Re: Nothing is the Future, ctd.

Some of the commenters to Wayne Bivens-Tatum’s post “Nothing is the Future” seem to be under the odd impression that his post is an response to Library 2.0/101. It could be one till you get to the last paragraph of his post.

I’ve used "mobile" just as one example. The same could be said of various service or organization models. You can plug in any term you want, and know that when anyone tells you that thing is "the future," they’re wrong. And to be clear, my criticism isn’t of any particular services or trends. If there’s a new, popular way for librarians to communicate with or reach out to library users, by all means librarians should adopt it, or at least experiment with it. My criticism is the hype and the reductionism, and the implied claim that some librarians really know what the future holds, and that it just happens to be centered around whatever they happen to like at the moment. Maybe they’re convincing themselves, but they’re not convincing me.

(Emphasis mine.)

From the bolded text, Mr. Bivens-Tatum is addressing all forms of library future hyperbole. While Library 2.0/101 make an excellent target for such criticism, the logic presented also makes an excellent case for the librarians who are overly cautious and/or completely rejecting minor changes to the practice and profession (e.g. the people who make the overzealous argument that rejects any new service, program, event, material, web tool, or website based on their own biases without patron consideration or input). It’s a dangerous, dismissive, and ultimately untenable position to maintain in this information-communication revolution. It’s antithetical of the evolution of knowledge and ultimately critical of anyone working on better content delivery, regardless of their means and methods. If the zealotry of the web 2.0 techno-narcissists with their grand prophetic-like innovation announcements is bad, then their counterpart in the sneering cynical criticisms of pompous ludbrarians[1] rejecting deviance from the status quo is equally harmful for rational forward looking discourse.

(To provide a visualization of how I am seeing this, I made up a simple chart.)

4327174388_3031ab946b_b[1]

I count myself in the middle of this chart, perhaps with a leaning towards the right end. The middle sentence between the two bolded ones in the quotation holds more of the essence of the “change in the library” conversation that I’m interested in. It is about watching and listening to what patrons are doing and saying and then providing materials and services that work towards or meet their expressed needs. If I can provide both a low tech or a high tech solution, who gives a damn which is used so long as there is a solution? I am beholden to the end result (patron with need satisfied), not the process that achieved it.

Tim Spalding in the Thingology blog makes an excellent concluding point in his reply to the Academic Librarian post, stating:

It says something that hasn’t been said before as well. But if it prompts librarians to dismiss technology’s impact on the future of libraries, it will do great harm. Instead, I hope people use your essay as a way to "kick it up a notch" intellectually, get past the small stuff and confront the very real changes ahead.

(Emphasis mine.)

I couldn’t agree more. It’s really time to get past the crap, get over our hang-ups, and talk like adults. This divisiveness that has been generated is really beneath a profession who values the free exchange of ideas. Let’s start acting like it.

[1] Luddite + Librarian = Ludbrarians.

Re: Nothing is the Future

This is a reaction post of “Nothing is the Future” by Wayne Bivens-Tatum (Academic Librarian).

While my astute professional peer makes excellent points concerning the hyperbole in library technology trends, I feel that there is an excellent lesson to his post: while librarians can and should act as leaders for their patrons, they should also be followers and listeners. I see librarians as bridging the gap between the past and future, interacting on a medium of the patron’s choosing. While we should have an eye to emerging technologies to gauge their development and adoption by society as a whole, it behooves us to remain mindful of the established and accepted communication mediums. Yes, there are marvels of the digital age and certainly things that librarians should be aware of[1], but it is folly to set sights constantly on the horizon to the detriment of what currently exists and works.

In following, it is not for our patrons to take us to a brand new technologies, but to remind us of the merits of existing ones. As Mr. Bivens-Tatum simply states, people still interact with the library using letters, telephone, and other last established technologies. There should be no rush to usher to declare these mediums dead in the favor of what holds the current fancy of the technological vanguard. In listening to what patrons want and use, we are performing the most basic function of the library: giving people what they actually asking for. Simply put, it is the act of matching the demand that the patrons have articulated to us as a wanted and desired material or service.

To this end, my take on Mr. Bivens-Tatum’s blog title would change it to “People are the Future”. In the greater picture, our existence is constantly in their hands. At the local level, they will always (hopefully) tell us what can be done to meet their needs. Whether this is a mobile app or extended weekend hours, only the community that we serve can answer that question. People are the future for libraries, for they are the ones who dictate our services, programs, collections, and, ultimately, our fates.

 

[1] Personally, I don’t take all of the Library 101 RTK list literally. I don’t think that librarians need to know how Hulu works (to use the most infamous example), but the important takeaway is that this presents a trend of television on demand via the internet (something very worthy of notice as all forms of television and movie content make their way to online). Same goes for a lot of the named products, sites, and items on that list. The 101 RTK list gives an excellent heads-up to some of the emerging trends in information and communication.

Rainy Friday Musing

Image by Chaval Brasil/Flickr

I had texted it, used it as a reply on Facebook, tweeted it, so I figured I might as well blog it.

Be like the stars: shine brightly, burn passionately, and let your light radiate for a long time after you are gone.

I really need to start looking at the projects I have rolling around in my head and start working on some of them.

=D

To Boldly Go…

Image by darkmatter/Flickr Last month, there was the widely reported story about a private school in Massachusetts that removed all of its books from its library. (I’ve written about it before here.) Later, it became clear that other departments had the chance to take books from the collection before the rest were removed. There was a lot of discussion in the online library community about the move and brought up the integral question: can a library exist without books?

For those who can’t imagine a library without books, that kind of future has already been visualized. This was my recent epiphany watching reruns of Star Trek: The Next Generation on Sci-Fi (I refuse to call it SyFy). As I watched the crew of the Enterprise deal with the episode’s problem, I could not help but notice the use of handheld devices, people reading nearly exclusively from monitors during their down time, and a computer system of near infinite cultural material storage and retrieval. And so here it was on the screen in front of me: a popular, highly regarded vision of a future space based society and nary a book to be found. The few books that do appear are highly prized personal possessions described by their owner as having been passed down from other family members or some other sentimental reason. No one ever appears to use their fabulous replicator technology to have a book created. They are content to use their view screens or handheld devices to do any reading. There is no ship library nor librarian nor even a information officer on a space ship that was reported to carry over 1,000 people. It simply did not exist within the confines of the Star Trek universe. And yet, it is an advanced and complex thriving intellectual and curious society that continues to push the boundaries of knowledge.

Of course, it’s a science fiction series, not an actual depiction of the future. But what may seem depressing to some who read this, I see the ultimate in information interfaces. Upon second glance, this future meets some of the very needs that we want for our customers now. Information is instant, free, and on demand. The computer acts as a reference librarian with a vast database of all forms of knowledge; a person can make factual inquiries as well as user defined analytical requests as well. The holodecks take visual learning and content immersion to a whole new level of information presentation. The closest we get to this future vision is the handheld reading devices of the 1987 series that have an eerie resemblance to the modern handheld e-reader devices. And I would guess that someone has to program the computer and instruct it how to store and organize information lest the whole system become too unwieldy.

The truth of this future vision is that the entity of the library has wholly integrated itself into the daily lives of society. (Or, to take the line from that awesome library video, “everywhere is here”.) There is no need for a library as its own space when access is universal at the personal level. Effectively, in this future vision, librarians have been put out of business by a society that has realized the goals that we strive for now. Can this presentation of the 23rd century be any more of a positive reinforcement of the principles and goals of librarianship?

While I was writing this, I couldn’t help but think about Steven Bell’s article on the Library Journal website, “We need a new Sputnik”. While he was addressing the future research function in academic libraries, it really got me thinking about the types of changes that should be considered for the future public library. I’m going to think about it for now since it deserves its own post. But it has certainly lit my imagination afire with the promise and potential. How can we go from where we are now to make this aspect of a future vision a reality?

The Library Deconstructed

Photo by svenwerk/Flickr In ruminating on a post on Librarian By Day, I was sitting in the back of the Children’s section of the county library surrounded by rows and rows of books. The hum of the highway behind me is constant on this busy county road as is the sounds of kids and parents navigating the stacks. For a brief moment, alone at one of the work tables in the back, I thought to myself, “What if these books weren’t here? What would take their place?” It’s the ultimate of blank slates. What would you put there? Print? Computers? Reading spaces? Meeting spaces? A coffee bar? What is the new “now” for libraries in design and function?

Personally, I fear that some of my peers would be so distraught by such a dramatic loss of the print collection that they would be paralyzed from seizing the opportunity to innovate the space. This blind allegiance and reliance to a medium would completely sully any sort of exercise in library design, even a fancy of the imagination such as this one. I’m not completely insensitive to their preferences, but for defenders of intellectual freedom, it seems odd to ask for some open mindedness when it comes to our own physical holdings and locations.

But rather than dwell on a space without books, another thought occurred to me. “Where is the real point of contact between patrons and our materials?” While patrons come to us for what they seek, we are but a simple middleman in the process. The real point of contact, in my opinion, is the manner in which people absorb information. The connection of eye and print or picture, of ear and audio, and for some, touch; this is where the library experience is complete. These are the types of transactions we are facilitating. All the debate about what the library space is (should we have coffee bars, ‘loud rooms’, video games, and so forth) melts away into background noise as it reduces everything down to the commodity that we harbor: information, pure and simple. This is the bond we help create, to protect, to nurture, and to teach. And, for myself, this is the distilled essence of the profession.

And it is why I love what I do so very much.

We encourage the people who come to the library to be a blank slate for new authors, new stories, new ideas, and new worlds. We should not fail to apply that advice to ourselves. In helping others establish and maintain their own connections to our holdings, our own attitudes towards the mediums should remain fluid. We owe it to ourselves and the proud tradition we maintain. And, like the concepts and imaginings that pass by as we walk through the library, we owe it to them. Let the flourish in as many ways possible, for no medium is a master over ideas. And ideas, like the paper they are printed on, the people who take care of them or digital space they are stored on, and the buildings that house all of these things, will outlive us. But they rely on us to find them new homes in the minds of our patrons. That is what is important, that is what endures, and that is what sparks the human mind.

Hide & Seek

One of my coworkers and I have been working on a fun project for our library over the last couple of weeks. We are creating a geocache to house within the library. (Short explanation: geocaching is a sport in which participants use handheld GPS to locate hidden bins or boxes in any setting. The cache has (at the very least) a ledger to sign; it might have items to exchange, things to do to get credit for finding it, or have clues to other geocaches. For more explanation, here’s the website.) I got the idea for this from one of the “books” my grandmother had on her bookshelf. It’s one of those hollowed out books that you can put small items and valuables into. While I won’t reveal the phony title and name (so that people who might stumble upon this can enjoy the search), here are some pictures to give you a better idea of what it looks like.

 

 

The books as it looks while closed. Note the tape on  the lower left spine. We put a shelf tag on it to make it look like everything else!

 

 

 

 

And here’s the inside, complete with ledger and pen. We have more things to add to the inside, but the basics are there for the moment.

 

 

 

Over the next couple of days, we’ll get the finishing touches on it and shelve it. I’m curious to see who comes to visit it! It’s a unique fun feature for the library, that’s for certain. =D

Library Beyond Print

Photo by ~ Phil Moore/Flickr At the end of last week, there was an article in the Boston Globe talking about a prep school discarding all of their books and converting the library into an information center, complete with Kindles & Sony E-readers, plasma televisions streaming internet video, and coffee bar. Most notably in the article, the headmaster sees books as “an outdated technology, like scrolls before books”. The reaction on Twitter (where the article was linked to me) was mostly sadness and outrage at the decision. (Here’s a quick search regarding it.) I can’t say that my gut reaction wasn’t along those lines; but the more I think about it, the more such a decision makes sense to me.

From the collection development point of view, a non-fiction collection represents a static snapshot of the world as it understood at that moment. In general, from the moment a non-fiction book is printed, the information within starts becoming obsolete. On a long enough time line, this book will be replaced by a new one that reflects the new research, new understandings, and/or new information that has been uncovered on a subject. I will concede that some subjects are going to remain unchanged barring a revolutionary breakthrough. However, when it comes to non-fiction of dynamic subjects such as modern events, science, economics, computers, art, and sports, static print will inevitably be outdated on a regular basis. Within my own library system, parts of our print reference collection are being replaced by virtual reference library. The contemporary nature of subscription services and reference materials on a host of subjects (such as the ones I have named) make a virtual reference collection preferable to a print collection so as to reflect the most up to date information and make it universally available across all of our branches.

In terms of examining a fiction collection from a collection development point of view, the move by the prep school confuses me. Fiction literature, unlike its non-fiction counterpart, does not carry the burden of being dynamic and up to date. Why not keep print copies of the great classics, for they will always be the same? Keeping a print copy on hand couldn’t be that bad, could it? But I think the issue is beyond a collection one; this passage from the article was very telling to me:

School officials said when they checked library records one day last spring only 48 books had been checked out, and 30 of those were children’s books.

In my mind, it turns the issue into a circulation one. As I work on weeding our non-fiction collection at my branch, I’m looking at numbers as a factor as to whether or not I remove a book from the collection. (Don’t worry, it’s not the only factor.) But within your own library, if you have a book that doesn’t circulate, isn’t that the first step towards weeding it from the collection? In this drastic case, all of the books got weeded as one for anemic circulation numbers.

(Aside: In talking about this with The Unquiet Librarian, we are both left with the question: Where is the school librarian in all of this? I would presume under a gag order from the school, but there is no mention of a library staff member from the headmaster or the article. I would be curious what part this person has in the conversion process, if any.)

I think this type of move by a school is intriguing enough to see how it goes; an experiment, if you will. But I think the real question that librarians and library professionals should be asking themselves is this: are we married to a medium or a message? If we fight to preserve books for the sake of books, are we adding argument to our own irrelevancy? Nowhere in the article is it stated that reading is being discouraged; in fact, there is a distinct impression by one of the commenters that using online or e-readers is a second class citizen of reading. (William Powell: ““There are modes of learning and thinking that at the moment are only available from actual books,’’ he said. “There is a kind of deep-dive, meditative reading that’s almost impossible to do on a screen. Without books, students are more likely to do the grazing or quick reading that screens enable, rather than be by themselves with the author’s ideas.’’) To this point, I cannot agree. It is the words that matter, not the medium on which they are found. An idea does not morph or mutate when it moves from print to screen; only the form of the messenger that relays them.

It is my belief that one of my purposes as a librarian is connect a patron to the literature or information of what they desire regardless of the medium. If a patron wants something in a non-print format (audio, e-book, or video), then I should do my best to get it to them in their preferred format. To outright defend the removal of the print medium regardless of the underlying facts and circumstances is a rehearsal of one’s own prejudices against words found in forms other than print. Librarians are for intellectual freedom with no stipulation as to how the mental investigative process runs; in that capacity, we should look to champion such an ideal in all possible mediums, regardless of our personal preferences.

The strength of the future library collection is not in the total numbers of titles owned, but the number of different formats materials in the collection come in. The book will never die, but the printed page that it is most commonly found in may fade into the background as the paperless book revolution marches forward. This is an exciting time as the barriers to information access crumble away with each technological innovation cycle. This is a time to innovate our services and materials to match this future need.

Photo by antonio.tombolini/Flickr

Right Here, Right Now

This little gem of a YouTube clip came across my Google Reader as a gift from a fellow librarian blog, The MLX Experience. A video on social media set to a Fatboy Slim song? Yes please!

I wouldn’t say that the content surprised me but it did affirm some of my personal hunches. (I would be interested to know where some of the statistics cited originated.) I was surprised that it was a teaser for a book; a four minute ad entertained me when most thirty second ads bore me. Perhaps it because I am the target audience for the ad, but that is is a whole different issue.

The big takeaway for myself from this video is the word “mobile”. Not simply that libraries need to be on cell phones, but that we should be converting our content delivery to be completely mobile. We can create a deeper partnership with the USPS to expand delivery of books, music, and movies to their homes. We can create social network presences to field reference questions on the web and text. We should utilize all of the communication, all of the delivery methods, and all of the social networks to makes library content as widely available as possible.

This is not a call for the physical dismantling of the library, but a revision of how we do business. The flip side of this equation is making the library a true destination, a place where patrons are rewarded with events, classes, and those things that do not translate through the mail or the web. And it has to be personal, from how they are treated to the sitting areas to the computer lounges. While this last part might be a sacrifice to utility, there must be emphasis on the patron experience. This new world of social connection demands it, for to ignore the potential reputation damage would be folly.

Like this website, like the program I used to compose this post, like the computer I am using to write these words, all of the tools are available to make this happen. We just need to put it together.

Enjoy the Silence

Photo by SuvikoThere’s an opinion piece on the Christian Science Monitor website that’s been making the rounds on Twitter and various RSS feeds. A librarian in Texas by the name of William H. Wisner wrote an opinion piece called “Restore the noble purpose of libraries”. And if I read it correctly, the library needs to (1) restore the silence of the library by removing any technology that makes any noise, including ones carried by patrons; (2) remove any form of visual, audio, or interactive technology from the children’s section; (3) librarians need to learn books to the point of oral recitation, regardless of specialty; (4) comes to grips with the fact that libraries are popular because they are free despite our professional ethics which tout that we provide access to all regardless of their ability to provide supporting payment; and (5) that we stop being “information scientists” and start being scholars again through rote memorization of printed materials so we can once again love and defend our societal purpose.

Or, the funnier way of summarizing his article:

I need to stop prostituting myself, learn Middle English, write humorous non-existent interviews with celebrities who used to date while handing out beverages to make the library “personalized” again and restore the public trust.

Either way you look at it, it’s a strange theory.

To his credit, I will now grin like an idiot while I’m refilling the paper to the printer. While I whore myself to the paper beast, I will relish in the idea that the reason the printer is empty is that people decided to print out timely  and relevant information and take it with them. Quite frankly, that’s all the more reason to construct library based mobile applications so that people can reach the same information on their noisy cell phone or noisy laptop. Or more reason for me to teach classes so that people learn how to use all of the library sources from home so they can print on their own paper. Or just embrace a combined format approach that yields the best resource or information regardless of the medium. Or, heck, for that matter, I’ll give them whatever literature work they want in whatever format they want: print, large print, even audio!

By my own admission, I’m not much of a reader. So I will confess that all of these new audio, video, and interactive technologies for children make me pretty jealous. I really had to struggle with reading, not because I was bad at it or suffered a disability, but because it wasn’t as interesting compared to watching or hearing the work. Oh sure, we can dismiss decades worth of studies on the different learning habits of children and just stick with reading. My brain and character certainly aren’t much worse for it after all these years. But I’m not going to work at a library with that kind of children’s section. I’ll be over at the fun library with the games, the videos, and the noisy interaction and enjoy the more progressive learning models.

I’m sad to say that my library doesn’t offer free coffee. Sure, I could lament the fact that people love us because we are free and then proceed to give away something for free, but I’d rather not sully the incredible dividends that taxpayers get from their investment. Nor would I care to disparage all of the free adult and children programming offered that enriches the lives of the patrons who use it. Far be it from me to possibly heap any more disgrace on the dedicated professionals in the field who work longer hours with more responsibilities for stagnant or shrinking wages and benefits because of the love they hold for their patrons and profession. To be fair, I’m sure some of them also offer free coffee.

Mr. Wisner is certainly welcome to his opinion and the enjoyment that he gets from handing out coffee while building relationships by chatting about Proust or Picasso with students and faculty. As for me, you can find me in the future where information architecture and communication networks interact so as to provide seamless content delivery and global sharing of user derived content  while providing the highest level of patron interaction and satisfaction. Oh, there will be books there too. Print is not dead, just it’s business model.

(And if you too enjoyed his opinion piece, you can check out the preview of his book “Wither the postmodern library?” on Google Books. If irony was chocolate, this would be Godiva.

The Future of Ye Olde Library

Buffy Hamilton (The Unquiet Librarian) introduced me to Helene Blower’s blog Library Bytes the other night. As soon as I added it to my Google Reader, this little gem of a post popped out at me.

An open information bar? Or a theatre of knowledge? of something else? The question is "what is the library of the future in a networked world?"

With this video:

And I watched it again. And then a third time. You get the picture.

In regard to the questions poised, I think an open information bar is an ill-fitting metaphor. While the personalized dispensary aspects of the bar might be more apt to people’s requests for materials, it maintains the traditional patron-librarian-material chain of interaction that has fallen out of favor. Rather than linear, the aspects should represent points on a triangle with all members having equal access to each other. The metaphor’s presence of a barrier to access (i.e. a bar) that is keeping patrons from what they are seeking is unsettling for a future library vision. Although, it certainly does bring new meaning to the phrase “drunk on knowledge”.

I believe that the future of the library is more like a theatre of knowledge; specifically, an information renaissance faire. Whether it is to put on garb and take part in the experience (your serious library users, loyal patrons) or simply to come and enjoy the sights and sounds (casual users, “I have a report due on Monday” now-and-again patrons), patrons will be able to choose their level of interaction, collaboration, and participation in the library. The immersive experience will allow the patrons to dismiss their preconceived notions of the limits of knowledge and open their minds to the full potential of the information age. Just as a regular renaissance fair invokes a friendly form of make believe rooted in the modern age, the future library should seek to create a comfortable and safe environment for people to act upon their imagination, creativity, and curiosity.  This sense of familial connection is what will fuel collaborative intellectual exploration outside of the library through web and mobile applications. These standalone tools will serve as faithful companions, ever present for consultation in the evolving life of a patron. Even if the patron chooses to utilize the library remotely, the information renaissance faire will continue on, presenting and challenging people with a different way to consider the world around them.

Everywhere is here, indeed.