Library Futures 2007

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“PEARLS” From the Mid-Atlantic Conference on the Library Futures “Imagination to Transformation” May 2007


Keynote: Ray Kurzweil, "Early in the Twenty-First Century, Knowledge will Underlie Everything of Value.” Libraries have a bright future as “gateways to knowledge.” He asserts that one sign of the power of knowledge is found in the fact (argumentative) that biology now amounts to information processing. In science and technology there is a law of accelerating returns. People fail to appreciate how rapid is the exponential growth of information-based technologies. He predicts that by 2029, $1000 of computation will buy 1,000 times the processing power of the human brain. At the beginning of the human genome project, many doubted it would ever be completed; but technology advanced so rapidly that the sequencing of the human genome was accomplished within a decade. By 2010 computers as we know them will start to disappear.

Mary Catherine Bateson, (Libraries and Active Wisdom): Likes to ask high school students and college freshmen what they’ve taught their parents recently. Many answers are about technology; others about popular culture; and then many mention tolerance for gays or the handicapped or women. She sees a bright future for libraries as safe, neutral places of conversation that are affirmative of the human capacity for lifelong learning. And she stresses the importance of the wisdom of our elders.

“Living in a time of change puts us all at risk of becoming incompetent”


Bob Treadway, (20/20 Foresight): A futurist, he warns against predictions. What we can do is forecast, like the weatherman with his widening path of the storm’s direction as the distance grows. Create a “cone of relative uncertainty,” with trends, drivers, and harbingers (early indicators). Forget being “absolutely right;” see the mistakes of others; don’t assume present comfort zone will continue. The bigger issue is not the technology but the social dimensions and consequences. Certain trends we “know:” higher costs, globalization, aging, demographics. One of his notable forecasts: the Boomers aren’t going to retire and fade away; they are showing a trend of going back to school/college, are we studying to determine the programs that will appeal to them? Another: worry about the growth of young Moslem men from 10 to 70 million (while the number of north American young men is stable at 20 million). And that fact could link to the collapse of petroleum resources around 2025…. Limits to knowledge? There are 800 foreign owned R&D centers in China. (Our folly is to assume that our books capture “knowledge.”)


Chip Nilges, of OCLC, (Moving Libraries to the Network Level): Talked a lot about partnerships and convergence. Libraries should catalog/show—and syndicate—their services and expertise (also faculty expertise) along with book catalogs. We’re moving beyond the portal. Self-service, social networking, and value perception are keys to the future.


Jeffrey Scherer, architect, (Library Space: Last Frontier of the Digital Age?): We’ve assumed growth is forever and treated the earth like a garbage can for at least 150 years. Libraries can help: “consume ideas, not stuff;” For the future: focus on distinctions, partnerships, informal sharing, 24/7 and “long stays;” support patron “self sufficiency;” easy navigation (of facility); >books, <space; watch what patron “does” in the library CLOSELY.


Joan Frye Williams, consultant, “What Got us Here Won’t Get us There:” This was the most useful talk on what we can DO right NOW to reshape our libraries for the future. People need more information rejection and less retrieval. The patron’s first question is: “do they want me here” and when we tell them things NOT to do they get the message; we get one quick first impression and either “catch ‘em or lose ‘em;” Question #2: Do we have the interesting stuff they want? They want material and experiences, not “information;” resource allocation must become “demand based,” not based on the arrogance of telling them what they “need to know.” #3: Convenient? We’re not the center of their lives so we need to work at going where they are; they’re not remote, we are. Library should convey the pleasure of learning, a place where they can learn what they want to learn (and we get out of the way). #4: Can they succeed here? Avoid the “mother may I?” mentality; do we appreciate their language and culture and traditions? Do we highlight their programs, writings, achievements? Do we respect them?

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