Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Library of the Future Versus The Future of Libraries

I've long contended that I'm not a library futurist, so I knew my name wouldn't come up in response to that tweet. I've always kind of poopooed futurists. "I have enough to worry about in the here and now," I might have quipped. Besides, I've seen people who try to sell the future of libraries who haven't worked in an actual library in decades, if they ever did. I wanted to distance myself from that crowd if nothing else.

But then Chris sent her request, and the names/twitter handles I saw in response got me thinking. Some of the names that were sent her way are people I respect and even like, but I hadn't associated any of them with "library future." Even better, nobody named any of those "futurists" I've made fun of in the past. So when someone I respect started looking into a topic I'd eschewed, it gave me pause.

It's not like I avoid thinking about the future of my library. I wrote a six year assessment plan (we are currently in the second year). I led the library through the process of writing a new strategic plan - something specifically designed to be practical and forward looking. I think about the immediate future of my library every day, whether we're flooding or working on collection development or just helping new freshmen log onto our computers for the first time.

So why do I have this disconnect? Why do I work toward the future of my own library but still resist the idea of it on a broader scale? Beyond the personalities and reputations of some of those "futurists," I mean. I think part of my resistance is because of how unpredictable the future can be. I remember a director for whom I used to work talking eloquently about how the architects of that library had created a space for the higher ed world right before laptops became ubiquitous. In other words: not enough outlets. Something that simple made that building a library of the past, and how can you predict the unpredictable?

But back to the thoughts inspired by Chris' tweet... I realized that I need to find a middle ground. I need to be conscious of how I'm working towards the future without getting unrealistic or thinking I know it all. I could easily get lost in dreams of the Starfleet Academy Library or that planet sized library from Doctor Who (minus the vashta nerada). I think maybe finding the middle ground is about looking in the middle distance. I am fairly certain of what I'll be doing tomorrow (paying bills, looking through student worker applications, answering emails). I have no idea what I'll be doing in ten years, although I suspect it will still have to do with libraries in some way. I think what I'm going to have to do is let my imagination wander a few years ahead. I need to think about the future of libraries instead of libraries of the future. I know I'll have to think about a utopian, a dystopian, and a realistic image. I need to think about the future of libraries instead of The Library of the Future. One thing I know for sure: libraries will always be about the people we serve. We might pretend that libraries have been about books, but the artifacts with which we operate are misleading. Libraries are about people.

How about you? How do you imagine the future of libraries?

1 comment:

  1. Although I'm relatively new to the profession and haven't had the responsibility of coming up with a strategic plan or anything like that (yet), I think the stressful thing, at least for me, when thinking about the future of libraries is the pressure to have some sort of crystal ball and just poof! predict away. While I know that's not the reality necessarily, it can feel that way, and yes, thinking about what the future looks like is always going to be somewhat uncertain. However, I see differences between the broad future and the more specific future. For example, it seems almost certain that online courses will continue to increase in number in academia. Therefore, how can we librarians best use that knowledge to make future plans? But trying to predict the need for something like outlets 5-10 years down the line seems difficult if not impossible. Just my two cents!