Friday, July 19, 2013

The Future of the Library

I went along to the 2013 ALIA WA NAC Future of the Profession discussion with 68 keen others today and I'll attempt to give my account of it here.  The session was based on a discussion paper - found here. The current President of ALIA kicked off introducing the topic and explaining ALIAs concern about the future, then she introduced Kathryn Greenhill who is associate lecturer at Curtin University (I took her first year technology unit a few years ago). She zoomed through an outline of 10 trends she thought would impact on the librarian profession in the near future. Here they are (you can get more detail on each from #aliafutures in Twitter) and Kathryn's slideshow is available over on her blog, Librarian's Matter.

1. Open access.
2. Linked open data
3. Big data
4. APIs
5. The internet of things
6. Copyright, piracy and developing countries
7. Bypass and justify funding
8. Selling more than books
9. Service not stuff
10. Platform for information

In a future post (or many posts...) I will try to come to a deeper understanding of each of these. But anyway, the discussion then moved on as questions and comments from the audience were encouraged.  Here are some of the things that were discussed - I've taken them from #aliafutures on Twitter plus my own memory:


  • Is there anything that librarians can do that is unique? People without librarian degrees are being hired as librarians. Librarians are having to re-skill and learn continuously. Our roles are massively diversifying. If we take on new roles, we have to be able to do them better than others. Many can manage info and data better than us.
  • What to teach in library studies? Very hard to know. Lecturers encouraged to spend more time in libraries.
  • In many environments, libraries are subsumed into the larger organisation, especially in corporate libraries. Good thing or bad things? Librarians are unique in that we work across many different industries.
  • The public image of libraries and librarians has not kept pace with our image of ourselves. Our patrons have inaccurate ideas of what we do. Are people still visiting public libraries? Why or why not? We need to focus on services, not filling our buildings with stuff.
  • The point was made that the futures report contained nothing new - many are already doing the things mentioned in it. Need for further future / more innovative thinking.
  • Julie asked - what is a library? Big difference between the sectors - public emphasise space over content (e.g. exhibition and museum space, sanctuary for disadvantaged), corporate emphasised digital content over space, academic needs both.
  • How can we get everyone involved in professional development. It's important now more than ever. All of us need to be life-long learners. But does it come down to an individual's own mindset?
  • How can libraries use big data? We collect a lot of patron data - how about using it. E.g. "People who borrowed this also liked these books". How about selling our data? Using it for marketing?
  • If the library boat sinks, what useful skills do we need to remain afloat in the post-library world? Project management, data analysis, instructional design suggested
  • Problems of ebooks briefly re-hashed.
  • The future of academic libraries was discussed. Already moving into research support. Information literacy really changing from face-to-face to online tutorials, plus the embedded librarian, in the online learning platform, in class at time of need and in student forums. People like to discover for themselves. Short and smart is better. Potential for sharing tutorials rather than each academic library wasting time making their own? Maybe even vendors' tutorials are sufficient? Digital literacy is important too. Students who don't have digital literacy are at a massive disadvantage.
  • Librarians should try to add value - rather than just finding information there may be a role in critical analysis.

I think I got all the main points....

This is not a topic that will be going away anytime soon. In fact I think it will be a continuous feature of our careers as librarians. Stay tuned!