Friday, June 18, 2010

Scenario building for the Library of the Future

There is so much speculation about what the future will bring for libraries. Just last week this blog sparked a string of comments about the many optimistic/pessimistic views of possible future scenarios. I thought I'd look into it a bit more and here's a few things I found.

This article by Marcum from 2003 looks at the library of 2012. Only 2 years away and I think he's done a great job of putting a pretty out there vision of the future forward. Marcum thinks we'll be Cybrarians in InfoSpace which is dominated by 'multiple-media' and utilising video-displaying walls, situation room theaters, learning "cafeterias," dispersed, theme-centered constructions and multi-media "books". Does anyone else think 2003 sounds really long ago? Weren't ebooks on the horizon yet? I guess the vook has only just become a reality?

In 2004 IFLA published Defining Information Literacy in the 21st Century. The scenario they imagine is: Libraries are no longer the primary source of information, we will not be dealing with clients face-to-face, information literacy with be client driven which they see as point-of-need and just-in-time, and evaluation will become more important. At the time this was written it might have been considered radical? But I think alot of this is (and probably was) already the case. This scenario is now. We want to know what you think will happen next?

In 2006, Futurist Speaker put forward some suggestions for libraries wanting to transform with the changes that confronting us and recommends: evaluating library experiences, embracing new technologies, preserving the memories of our communities, experimenting and being creative with space and the role of the library. He emphasises the need for creative spaces and suggests: band practice rooms, podcasting stations, blogger stations, Art studios, Recording studios, Video studios, Imagination rooms, Theater-drama practice rooms (dancing rooms - Mal that was for you). Pretty good stuff huh!

This year at #plff2010 the State Library of New South Wales launched the Bookends Scenarios which goes into great detail about scenario planning and the process they went through in coming up with a matrix of four possible future scenarios for public libraries. I was at the panel discussion for the launch of the report and there was much disagreement over each scenario and the plausibility of each one. Pretty much all of them had both optimistic and pessimistic elements which I think is where the problems were born. The optimists couldn't imagine the negative things in the scenario occurring while the pessimists obviously felt the opposite. Can we ever bring the two together? SO what were they?

No.1. Silent Spring: Climate change has ravaged the world and due to resource shortages the only place people can access technology and resources is through the library. There is move back to print based products and a more local approach to community life. It' seems a bit like when your mum decides you won't have TV for a year when you're a kid and everyone bonds and reads books and feels better about themselves and the world. NOT GOING TO HAPPEN! (oooh that sounded cynical!)

No.2. How Buildings learn: technology overload has created a fast-pased globalised world of digital everything. Information overload has made everyone uneasy (who?) and libraries have become community centres, cafe's gyms, etc and vital in helping navigate the information overloaded digital world... not sure how I feel about this one. It doesn't seem all that far away from what's happening now - except for some reason it makes me feel uneasy.

No.3. Neuromancer: The world  gone mad, everything is in short supply and prices are sky high due to big corporations creating, owning and controlling information! People have to go to the library because they can't afford computers or Internet access. I think this is the least likely of all the scenarios. User- generated content cannot be stopped and with open source, open content movements on the rise I don't think it's reasonable to think that big corps will suddenly create, own and control everything. Hang on... what am I saying... Google... Apple... etc...

No.4.  Fahrenheit 451: "A screenagers paradise" with physical books almost dead this is a post-literate world where digital is all. For some reason in this scenario libraries struggle due to funding cuts and in desperation they start mental health gyms, screening rooms and download centres... This one is just too disparate for me. I like the first part but predictably I don't like the second part.

What else is in the works 'out there'? ARL is embarking on a scenario planning project for research libraries and plan on releasing a report in Oct/Nov this year. They claim "Each scenario will tell a different plausible story that starts at the current state and takes the reader out into highly divergent future situations of research libraries". From what I can see this project looks really constrained. They refer the Bookends Scenarios and a UK project exploring academic library of the future scenarios. Can't wait to see what these projects come up with.

There are many blogs about the future of libraries and various aspects of the future such as information literacy, ebooks, mobile devices, etc.. etc... So what do I think? Well, in case you haven't seen it yet, check out my post on my presentation from VALA this year with Mal Booth and Belinda Tiffen. The most popular video from the presentation is above. We made it ourselves as an homage to the commoncraft videos. But on top of that, here are some general observations that I think will help people slide into the future... Don't get stuck on definitions or semantics. The future is coming no matter what you call it. Be prepared to constantly change and learn. Experiment and be creative. Staffing and spaces will be flexible and lines will be blurred between work and play. Services will be 24/7 and mobile. Library spaces will be social, comfortable, well lit, safe, full of facilities and tech know how. In other words - who wouldn't want to be there? It's not about the technology - which will always change. It's about the social practices of us 'humans' that determine the direction the future will take.


  1. Interesting scenarios. Number 4 sounds like the most likely one to me, although I'd like to hope the 'post literate' part of it manages to remain untrue. TV didn't kill literacy, and I can't see the internet doing it either. But the other parts of it feel reasonable to me; the idea of info-kiosks in supermarkets, etc. rather than libraries seems plausible to me.

  2. Mental health gyms. How fabulous. I've got a picture of lazy people like me lying back on beds and visualising little hamsters in our brains and getting them onto a wheel for a little stimulation.

    Seriously, I think one thing we pessimists and optimists can meet is your statement "The future is coming no matter what you call it. Be prepared to constantly change and learn." Let's get on and live what comes.