government staff who are located many miles away from home.
Libraries can also encourage the discussion of public issues. Traditionally, libraries have used their meeting spaces for open forums. More recently and much more interesting is the role the Los Angeles Public Library has played in a community in south Los Angeles. The local library branch there is hosting Betaville, open source software to enable people to collaborate together to propose urban design solutions for their community. Betaville is being used for people to do exactly that with respect to a large proposed redevelopment of the Rancho Cienega facility. The library was the only place where people could come together to do this work, which had the proper technology and also the trust of residents that it is an objective, open facility.
Third, Jamie LaRue, former director of the Douglas County library system, which has been a pioneer in libraries as creators of content, built on that experience to propose an additional role for libraries. In the face of the demise of many local news outlets, he suggested that this creative role of libraries be extended to becoming the platform for local news.
Finally, while a number of state and local governments have encouraged their local software developers to create apps using open government data, this is clearly not enough. There are many apps that are needed, but make no sense for private companies that ultimately require profits. Government cannot abdicate its own technology role. Recognizing that it can’t do everything, however, government can call on librarians to understand what gaps exist based on what they are asked for by library patrons.
On May 3, the Library Trustee Association of New York State held its annual trustee institute. I ran a session on the intersection of technology trends and changes in libraries. I made a presentation, titled “Creating The Library’s Future”, to get people to start thinking about this intersection.
While there is always change in information technology, I chose to highlight these clusters of trends as being most relevant to the mission of libraries. Here’s a quick summary:
Digitization Of Written, Oral and Visual Materials: the worldwide effort to digitize paper documents as well as the increase in media that are born digital; the budding Digital Public Library of America; the end of the self-contained book which makes possible an infinite variety of mashups; the various ways that “big data” in libraries can be used
Artificial Intelligence & Robotics: such applications as speech recognition, the Army’s artificially intelligent guide and its implications for Ask A Librarian; robotics, especially in warehouses that have implications for larger libraries
High Quality Visual Communications: noting the importance of non-verbal communications and how we are not yet at a stage where this is a ubiquitous aspect of the Internet, but it will be; the extension with videoconferencing of the groups, literacy training, public services that libraries have always provided
Ubiquitous Internet: the various ways that access to the Internet is escaping the limitations of the traditional PC display/keyboard/mouse where any surface can be a display or a keyboard or a mouse or you don’t even need a surface at all with arm movements or eye tracking; augmented reality
Billions Of People Who Produce And Consume Content: the concepts of the “Pro-Sumer” and the long tail; the ways that this is opening up opportunities for authors and content creators that are not limited to the traditional publishers; the role of readers and library patrons in enhancing the traditional hierarchical catalog; the various forms of user involvement and creation at libraries in the US and abroad, including 3D printing and entrepreneurial spaces
Then I shifted to thinking about libraries in this future world. I noted the warnings have been around for a long time, with a quote about the Internet’s impact almost twenty years ago. I asked about a series of websites that seem to offer services which librarians have defined as their role.
All of this requires librarians to enhance that role to keep ahead of what are now commodity services and to think about library services as pervasive throughout the community – not confined to what goes on in the library building or even what is local.
Then taking a World Café approach, we broke up into groups focused on three questions:
How will technology change the expectations of patrons?
How could/should future technology trends affect the way individual libraries budget and spend their money?
What are the organizational implications of changing technology? (including the role of the individual libraries vs. the systems vs. the RRRs vs. the State vs. the national networks)
Here are some of the possibly contradictory highlights from the discussion that followed:
Expectations of patrons are rising because of what they exposed to, outside the library – at work and at home.
Libraries as often lead patrons to new technologies and uses of tech, rather than the other way around
Budgets need to shift, setting a minimum percentage for digital collections and providing staff training.
As library activities become more varied, there may need to be more private spaces for music, videoconferencing, etc.
The availability of resources directly from the Internet is upsetting the traditional hierarchy of the library world. So individual libraries may see alternatives to the cooperative systems or the State librarians that used to be the primary suppliers of technology.