What is the library work of the future?

artificial-intelligence-2167835As an opening provocation, I wonder if this is the 64 million dollar question in any profession or whether we, as librarians are overthinking this?

Regardless, future proofing our workplaces, our industry and our place within that is good business practice. Over on the ILN blog, when we asked a question about the future of the profession we got considered responses from quite a range of our community. It’s the subject of library conference presentations, journal articles, news stories, memes and discussions about workplace culture.

We’ve been having a lot of discussion around this at MPOW over the past year (give or take a bit). So, the May #glamblogclub theme of GLAM3017 resonated somewhat and I am finally putting fingers to keyboard.

The phrase that’s bumping around in my head the most is ‘functional fixedness’ – which I hadn’t heard before we started on this path. For an organisation, it loosely translates as “we’ve always done it that way”. We’re trying really hard to challenge that at the moment – to be the people who ask ‘why not?’ instead.

There’s also plenty of examples of situations where we literally can’t continue to do something the way we’ve always done. This comes up for us time and time again in our digitisation program. We’ve had a variety of approaches to donation agreements and permissions over time, largely in response to prevailing wisdom and requirements of the time. However, when we want to digitise something now, the agreement we filed twenty years ago – long before online access was even a thing – just doesn’t cut it in the permissions stakes. One of my challenges is to ensure we approach this strategically to maximise the future proof-ness of our current day activities and processes.

So that’s my 3017 worry. That (just like now in some ways) we will have these great collections but be unable to unlock them because we couldn’t anticipate the ways people may want to access them in the future. It’s a digital preservation adjacent problem. In this scenario, we’re stuck with 21st century ideas about how those collections might be made available – because we never imagined that we should include holograph or teleport (or that thing we haven’t thought of yet) in the original negotiations permissions.



One thought on “What is the library work of the future?

  1. I have an answer for you.

    In the past, literacy and using the library were separate things to learn; people would learn to read, they would come to the library as literate people, and they would be shown how to use the library. That approach is no longer sufficient.

    The reason is that the library is and will be much more than books, more than the card catalog, more than the literacy you can more or less take for granted is taught at home or in schools. Modern library use includes (but is not limited to) the internet, digital media, and things not all people are not “literate” enough to make full use of on their own.

    People can use the internet without making excellent use of its resources. People can read ebooks without confidence in their ability to manage their e-reader. (And most libraries have their hands tied when it comes to partisan political statements, which I think is fair enough, though their hands are not tied– by law at least– when it comes to teaching people about the real threat that DRM in ebooks poses to libraries. The ALA website has sufficient information on this. Publishers must not retain control of books after purchase, or libraries are doomed. This really is a bigger threat than all the usual budget cuts.)

    Schools can be relied on somewhat to teach people how to read, but that is less than a modern reader/student needs in this century. As it was always the job of the library to teach patrons how to use the library– and as the library is becoming larger and more global and incorporating (rather than being replaced by) the internet and technology– it is now very naturally and logically the job of libraries to help people use “The Rest of the Library.” Of course this is done to some degree already– I am suggesting that it is a very core and key part of the mission of the modern library, and not a peripheral matter whatsoever.

    Libraries that understand this will fare better than libraries that dont. And “doing well” is a core part of the mission too. For libraries to always struggle is a sign of partial failure. Libraries absolutely must learn to thrive again– but that success will obviously look different than it did 50 years ago. Figure out what it would be like, and then make it happen somehow. It’s not easy, but it’s at least as important now as it was when Carnegie was throwing his money into the idea. Do it like he’s still around.

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