We are now in a time best characterised as the “New Normal”. The new normal isn’t just about austere budgets or the old chestnut of “doing more with less” – it’s also about new technologies. The new normal is having library patrons, users, customers and clients who know as much or more about technology than we do. It’s about partnerships and transparency, about new ways to develop and disseminate knowledge, about the increasing importance of communication skills, about opening up access to information, data, and knowledge.
What is meant by the term the ‘New Normal’ and how does it apply to in a library context? I found an article on “The Politics Of The ‘New Normal’” which was published in The Atlantic in July 2009. This states that “About a third of Americans, 32 percent, say they are spending less now and expect to make their present habits a “new normal” of their future budgetings“. The writer, Chris Good, goes on to add “One can’t help but wonder if the “new normal” has political ramifications“.
In a library (and educational) context in addition to the obvious economic and political changes there are also technological developments which are adding to the radical changes we are seeing across the sector. But what might the implications of the ‘New Normal’ be in a Library context? Let us assume that an accompanying discussion about such implications is based on an agreement that there are significant changes which will have an impact on working practices and will challenge orthodox thinking and working practices. I should add that although the political and economic changes are undoubtedly contentious there will be other changes which many will welcome.
Focussing on the technological developments we have seen in recent years it can be argued that:
- Many users now have the skills and access to technologies to find and access resources which previously were mediated by librarians.
- We are seeing a decrease in the importance of finding via metadata and an increase in the importance of social discovery.
- We are seeing a decrease in the importance of libraries providing access to trusted resources. Instead users now wish to access resources they find in the wild – but will need to be able to evaluate such resources.
- We are seeing a decrease in an unquestioning belief in the value of libraries and librarians and a need for the sector to be able to demonstrate value and pro-actively market themselves.
The Cabinet Office has recently published the Government ICT Strategy (PDF format). The document provides many statements which, of the face of it, seem reasonable, especially for those who have been active in IT development work. For example:
- “projects tend to be too big, leading to greater risk and complexity, and limiting the range of suppliers who can compete“: Yes, there is value in agile development and rapid innovation projects which JISC, for example, has been funding.
- “Departments, agencies and public bodies too rarely reuse and adapt systems which are available ‘off the shelf’ or have already been commissioned by another part of government, leading to wasteful duplication“: The not-invented here syndrome we are familiar with.
- “systems are too rarely interoperable“: Again we are familiar with non-interoperable silos.
A number of solutions the government is proposing will we welcomed by many:
- “create a level playing field for open source software“: The JISC OSS Watch service has provided advice in this area to the HE/FE sector.
- “impose compulsory open standards, starting with interoperability and security“: Many will see benefits in mandating use of open standards which can help public sector organisations from continuing to make use of proprietary formats.
Whilst there are aspects of the Government ICT Strategy which make for uncomfortable reading it does seem to me that there may be benefits in embracing new approaches which may build on experiences gained over recent years in working in a changing environment with changing user expectations and requirements.
I will be interested to see how speakers at the ILI 2011 conference will address the implications of the “New Normal”. Note that the deadline for submissions is 8 April – so if you have an interest in sharing your experiences I’d encourage you to submit a proposal. If you are not able to submit a proposal, I’d welcome suggestions on what the New Normal might mean to you – I’d especially welcome positive examples.