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?