Tuesday Night Deep Thought: Information Future?

Today I found myself pondering the following question:

“Where will information content be in five years? Ten years?”

And after a long bout of deliberation this evening, I couldn’t really come up with an answer. I think that’s part of our professional problem, really. I can’t think of one person who has more than the most speculative of an educated guess. I’m sure there are some who might read this and take umbrage at this statement, thinking that they are or know someone who could provide an answer. But my guess is that if we were to take the answers, seal them in an envelope, place them in a time capsule, and open them in five or ten years, they would be mostly (if not completely) wrong. (There could be a wager in this, I reckon.)

In thinking about the future, I did a survey of the past. I took a look at some of the sites I use now (and some related ones) to acquire a proverbial snapshot at what existed, what just started, and what was yet to be five years ago. Here are the results:

  • Established five or more years ago: Amazon, Blogger, Livejournal, Delicious, StumbleUpon, Google Picasa, LinkedIn, Wikipedia, WordPress, LISNews, TinyURL.
  • Infancy/just started five years ago: Gmail, Facebook, Bebo, Flickr, Yelp, Netvibes, Ning, Reddit, Library Thing, Digg, Kayak, Vimeo, Newsvine, Renren (formerly Xiaonei; it’s the world’s largest social network based in China).
  • Didn’t exist five years ago: Google Calendar, Reader, & Maps; YouTube, Twitter, Friendfeed, Tumblr, Diigo, Foursquare, Jaiku, Plurk, Good Reads, Brightkite, Scribd, Hulu, Fancast.

This doesn’t mention the leaps in technologies like mobile phones (iPhone, 2008) or e-readers (Kindle, 2007) within this time period, nevermind the announcements of the last few months (the iPad and the Nook). Nor does it include the general decline in printed newspaper and periodical readership that has trended during this time period. And, to toss something else into the mix, it doesn’t account for the change in design of library spaces that make them more community oriented (this would be more of something of the last ten to fifteen years, give or take).

There is simply a lot of things going on; too much, I believe, for anyone to grasp in terms of the big picture. And I think it’s time that the librarian community admits that we really don’t know where exactly information content is going to end up in that time. Sure, we can say where it will be in the short short scale of maybe a year, perhaps two, but beyond that is lost to us.

Am I wrong?

(Edit: Fixed a spelling mistake.)

8 thoughts on “Tuesday Night Deep Thought: Information Future?

  1. Before we can even consider the answers, we need more librarian, teachers, and admin staff to consider the questions we should be asking. It’s getting past the time for the discussion to be limited to folks like you and I… Maybe we need to begin thinking more loudly?

    • Thanks, a good link for the purposes of this discussion. Although, to play skeptic, even they are not united in how they think the internet is going to look.

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  3. I loved reading this post, because it shows that you want to be relevant as an information professional. Asking the questions about how to be relevant is the first step to becoming so. You aren’t wrong. No, we cannot know what the information future holds. We can, however, take an approach to this as a library community that strives to overcome the “I don’t know” problem using what we have learned and what we do know.

    1. Have a long term strategy, but short term goals. The library’s true mission hasn’t really changed. (Connecting people to information, knowledge, reading, each other and enjoyment of the materials and services we offer.) The what, why and how we deliver those services changes all the time. Short term goals allow us to offer services that address the needs of “now.”

    2. Set up structures that allow for quick, seamless implementations. The old library way of spending a year on a committee talking about a change just doesn’t work anymore. Put it out there. If it doesn’t work, try something else. My library recently changed our reserve notification and renewal system. The system wasn’t providing due dates. Believe me, we heard from our customers right away. Our Digital Strategy department was able to work with the vendor and fix the issue in less than a week. I believe we were able to do this because we asked the right questions at the beginning. Questions such as, “How quickly can/will this vendor respond to our needs and make changes?” If we can’t work in a way that allows us to implement and make changes quickly, we will always be behind the curve.

    3. Set up structures that create the forum for timely review of what you are doing. “Just because we were doing this 6 months ago, is it still relevant?” If you don’t have a structure for taking another look at things pretty regularly, you are going to miss the opportunity to replace what you were doing with something better or to change the way you do it to make it more relevant.

    4. Stay connected and listen. Spend time where other professionals and your customers are talking about what’s new, what’s next, what they are learning, how they are using technology, what is important to them and how they are using or providing services. It is worth the time it takes to do this, but it can be a challenge. Use the talent of passionate people who love to be in the conversation. Have different people spend time in different places and then find a way to bring that knowledge together and share it.

    5. Think in the temporary instead of the permanent when designing spaces and selecting furniture and fixtures. You might need 35 stations for a desktop PC today, but a few years from now, it is likely that laptops or other devices will be the norm. Maybe your fiction collection needs 10 ranges today, but a few years from now more people are downloading books and the browsing collection is smaller. Selecting items that can easily be adapted to changing needs is just smart planning.

    I have seen a lot of success taking this approach. Your thoughts?

    • Great comment. I agree the issue isn’t so much predicting what’s going to happen but having a plan for responding to what does happen. Superficially it sounds reactive instead of proactive, but really it’s more about being proactive about how you react (if that makes sense).

    • 1. Agreed.

      2. I would prefer more examination in implementing changes like that. You could get away with simply throwing some things out there, but a ton of variables really need to be addressed. Ideally, before it is released, it examine patron need/desire and how to bring staff on board or generate staff awareness. During the release, how is it being marketed advertised? What do staff need to know (word of mouth, training, simple awareness)? You really want to give something the best chance if you are going to put time/money/energy into it.

      And, if it doesn’t work, why didn’t it work? Is there a autopsy? You want to know whether or not something is worthwhile in the future (bad timing), whether it is something that should never be attempted again, or even whether it was just simply a bad implementation.

      3. Agreed. It reminds me of the Ed Koch campaign commercial “How am I doing?”.

      4. I think I have this well covered. And I forward stuff to staff as I find it. =D

      5. I think when it comes to design, reactionary is certainly the safer strategy. With the constant evaluation that you are advocating, it might keep things in step. I don’t think anyone really anticipates the library being in step with most trends; it’s not that we can’t, we just have our focus on what we are doing right now to serve the community.

      Insofar as less computers and less books, I think there is certainly a caveat “your mileage may vary”. Libraries serving poorer communities will have computers and wide selection as their bread and butter. Laptops and downloadable content will be available to the patrons and the libraries that can afford it.

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