Futureproofing

I am finally getting around to blogging about the Futureproofing Your Library workshop I attended a few weeks ago. Both Joan Frye Williams and George Needham are engaging speakers, so it was a day well-spent listening and thinking about some new ideas.


They linked the concept of "futureproofing" to the Extinction Timeline (pdf), created by the Future Exploration Network and What's Next,  which predicts that libraries will become extinct in 2019 (along with post offices and size 0).  Joan and George point out that while books might become extinct, and libraries as we know them today might be different (or extinct), but if we as a profession focus on principles rather than fads, we will probably still survive.

As principles, naturally we took Ranganathan's 5 laws of library science, and the rest of the presentation followed each of these laws.
  1. "Books are for use" - Joan & George pointed out that we are in the meaning business - that the books, movies, music bring meaning to people's lives and brings them together.  Libraries should make sure that we keep that in mind, that we buy stuff for use first, not for preservation.  They talked about floating collections (for library systems with many branches - Scottsdale PL has said they just started a floating circulation policy this summer)(and WOW, check out their new webpage!), and that actually talking and connecting with users helps mitigate theft (using retail as an example - very low theft rates).  They suggested putting the most used collections closer to where it's checked out.  They said that we should work with our community to provide what they really want instead of what we think they want.  Primarily, relationship building is our business, we should nurture a culture of yes (instead of all our policies which make us say no).  I particularly liked this point: "what policies always confuse your patrons?  Maybe it's not them..." - they also talked about how libraries often make policies for the exception, no matter how rare it might be (example - what policy should we have if someone comes in and starts dancing and singing on the circulation desk).  Finally, expand the rule to STUFF is for use - movies, music, laptops, space, etc.
  2. They combined "Every reader his book/Every book its reader" into one category.  Joan & George focused on matching user with their desired item, merchandising material in the library, and that librarians need to remember that browsing is often the main discovery avenue.  Most of our catalogs work for librarians, not users.  They talked about tagging and folksonomies, and of being "in-the-flow" as Lorcan Dempsey might say - being where our users are instead of making them come to us.  Our OPACS should have mainstream data formats, allow easy import/export, and provide toolbars, gadgets and widgets.  I totally agree with this - I'd love to just a widget from my library to show what I'm reading on my blog. 
  3. "Save the time of the user" - We should respect the users' time more than our time - provide shortcuts and time savers.  Why not use user-defined loan periods?  They talked about the Netflix model (again, I would be a heavier library user if I didn't have to go to the library), and reminded us that whenever a user has to ask a questions, they feel like they've failed.  We need to make our signs clear, simple, and about what the user WANTS, not what we think they want.  Our websites need to be easier to use, more visible, and focused on what the user really needs, including mobile versions for patrons to be able to surf on their iPhones and Blackberries. Finally, we should be more embedded as librarians - go to the users, be in their space, listen to their problems and offer solutions (this works especially well at academic libraries) - they might not think of the librarian as a problem-solver, but isn't this what we DO?  Finally, a less desk-centric culture, work on a more participatory culture.
  4. "The library is growing organism" - Finally, Joan and George talked about how libraries have changed since their inception.  Really, the changes facing the library now are no different.  Librarians and libraries can weather extinction by focusing on Principles, rather than techniques or results, and remembering why we're passionate about our work.  Joan told a really great story here that got us all choked up.
I left the workshop inspired and exciting, and reminded once again that I really do LOVE being a librarian, even if I don't have vaults of artifacts beneath the library and fight off ninjas on a daily basis!  I know I'm in the right profession, and I look forward to seeing what the future holds!


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