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Archive for April 8th, 2009

Contrasting Visions of the Library of the Future

Posted by Brian Kelly on 8 April 2009

My Views From 2001

I was invited to take part in a panel session at the Internet Librarian International (ILI) conference way back in 2001. Myself and my fellow panellists (Greg Notess and Mary Peterson) had encountered a number of bland panel sessions at previous conferences in which panelists uttered trite sentiments which nobody could possibly disagree with (yes, user testing is a good thing and so is accessibility and quality information). We decided to  avoid falling into this trap and I found myself in the position of having to respond to Greg and Mary’s views of the key role the library sector had in supporting use of networked services and supporting users in a networked environment. I suggested that librarians were just another group of users who had nothing special to add to the development of innovative networked services and, indeed, could inhibit development by seeking to take inappropriate methodologies to the Web environment. Now although these remarks were somewhat tongue-in-cheek, it would be interesting to see how they may relate to today’s networked environment, 8 years later.

The Darien Manifesto

The authors of the Darien Manifesto (John Blyberg, Kathryn Greenhill and Cindi Trainor) have no doubts regarding the importance of librarians, with a manifesto which begins by giving their view that “the purpose of the Library is to preserve the integrity of civilization“. And this “purpose of the Library will never change“! Whilst a number of people have expressed concern over this monolithic description of The Library, and pointed out the unease we would feel if other bodies made similar statements (“The purpose of the government/the police/the Freemasons is to preserve the integrity of civilization and this purpose will never change“) other comments do appear to more accurately reflect the role of libraries  (“provides the opportunity for personal enlightenment“; “encourages the love of learning” and “empowers people to fulfill their civic duty“) and librarians (“select, organize and facilitate creation of content” and “connect people with accurate information“), various commentators, including the Annoyed Librarian, are questioning the manifesto.

The Researcher’s Perspective

Here in the UK a debate is taken place on the Libraries of the Future which is being led by the JISC. At a recent debate on Libraries of the Future Professor Peter Murray-Rust gave his thoughts on what he expects from an academic library from a research/scientific perspective.

Peter’s views had been outlined in a series of blog posts prior to the debate (Peter was living his open vision and encouraged those interested in helping to shape a vision to engage with the ideas he was developing in his blog).

As described by Professor Bruce Royan in a report on the event, Peter’s views challenged current orthodox thinking regarding the libraries’ relevance in a networked world:

The Librarians of the future will not emerge from the Libraries of today. The researchers of the future won’t want journals, they’ll want little bits of lots of papers, and they won’t respect faculty or subject boundaries, as their work will be interdisciplinary. If they need an information service, they’ll JUST DO IT for themselves

What Does The Future Hold?

The official blog for the debate provided a summary of Peter’s talk which began:

What is happening in the world is bypassing university libraries.  I talk to colleagues and the feeling is that libraries for STM (science, technical, medical) are not useful. That’s not my polemic view – that’s reporting on having spoken to people.

Will librarians have a significant role to play in the academic library of the future (the future of public libraries, whilst important, was not touched on in Peter’s presentation)? And is Peter’s assertion and question in a recent blog post: “Wikipedia has won – how can we convince you?” further evidence that the librarians who warn their users against such popular Web 2.0 services are becoming marginalised?

But maybe the Dryberg Darien manifesto does contain elements which reflect Peter’s views:

  • Adopt technology that keeps data open and free, abandon technology that does not.
  • Be willing and have the expertise to make frequent radical changes.
  • Hire the best people and let them do their job; remove staff who cannot or will not.
  • Trust each other and trust the users.

Perhaps Peter would endorse the third bullet point which calls for staff who aren’t prepared to adapt to a changing environment to be sacked. And there was me thinking that the manifesto simply endorsed woolly liberal values!

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