Future of libraries

24 Jun

At MPOW we are currently under review. Again. Our last review was just over 2 years ago. In academic time measurement, that’s 10 minutes đŸ˜‰
Initially all the stress of the last review returned to me with a whoosh. I was vocally negative about “why” we needed another review, what was it trying to achieve. It took several months for the Terms of Reference to come out, and luckily for me, in this time I got tired of listening to my negative self.  I’ve moved on to enjoying the motivation to sit back and review what I do, what my work delivers, and what I could contribute in the future.

It’s not perfect – I’m still stressed about retaining a job with good working conditions and salary and whether I will have to sack people who work with me. However I have been able to pull myself out of my negative spiral that disempowered me, and feel more proactive by considering the future and where myself and my colleagues would sit in that future.
So … I’m genuinely interested in where you all think the future of libraries lies? From everyone out there. 
My thoughts so far cover

  • Seamless access: libraries can work with publishers and other content owners to continue to ensure pathways to content are user friendly, authentication is simple and awareness of what you have searched and what you haven’t is transparent. Areas in this include fighting for legislation for open access, improving authentication systems, working with publishers to reduce multiple interfaces, continuing to argue for affordable packages and some general public access. eg @mrsuperspy has been working hard on ensuring publishers divest themselves of old textbook models and are understand they need to move into electronic options 
  • Improved search options: the internet keeps growing and growing. Google can however only find you what is items with the right identifiers so metadata is a massive future arena for librarians. Teaching people how to search well, how to find what you actually need is a good space for librarians; or even just going back to the old days where a student presented their thesis to the librarian and they did a search and produced associated literature for them, perhaps librarians will be paid searchers again. Can’t help feeling this will be one of those jobs that will go to the much touted robot automation that is apparently going to sweep through our current career choices though. Social tagging might still be a human arena though, to aid in trends and thought pathways that don’t make logical sense and hence can’t be programmed for. 
  • Discovery pathways: @malbooth has been arguing  for ages that our so-called discovery interfaces are just search, and we need to truly explore discovery pathways that expose new content, true serendipity with some sense of leading people through strands of related thought. GLAM sectors are already starting to experiment here.
  • Lifelong learning: as the robots take over transactional or high volume search work (eg legal clerks searching through articles for precedent) I believe a range of other work will emerge. However education will need to be ongoing therefore as more people have a continuous learning path to upgrade skills or change career paths multiple times. Libraries that can support different forms of learning and offer pathways to emerging areas of study will hence be important. Alongside this, if people are able to explore a wider range of professions, as the repetitive work disappears (yes I believe in a positive future) knowledge warehouses such as libraries will be ideally placed to support teaching or exploration of old skills. 
  • Information credibility: in this time of “fake news”, training in how to establish the credibility of sources is very important. Libraries can support this not only by teaching skills, but also by maintaining multiple sources in their knowledge banks, demonstrating the multiple voices on issues.
  • Support for diverse communities: libraries still have great social capital across most cultures. One of the reasons for this is  is because of the resources they have been to disadvantaged people in the past, many of whom have risen to power later through this support. There are a range of humane reasons we should support disadvantaged groups, and there is also the realisation that if we invest in those who most need it, we will retain social capital over time. 

    So what do you think libraries future contains?

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