Sometimes I think it pointless to plan too much for the future as it doesn’t exist yet and we have absolutely no way of predicting how it will pan out. Listening to the point of view of ecologists, who warn us that we have passed peak oil and have caused irreconcilable damage to the planet, there is little doubt that the future will mean enormous change to the way we live whether we like it or not. In fact the less change that we make now (from small things like recycling and eating less meat to much bigger changes, like changing our whole worldview and the way we perceive the natural world )the more change we will be forced to make in the future. At the moment though, few people are interested in learning about ecology being preoccupied instead with the economy. Too often care for the environment is seen as getting in the way of economic growth. Of course with so many people unemployed, economic growth is all most people are hoping for!
I was therefore interested to see in the 21st Century Libraries reading that one of the drivers of change in our thinking of library buildings and services is environmental sustainability. Not only are libraries excellent examples of the sustainable practise of reuse but they also provide access to quality information regarding environmental issues. But the most important aspect of the library’s role for the future, as far as I can see is its emphasis on community. All of the environmental initiatives that I have seen happen over the years, from community organic gardens to housing and food co-operatives have all been grounded in the concept of community. And if people are going to come together to make positive sustainable change within their community, what better place than the library to do it!
I’ve talked about the changing role of libraries and the potential for change within libraries in previous blogs so I feel that I haven’t got much more to add on the subject although on the other hand I feel that there is too much to say! There are many different points of view regarding the future of libraries and I can see truth in them all. I think the most important things for future LIS professionals to keep in mind will be to keep abreast of current ICT developments, to constantly look for opportunities for improvement, change and collaboration and to teach library users how to best search for and find quality information.
There is so much change and uncertainty going on in the LIS world that it can be overwhelming and sometimes disheartening: Many of the main ebook publishers are refusing to allow libraries to loan their books; plenty of libraries are experiencing drastic cuts to their budgets and circulation figures are down in academic libraries. A lot of the news these days is bad news.
But every now and again I’ll come across an article or topic that gets me hopeful and excited about the future of libraries and the last few weeks reading have done just that.
I really liked the reading this week and the concept of designing rather than finding a solution to a problem. I think that for too long libraries have been perceived in the traditional way and the majority of people out there believe that they no longer have a use for a library because they still associate it with solely being about ‘brand book’. In fact a lot of the people I know are actually afraid to visit their public library as they don’t feel welcomed. My own public libraries ‘reference desk’ is not advertised as so, and few patrons realise that the librarian is sitting there to be of help as opposed to sitting there because she is super busy, so they are afraid to bother her. I love the idea of design thinking and can see so many potential small design changes in my local library, such as improved signage and more interactive website features that would make a huge difference to the over all library user experience.
I remember the lecturer in one of the modules I did last semester ‘Leadership and Change Management’ saying that for a business to succeed it needs to constantly reassess it’s goals and to look for opportunities to change even when business seems to be going good because the time will inevitably come when the business will be forced to change. I think that time has definitely come for libraries and by reading about the concept of ‘library 2.0’, which calls for a paradigm shift and urges for transformational change on a deep level, I can see that the LIS community is certainly thinking about these things but what I can’t understand is that few people outside the LIS community are aware of the changing role of libraries. When I told a guy the other day that I was studying library and information studies he thought for a moment and then said ‘I suppose that’d be a nice career if you like reading books and stuff.’!
So I really like the idea of getting out there and observing and interviewing library users and non-library users and trying to come up with designs to best offer them the services they need. Then maybe LIS professionals will be able to work with the community to redesign the library’s role in the community, and people will no longer think that I librarian sits around reading books all day!
This week our class readings centred around the Information Use Environment or IUE which Taylor (1991) defines as “the social context or setting within which people live or work”. It was something I had never heard of or thought about before so it was interesting to read, although admittedly a bit challenging and lofty. Taylor notes that our Information Use Environment affects the way that we find and use information and he tries to develop a framework for examining IUE’s. He finds that different groups of people have different approaches to how they find and use information but the one thing they have in common is that they turn to other people for information. I thought this was interesting as it really emphasises the importance of the community – that no matter how much we communicate and find information virtually, people still prefer to interact with other people and it is their preferred method of finding information. So many of the libraries services are becoming virtual from renewing books to asking reference questions – it can all be done on-line and this is becoming more common, I just hope that in the future we don’t move to far away from the people aspect of LIS services as it’s one of the main attractions of the job for me!
The next article on the reading list examined community problem solving in public libraries using Taylor IUE framework. The article focuses on Hartford Public Library and it’s attempts to help solve the problems of the community. The HPL librarians became active members of the community and joined neighbourhood teams meaning that they had to go out and get involved in community affairs instead of just waiting for the community to come to them. This helped them to shed light on the communities information needs by actually being in the problem-solving environment. This approach reminded me of what Carol Maddock said at the NLI talk on social media use -that before the use of social media the NLI were relying on people seeking them out as opposed to being where people already are. This again stresses the importance of community engagement and gives me hope that the future LIS professional will not be a faceless worker behind a computer screen.
The final article we looked at put across a very interesting idea and one that I had heard of before. It proposed a new role for the public librarian – to advise the community on best practise of organising and archiving their digital objects for sharing with the community for the future. It’s a really interesting idea and before starting the MLIS I had never properly thought about how digital photography, email and social networking will affect the historical records of future generations. We are lucky enough to have the National Library and Museums and other memory institutions to protect the vast wealth of artifacts that our ancestors have left us. But unless our digital artifacts are properly organised they will be lost to future generations. The idea of public libraries helping the community to impose order on their digital objects is fantastic and absolutely necessary. The ‘third order of order’ has so many possibilities for how we organise information but unless people actually begin to embrace the third order of order then so much of our local cultural heritage will be lost which would be such a shame.
The articles for this week got me thinking of the LIS professional role in a whole new light and got me feeling nearly positive about the future! Here is a link to a discussion on the future of the public library that I found through This Week in Libraries discussion group. The speaker, Eli Neiburger sees the public library’s future as a platform for the community to experience unique experiences and to host unique content and place less emphasis on having the ‘hot’new book. He thinks this is the only future of the public library or else witness the slow decline of circulation content. I think this idea ties in nicely with this weeks readings.
Having set up my Personal Learning Network by subscribing to Google Reader blogs I am becoming more of the current issues that library and information professional are facing. There has been a lot of talk about the changing roles of both public and academic libraries. State funding has been cut in Californian public Libraries and circulation patterns are declining in academic libraries. The Free-range Librarian blogged about how the future role of the academic library is that of a sanctuary. Not as in a place that is eternally quite but somewhere that is steeped in the symbolism associated with libraries – where people feel safe reading, studying and doing research. This trend can be seen in UCD libraries where a very small percentage of the stock is in circulation and most people visit the library to study and write assignment. The future of the public library is seen as taking on the role of the 21st century community centre where people can gather and learn and be creative. So if this is the future of the academic and public library – as sanctuaries and community centres then there will not be a need for librarians and information professionals to work in these places as the job can just as easily be done by a none professionals. Of course the people who work in these future libraries will need to have many skills but they don’t necessarily have to be trained in information services. So what is the future for the trained librarian and information professional?
Well it seems that while the future of library buildings will move away from the traditional role of lending books the future of library services is another matter. With the introduction of e-books and journals a lot of library services have gone online. In fact the NLI virtual library visits now exceed actual visits and most of the information students need in academic libraries can now be found in virtual form. The people who run these online services will still need to have professional qualifications and will need to keep up to date with changing technology.
I’m really only starting to become familiar with the issues the profession faces and am finding subscribing to blogs to be a great way of keeping up to date. I keep hearing that in order for the profession to survive librarians themselves need to clearly express why the services they offer are so important but there are so many different kinds of librarians who work in different kinds of libraries and offer different services that they all seem to be affected by different issues. For an MLIS student like me with limited experience in a few areas of library work I’m not sure if it’s better to focus on a specific area of the information profession to become very knowledgeable about or to try to make my focus as general as possible considering the state of the current jobs market. Hopefully the next few classes and keeping up to date with my PLN will help me to see things more clearly!