Friday, November 30, 2012

The future of libraries is...

What's your answer? Here's mine:

Caveat: I am not a futurist.

So let's get the bad news over with.
It looks like we have passed the point of Peak Librarianship.

We can't buy and share books any more.

And libraries would rather pay large licensing fees individually (for content and for infrastructure) rather than contribute small investments collectively.

But this does not mean that you are not needed.

"This lecture, reflecting on future roles, posits the potential dawning of a “great age of librarians,” if librarians make the conceptual shift of focusing on their own skills and activities rather than on their libraries."

I've been reading a number of essays about the future of libraries, and I think this one is my favourite if  just for this reminder: academic libraries are no more dependent on books than they are on scrolls.

I've come to believe that one of the reasons why 'The Future of Libraries' is so difficult to discern is that we don't even have agreement on the matter of what our present is.

The purpose of the Academic Library depends on who you are.

My impression is that institutional interest in Information Literacy is waning.  I blame MOOCs.

But I want to speak to the last point:
75% of library directors think we are gateways. 

 Serials Crisis Time!

And then there's this.

One future scenario: the essentials of scholarly publishing demand extraordinary price increases to increase profits and push the non-essential competition out of the budgets of libraries.

Wait. Did I say this was a  future scenario? 

Amazon has deemed that he price point of an ebook is $9.99. The most common price of a scholarly article is generally between $30 - $40. 

What's the consumer price point of a journal article for the reader? 

Would our faculty just buy articles from their research budgets instead of using libraries if they were set at $0.99 a piece?

What if all of scholarship was free?

 What else do we know?

This article on UBC sums up almost all of these points as it looks to its own future.

UBC is getting robots.
NCSU is getting robots.
UCS has had robots since 2007.

Yes, we are being replaced by robots.

And yet we know that a library needs to be more than a room with tables, chairs, electrical outlets and a wifi hotspot.

Bess Sadler suggests we need to design human-scale digital libraries.

I now have five possible trajectories for you.

{After I gave this talk, Tom Eadie said that these five stories reminded him of the story of the the five blind men and the elephant.

 The future is the elephant in the room. }

Remember this line?

It is not a new idea.

Lorcan Dempsey spoke about the Inside out library in 2005 and how we are pressed to find ways to bring our content out of the library and into the workflow of our students and researchers.

Dorothea Salo phrased this re-understanding of our work very nicely as well.

And R. David Lankes emphasizes knowledge creation in his Atlas of New Librarianship. 

Here are some of the ways how academic libraries can bring their collections and communities to the world.  

The first is through the hosting of an Institutional Repository.

I lament that there is only one article from 2011.

But I'm not picking on FIMS.  I think this is a reflection of librarianship. There are still many within the profession who do not understand Open Access initiatives as a expression of our values and our work as librarians.

Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

Unless that information was in a printed newspaper.

The complexity involved in scanning newspapers take a tremendous amount of resources in terms of OCR processing power and requires human intervention (which is why it is suspected that Google stepped away from this venture). Also, there is limited commercial gain from such work.

And yet historical newspapers capture an expression of our local history and humanity to an extraordinary depth and breadth.

Many academic libraries are engaging in a variety of digitizing projects. 

More should do so.

And some libraries provide data archiving and preservation services.

What else can we bring to the world?

The Occupy movement surprised many of us.

As did the emergence of so many People's Libraries.

Why were libraries were so central to the Occupy movement while it seemed we were continually told that our “brand” is no longer compelling?

And why does this community bookshop sound like it's a public library?

In 2009, a temporary 'Storefront Library' was established by Street Lab in Boston to demonstrate the potential impact of a library in the neighbourhood.

This week I read that future library branches in Brooklyn will probably be located in storefronts because the city can no longer afford to maintain their Carnegie donated buildings.

The team behind the Storefront Library in Boston went on to design "The Uni Project" to allow them to create temporary reading space that could be established in public spaces both inside and out.

None of the projects that I have shown you so far have been from librarians. But this is one: Nate Hill worked with a design firm to create design plans for modular library equipment that could be made of readily available material.

The plans are in the Creative Commons. As they should.

At my local public library, they wanted to provide an Apple Store-like experience. So they removed the desks and library staff now help readers through use of an iPhone, a bar code scanner and an iPad.

They are now able to establish temporary library branches in neighbourhoods where the residents could not get to the library.

The branch is the librarian and a small set of material that she brings with her that they request and what she thinks they might enjoy. 

Surely an academic campus could provide a variety of opportunities to establish temporary or re-occurring library branches for a variety of niche or general needs.

But academic librarians may find it difficult to stray too far from their traditional roles within the library

Our work has largely been defined by faculty expectations of what they think we should be doing. 

Same as it ever was.
Do you know who this man is?

Not a librarian! It's Tim Berners-Lee!

 Do you know who said this?

Not a librarian!  It was Jimmy Wales!

Wikipedia is the fifth most popular site in the world. It employs 147 staff. It has about 80,000 volunteers. 

There are 156,100 librarians employed in the United States.

Ed Summers, from the Library of Congress, has been investigating how libraries and Wikipedia can make each other better.

It's not well-known but behind Wikipedia is DBpedia which provided structured linked data that can be re-used and re-purposed.

The BBC uses DBpedia to help organize its content.

Linked Data is an opportunity for cultural institutions to provide structured, authoritative and organized information that our communities can build upon.

Aaron Cope is helping design a museum website using the first principles of the Internet.

What if opened up our systems to allow a multitude of ways of querying our data?

Our scholars - especially our Digital Humanists - need open systems so they develop and use tools to do their scholarship.

When the video of this talk becomes available, I'd recommend it as a good introduction to the worlds of linked data.

The next story begins with a joke.

Not enough librarians understand this joke:

So here's a story. During the last presidential election, much was dependent on the technology infrastructure supporting the 'get out the vote' efforts and early detection of possible ballot box improprieties.

The Obama system was called Narwhal and was developed in-house and was built using Amazon cloud services. It was built to be robust. The team had already planned and prepared a variety of contingency plans so that when hurricane Sandy took out  power on the East Coast, Narwhal was ready and able to handle it.

The Romney Team treated technology "like a distressed asset" and outsourced their technology to established vendors and used software that was web-based but not cloud-based. "They left their technology fate in the hands of outsiders". It was designed to be efficient. They called their system Orca and on the day of the election, it failed in a multitude of ways. 

The bad news is that libraries use technology like the Republican Party. 

The value of total library commercial automation marketplace is $630 million dollars.

This is not a lot of money. 

For $630 million dollars you can buy a bridge over the Mississippi.

Over the years libraries go to a set of established vendors for their technology needs. The number of vendors in this marketplace continues to shrink.

And what's very troubling are the number of library automation companies that are owned by private equity firms.  Private equity firms don't invest in companies over a long period of time. They own them and make them more profitable - usually by cutting staff or product lines - and then sell them.

For example, in 2006  Ex-Libris was bought by Francisco Partners. 

Two years later they sold it to Leeds Equity. 
Recently Ex-Libris was sold again to Golden Gate Capital.

Golden Gate Capital has bought library technology companies before. And they have dissolved them and incorated them into other company holdings.  In 2006 Golden Gate Capital absorbed Geac into a company called Infor.

Infor has a staff of 71 full time employees and they make $2.8 billion dollars annually. If I was one of Ex-Libris 512 employees, I'd be very worried for my job.

But I have enough worries at the moment. 

Many of my campus library's services are dependent on Ex-Libris software. The decision of which of their software lines will continue to be available or further developed will not be made by librarians. 

It doesn't have to be this way. 

Collectively we have enough assets to develop our own Narwhal.

There are new suites of software being offered to libraries called ERMs. They are a class of enterprise software that promise to handle all the present day functions of a library: circulation, asset management, discovery, cataloguing, licensing, all in an efficient manner on the web.

But I think there's a better way: open systems and small methods.

There are real cloud-based solutions available right now that libraries could take advantage of.  There is a group of OpenLab scientists at Drextal who make use of Google App Scripts (cloud-served javascript in a Google spreadsheet) to check the CRC Handbook for properties. They also use PHP to check if the Drextal University Library has a particular research article by using a DOI.

The library is embedded in the document.

Brett Victor provides some wonderful examples of reactive documents that invite exploration through visualization. 

I wish he would design something for libraries.

Earlier this year, the President of UVA was asked to resign by her university's Board of Directors. The crisis received national attention.

The library of UVA recognized the enormity of the moment and responded by collecting both physical objects related to the subsequent protests as well as digital objects such as Twitter posts related to the controversy. 

They had a done similar projects before and so were ready when the crisis arrived at their doorstep.

But you don't need to be a library to start archiving and preserving the past.  With the right tools and the right skills a person like Jason Scott can save an entire history.

 And you can join The Archive Team and spring into action whenever the present threatens the past... because history is our future.

In 2006, Dan Chudnov made a personal mission for himself to help people build their own libraries. 

I think it's a very good mission that can take us into the future.

Try to be the best people you can be.


BeerBrarian said...

Thank you for this.

Lorcan Dempsey said...

Thanks for nice mention ... interested to see Inside-out library crop up in several places recently.

Mita said...

Your welcome!

BTW, the links embedded in my slides are click-able from within Google presentation itself:

marcel said...

Great slides, Mita.
I especially like the knowledge creation idea in your slides. As a long-time GIS librarian, that is one of the things I am most proud of. I truly believe that as a librarian, part of my job is to help use, assemble, and create not just data, but to also be involved in knowledge creation. By working so closely in the research process, you just can't help but be part of new ideas and new analyses.

paul said...

I love this. Not just because the content is awesome, but also for the presentation. So many slideshares leave viewers to guess what the talk was about - you make it meaningful.
But I'm really interested in the idea that "institutional interest in Information Literacy is waning.  I blame MOOCs." As a Library Instruction Coordinator, I have something of a vested interest in infolit, and I'd hate to see my institution's interest in my job wane me into unemployment. But why blame MOOCs? I look at the core functions of MOOCs - aggregate - remix - repurpose - feed forward ( - and see information literacy baked in. One needs strong infolit skills to participate beyond the lurker level.
Some people draw a distinction between cMOOCs (connectivist) and xMOOCs (those overhyped things), but my preferred nomenclature is MOOCs and neo-MOOCs. I like the term neo-MOOC because it's only a letter off from non-MOOC, which seems to be where Coursera wants to take the concept. Massiveness may make people's eyes pop, but the Openness is what makes MOOC worth talking about. And Openness is what librarians should be about, IMHO.

Mita said...

Thanks Marcel. I agree - GIS is a great example of work that a librarian can help facilitate in order for others to surface new interpretions and understandings to be brought to light. I regret not mentioning it specifically.

Mita said...

Paul - thank you for giving me the opportunity for me to make a confession about that particular passage.

I wanted to highlight that library directors were suggesting that the interest of the academic library for the next five years would be dedicated to Information Literacy while I *felt* that the opposite was occurring and that *institutional* interest in Information Literacy was actually waning. I admittedly have no proof of this - hence the Google Trend graph of the search volume of information literacy.

That graph shows a decline in 'search engine volume' from 2004 so it clearly doesn't reflect a decline because of MOOCs.

When I was in the classroom giving this talk I spoke briefly about this matter and that how academia is currently caught up in much frenzy and anxiety regarding MOOCs. I remember saying, "If a class of 10,000 can be taught by one professor, what does that mean for the information literacy librarian?" And - I hope you would be happy to hear this - a student in the classroom put up his hand and suggested that MOOCs could provide a great opportunity for information literacy and we talked briefly about this.

I had a difficult time summarizing this conversation and my own thoughts about Information Literacy and MOOCs and so "I blame MOOCs" was a throwaway line in a larger post where I tried to write as concisely and clearly (and as poetically) as possible.

You were right to call me on this statement and I am happy that you did so. Thank you.

paul said...

Hi Mita,

It looks like Educause backs up the view that interest in information literacy is on the wane:
I'm guessing, perhaps hopefully, that infolit remains a key issue, but it's been an issue for some time now so newer issues are crowding it out.

Frances Pinter said...

Great slides. But there's more. Take a look at We'll be empowering libraries to not only open up books, but do so in a way that makes their funds go further.

Thanks for a great presentation

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the great links and insights. I can't help but wonder if it wouldn't be better for LIS students to be finding and reading and commenting on all the current and pertinent stuff that's online rather than shelling out so much cash for dry textbooks.

And a helpful hint: You should probably fix the references to Drexel University's name.

Ned Quist said...

Terrific summary of the field where it may be going. I was intigued by thew ownership of the library tech firms, and had a good laugh over the line about librarians using technology like Republicans!

Anonymous said...

You might want to consider as the future of academic librarians this: - a review of the ERIAL studies of student research habits including the roles of academic librarians and faculty.

T Scott said...

Thanks for the mention of my JMLA article. As I try to emphasize there I think it is essential that we focus our emphasis on all of the things that we as librarians bring to the mission of our institutions. Worrying about the future of "the library" is a distraction. As we emphasize the multivarious contributions of the librarians, which take place all over campus, the library will be just fine. (Said as someone who has been a library director for 20+ years and certainly does not see our future as being "gateways").