Surviving LFF

I think I have LFF: Library Future Fatigue.

Maybe it came from catching the some of the tweets from the invite-only “Libraries From Now On:  Imagining the Future” Summit last week. This is not to be confused with The Future of Libraries (by the epic concern trolling tagline, Do We Have Five Years to Live?) that was also last week nor the The Future of Libraries Survival Summit last month. Reaching further back, there is also Reinventing Libraries presented by The Digital Shift. I’m willing to bet that a variation of the word future has appeared in the theme of a state or regional conference or at a minimum the name of a library conference program.

Perhaps I’m just overly sensitive to the term at the moment since I will be keynoting a spring workshop in which the theme is “Gearing Up for the Future”. While I’m excited for the opportunity to speak, part of my brain is making a sour face punctuated with gestures and saying, “This future crap again?”. [Don’t worry, Courtney, that part of my brain will be VERY VERY quiet during the talk. –A] But it doesn’t feel like I could swing a cat embroidered cardigan without hitting some person or event in which the future of libraries isn’t playing a prominent feature in their writing or activities. I know I’ve written and made my own predications about the future of libraries or specific trends, but this just feels like an avalanche.

What’s the deal here? What is the impetus for this crystal ball (navel) gazing that has sparked a cottage industry of conferences and a slew of writing on the topic? Is there a shortage in the world’s supply of library planning skills that needs to be addressed?

I know I’m being unfair there. These are serious and sincere people working towards a common goal and so I’m not trying to belittle their intent or efforts. To be more reasonable here, the last twenty years have put libraries on notice for community expectations with the innovations of communication and technology. Glancing back over the previous ten years, it’s hard not to wonder what the next ten years will bring.

But lately the output from those writings, summits, and conferences have left me feeling cold. The impression that I get from these things is that the emphasis is placed on things (makerspaces, collaborative spaces, eBooks, etc.) rather than people (librarians, library staff). While one could say that the people are instrumental in making or accessing these materials or services, to me it doesn’t seem to emphasize anything that is unique to the librarian skillset. It feels like things are being pushed with the idea that the people will follow; and magically, those people in the future will be librarians who just happen to have those ideal skills. To me that’s a big gamble and one that leaves the profession vulnerable to the quagmire that is the question, “You need a master’s degree to do that?” It feels like an calculated investment in the institution with the hopes that the profession falls in behind.

Maybe it’s our allegiance to alphabetical order, but have we placed the Cart before the Horse? The oft repeated line revolves around how we are people who serve others, but how does that measure up in a future in which technology gets the spotlight?

10 thoughts on “Surviving LFF

  1. “the emphasis is placed on things rather than people…” sounds like a lovely new series of blog posts for you! How would YOU futureproof the profession, starting with librarians?

  2. I think there’s another human element that needs to go before these carts and horses. Libraries are primarily about serving a public, and before we start thinking about things or staff, we need to raise some serious questions about how we fill a need in the public landscape. Once we’ve done that (and find a way to keep doing that), then do we fill in that space with library workers and shiny technologies. That puts the pressure on identifying demonstrated need, and making sure the audience that uses what we provide has a voice in the process.

  3. putting the focus on things really eliminates the high cost of staff, cause hey, volunteers!

    and the focus on people: it’s one reason I’ve shifted from talking about collections to how libraries assist with findability, in and out of the collection (readers advisory).

    the cynical part of me notes that most future predictions overlap with the individual’s own preferences and favorites. I have yet to hear a heavy reader predict the end of the book. Most people saying twitter is over are those who were never fans. etc.

  4. cat-embroidered cardigan – I love it!

    “To inform and inspire people of all ages and to improve our community’s quality of life” – Newburgh Free Library Mission Statement Anne McCarthy Kennedy, MLS Head of Access Services Newburgh Free Library – 124 Grand Street – Newburgh, NY 12550 (email) kenna@rcls.org (ph) 845.563.3610 (fx) 845.563.3696

  5. “To inform and inspire people of all ages and to improve our community’s quality of life” . Now there is a starting point of a skill set for librarians. What can make that happen?

  6. Librarians need to remember that despite a need to talk about the future, we need to work in the NOW. All this dreaming of new, future, next is great as long as today is in good order. I think for many libraries some basics are inadequate or don’t exist at all (color printing–shocking the number of libraries without a color printing or copying option).

    As to the people vs things discussion–never have I seen an industry that distrusts and dislikes it’s employees so much! It’s shameful–people are the most costly asset of any organization in any industry. They should also be the most valued, most important, and most innovative. That was a common statement in the private sector–our people are our most important asset. Here in NJ in the public sector, it seems that ‘our people are our most expendable, loathsome, and lazy asset” is a much more common sentiment.

  7. Interesting: I felt some of the same sense of ennui after coming back from UKSG and ERL; that after the mega movement of print to digital, and the controversies around Open Access, there seems to be a bit of a “What’s the Next Big Thing” vacuum. Don’t get me wrong – still a large number of operational details to be worked out, especially in managing the hybrid content development and access economy, not to mention perennial funding concerns – but not the sense of groundbreaking excitement I’ve seen in earlier years.

    • I would argue that all changes that affect libraries since the advent of personal computers and the Internet have been incremental in nature. That was the true revolution of our time and everything else pales in comparison.

  8. Pingback: Future? Libraries? What Now? – After the ALA Summit on the Future of Libraries – Library Hat

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