UK Web Focus

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Librarians, Change or be Irrelevant!

Posted by Brian Kelly on 16 October 2012

“Change or be Irrelevant!”

Change or be Irrelevant” was the title of Lukas Koster’s blog post in which he gave his reflections on the EMTACL12 (Emerging Technologies in Academic Libraries) conference which was held recently in Trondheim.

The need to be able to adapt to the requirements of the rapidly changing technical and economic contexts faced by those working in higher education was highlighted by Karen Coyle in her invited plenary talk entitled “Think ‘Different’“. Lukas provided a useful summary of the talk:

Think “different”’ is what Karen Coyle told us, using the famous Steve Jobs quote. And yes, the quotes around “different” are there for a reason, it’s not the grammatically correct “think differently”, because that’s too easy.  What is meant here is: you have to have the term “different” in your mind all the time. Karen Coyle confronted us with a number of ingrained obsolete practices in libraries.

But what are the technological developments which may have an impact on the academic library sector? In the closing talk at the conference I presented a paper on “What Next for Libraries? Making Sense of the Future” (available in PDF and MS Word formats) in which I described the evidence-based methodology used by the JISC Observatory team which aims to help organisations wishing to identify signals of technological developments which may have a significant impact on working practices.

In my talk (which is available on Slideshare) I reminded the audience of the inventions from the days of our youth which failed to live up to our expectations, including the monorail (which we’d use to travel to work, lunar bases (where we’d go for our holidays) and the jetpack. Patrick Hochstenbach picked up on my suggestion of the relevance of jetpacks for librarians in a cartoon in which he depicted a “super shush librarian” who makes sure that patrons aren’t making unnecessary noises in a distributed library environment :-)

Although some may be critical of the stereotype, I felt this provided a useful depiction of the way in which we expect inventions to simple automate existing practices, rather than transform such practices. This, therefore, illustrated the point I made about space travel: we may have expected the lunar landing which took place in 1969 to lead to further space exploration, including bases on the moon and possible Mars. In reality, however, manned space exploration ceased with the last manned mission to the moon taking place as long ago as December 1972. Rather than the manned space exploration we may have expected, we sent unmanned rockets to Mars, the moon and around the solar system (indeed last week we heard the news that the deep space probe Voyager 1 had left the solar system).

Preparing For Change; Preparing to be Relevant

Recently the JISC Observatory has published a report on Preparing for Data-driven Infrastructure and the final version of a report on Preparing for Effective Adoption and Use of eBooks in Education, is due to be published in a few weeks time. These are two of the areas which JISC Observatory team members have identified as likely to be significant for the higher education sector. I would also add that these are areas which will be relevant for those working in academic libraries. There should be no need to mention the importance of the Mobile Web which was another area addressed in a JISC Observatory report on Delivering Web to Mobile.

The theme of preparing for change and preparing to be relevant is also being addressed at ILI 2012, the Internet Librarian International conference which takes place in London on 30-31 October. This year the event has the byline “Re-imagine, Renew, Reboot: Innovating for Success“. I’ll be giving a talk on “Making Sense of the Future” which will explore the ideas described in this post and the paper presented at the EMTACL12 conference. For those who can’t attend, I’ve summarised the presentation in the following cartoon :-)

Twitter conversation from: [Topsy]

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