This presentation was for the Seventh Annual Conference on Teaching and Learning, held at the University of Windsor, Windsor, ON, May 1-2, 2013: On the verge: debating the future of university teaching.
And it began like this:
To begin, I would like you take a brief moment and fill in the blank above with one word. What's your word? (I'm going to give you my answer at the end of this talk. See if you can guess it!)
...libraries are still very popular, but they're now used very differently. "Wander around this place and you'll see students everywhere... [but] You won't see many people in the stacks... Given that 60% of UBC's library collection hasn't been picked up off the shelf in eight years, taking away book stacks an adding study spaces will be one of the few clear trends. The rest is... more or less negotiable...
And what he's describing is happening at almost all academic libraries: collections are either being digitized, move off-site into storage, or just "deaccessioned" to make room for group study areas for students.
That is the future of the library as it is unfolding in the present.
But the library of the future has to be more than a desk and a chair, access to the Internet, and an outlet to plug in a computer. Doesn't it?
I think so. And my talk today are about those negotiable alternatives.
And to do so, I will tell five short stories.
Isn't our mission to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful?
Or is it Google's?
"In simple terms students personal use of the internet is generally very effective for their education but they are nervous that their practices are not valid and don’t reveal them to their tutors. The messages or lack of messages from educational institutions on these practices is generating a learning black market which masks the sheer scale of these new modes of engagement."
Other libraries are emerging from strange spaces as well. In 2009, a temporary 'Storefront Library' was established by Street Lab in Boston to demonstrate the potential impact of a library in the neighbourhood.
The team behind the Storefront Library in Boston then 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.
Recently, the Uni Reading Room has been touring the areas most affected from Hurricane Sandy as tens of thousands are still homeless after last October's epic storm.
I have been collecting examples of these vernacular libraries. Some are they are intended to be temporary. Some aspire to exist as long as possible. Some they are community-run. Some - like Lee Rodney's Border Bookmobile - are literally artist-driven.
- Public park libraries
- Little Free Libraries:
- Border City Bookmobile
At the Windsor Public Library they are trying to provide an "Apple Store-like experience". So they removing the desks and library staff now help readers find then borrow materials through the use of an iPhone, a bar code scanner and an iPad.
With this same technology, they are now able to establish temporary library branches, and in one case, establishing one in a neighbourhood where the residents could not get to the library - even though there was a branch only blocks away.
A librarian visits weekly with a small set of material that she brings with her that they request and with what she knows they might enjoy, based on her previous visits.
The librarian is the branch.
"PirateBox is a self-contained mobile communication and file sharing device. Simply turn it on to transform any space into a free and open communications and file sharing network." Translated, a pirate box allows you to share files without being connected to nor monitored from the Internet.
Now, if the word Pirate makes you nervous, please be aware that there is a very similar form of this project called LibraryBox that does essentially the same thing as a PirateBox.
[If you take your computer or mobile device and change your wifi source to 'Pirate Box' and then open your browser, you will be able to download all the slides of this talk and chat with others in this room if you choose to do so.]
I too am a library.
We tell our students to be careful of what they put on the internet because putting information on the internet means it will exist forever. And that’s not exactly true.
Many websites, even those owned by profitable companies (like Twitter) will shut down sites filled with the words and pictures of people’s lives even though they are still used by millions of people (like Posterous).
Recently, Yahoo gave its users only 11 days notice that they there shutting down Upcoming - a community events service that they had been around since 2003 - and provided no way of exporting their work.
Now in the UK, they have passed legislation allowing the British Library and five others to archive the nation's web-published output so that “it is collected as comprehensively and systematically as possible in order to preserve the material for future generations and to make it available in the designated legal deposit libraries.”
The first web crawl -- of 4.8 million websites with more than a billion pages -- will be complete by the end of 2013 and will be made available to researchers, along with tens of thousands of ejournal articles, ebooks and other materials. Most sites will be crawled once every few months, but between 250 and 500 key rapidly-refreshing sites (such as newspaper websites) will be crawled on a daily basis (although that information won't be made available to members of the public until at least a week after publication).
In the US, just weeks ago, the Digital Library of America was officially launched. Its scope and purpose is still evolving but at the moment, it's about this:
The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) brings together the riches of America’s libraries, archives, and museums, and makes them freely available to the world. It strives to contain the full breadth of human expression, from the written word, to works of art and culture, to records of America’s heritage, to the efforts and data of science. The DPLA aims to expand this crucial realm of openly available materials, and make those riches more easily discovered and more widely usable and used.
Meanwhile, in Canada:
- Last April, the federal government imposed cuts that led to a 20% reduction of the workforce at the Libraries and Archives Canada and the elimination of the National Archival Development Program, which supported archival programs at the local level, and ended the library’s interlibrary loan program
- The cuts to services at LAC were justified by promises that digitizing LAC’s material and online access would make up for the deficiency of on-site services. But this argument is facetious once you know that the cuts in question reduced their digitization staff by 50%.
- It is difficult to envision a future in which LAC will be able to archive the websites in Canada, when LAC internal estimates indicate that approximately 0.5% of LAC holdings (both textual and non-textual) have been digitized to date.
So we can't look to our National Library to save our websites for us. Who can we look to?
I don't know. Right now, there's no one. So it is up to us to save our past for our future.
If you are interested in joining a group of citizens - including myself - who are saving our digital heritage, may I suggest that you go to ArchiveTeam.org, and install the "Archive Warrior" on your computer and have it run in the background. It will help download and save work on the project of your choice on behalf of the ArchiveTeam.
It was the ArchiveTeam who ended up saving Upcoming, as well as Posterous, Geocities, Friendster and many other free sites and services that we sort of thought would always be there until they were gone.
Story Five: The Last Story!
If you buy a printed book, the first sale doctrine allows you to pretty much anything to that book - other than to copy and sell additional copies of that book, of course.
It's not clear if it exists (technically a new copy is created each time someone downloads a file, and for all things under copyright, making that copy requires permission...
So instead of relying on the doctrine of first sale to make available print books to the public, now libraries have to negotiate licenses to do the same with ebooks.
And to prevent these books to be posted online for the world at large, publishers have embedded ebooks with DRM (digital rights management) software which allow the ebooks to blocked from cutting and pasting, from being copied to another person, and to even self-destruct after a given period of time or views.
And there are many consequences to this shift including some that we probably haven't even experienced or understood yet. How can libraries preserve ebooks across generations when it's illegal to tamper with DRM software? What happens when a reader's annotations are locked into a proprietary platform like Amazon's? What is the long term impact of text being separated from the corpus and the activity of the Internet?
But why are we accepting this crappier future of books and reading?
And not entirely unrelated, what happened to the future of the past that was exciting and worth looking forward to?
We need to break out of this future of text trapped in amber.
Here's a vision of the future of ebooks from someone many consider a visionary, including myself.
This is Bret Victor's Explorable Explanations:
Explorable Explanations is my umbrella project for ideas that enable and encourage truly active reading. The goal is to change people's relationship with text. People currently think of text as information to be consumed. I want text to be used as an environment to think in.
Here's my word.
What I'm trying to say is this: Your future is our future.
I've always been taken by this mission, if just for this simple reason:
By helping others build their own libraries, we will ensure that the library of the future will take many shapes and many forms and thus give us more reasons to have hope that our shared future will have libraries.