Library Summit “Future from Now On”

library of congress ceiling In honor of transparency, I’m liveblogging my notes from ALA’s Libraries From Now On Summit.  At a later date, I’ll interpret and process some of these notes.

We’re gathered in the member’s room of the Library of Congress to listen to a variety of provocational speakers today at the Libraries From Now On Summit, and are playing round robin tables in order to foster discussion of future trends we are identifying.

Barbara Stripling welcomed attendees with a  fitting Dr. Seuss quote – “My alphabet starts where your alphabet ends.”  Love that as a start to future thinking!  And following her inspiration, Dr. James Billington, THE Librarian of Congress, exhorts  us to be “sherpas” as we chart the future of libraries;  this event is like “base camp.”

Purpose of the Summit:

To gather ideas from thought leaders to inform the development of a Center for the Future of Libraries

–How do we think differently about libraries

–What are the societal, educational, and technology trends that impact libraries?

–What do these trends mean for libraries?

stephen dubnerSpeaker OneHow to Think Like a Freak — Stephen Dubner

We’ll be doing some thought experiments today — Dubner likes thought experiments — cheap!  Learn stuff!

First one:  How is a public library like a keg party?

Do a thought experiment– you just discovered the idea of a library tomorrow.  How would you get it started?  How would you convince publishers to go along with the idea?  It’s not pre-ordained that people care now or in the future.   We need to think about libraries a little more rationally and thoughtfully.

Solving one problem, gathering data is really hard.  His new book with Stephen Leavitt (Think Like a Freak) deputizes the reader to take on problems.

Dubner posits that the  hardest words to say — “I don’t know” or ‘I don’t know but I’ll find out.’

To think like a freak:

1)  Be able to say, I don’t know but I’ll find out.   Be willing hard to figure out what you know and what you don’t know.  Work hard to get the data and feedback you can to ask questions.  Run a lot of experiments.  Put away your moral compass temporarily, because you obliterate some solutions before you begin.  If you think honey bees dying from global warming, you might not look to see if it is a virus, or bacteria or anything else.  Prevents problem solving.    If you think you already for the solution, you don’t go looking for answers.

2)  Be able to think more like a child.  Conventional wisdom is that children are latent visions of ourselves.  If you look at data about children with an unbiased view — they are better at things like creativity, ideas, asking questions (they are less afraid of reputations, etc); sheer cognitive perception, plasticity,

Being more educated — better you are at finding information to consume that verifies what you already believe.

How to persuade people who don’t want to be persuaded–

1.  Don’t pretend your argument is foolproof.
2.  Don’t pretend that their objections don’t have merit.
3. Power of story — Stories are resonant.  We place ourselves in the story.

Data can be cherry-picked so the power of story is important.

Dubner demonstrated the power of story by telling us about Kobi the champion hot dog eater from Japan who won the Nathan Hot Dog eating contest.  What we learn from the story?

1)  He redefined the problem he was trying to solve.  He tried to figure out how to eat one hot dog faster, not all the dogs.
2)  Limits — do we choose to accept the limits placed before us?   (time limits, social acceptability, artificial limits set by institutions?)  Being willing to discard artificial limits is useful.
3) We should soak our buns in warm water 😉

Speaker two:  Joel Garreau

What are Libraries Good For?   Garreau

-The future of libraries isn’t about the books, or the computers
it is in the building of cities

Best way to predict future is to invent it yourself.

Garreau is showing us a series of photos of buildings, like a grocery store.  What will be the use for this building in the future when things can be ordered/delivered?

Is there any reason you’d want to to go to a grocery store?   Audience and Garreau think it’s about community; about face to face contact.  Why do we go to farmer’s markets?  They aren’t always cheap–but it is a face-to-face with people in your community.   Look at grocery stores like Whole Foods–they are embracing that concept with restaurants where people can eat with others.

Asking about universities–if people have the money and the choice, learning face to face is preferred for many.

Cubicle or an office — why do you need to go to an office?  The time hanging out at a printer–the informal, unplanned activity where we make connections.  That doesn’t mean you need an office every day.   (Libraries/spaces in school libraries serve that function).

Why would we go to Chicago or any city?  To see things together; to attend sporting events (face to face)–it’s face to face interactions (or in my case, face to food interactions).

Increasingly we’re not limited by the daily commute anymore?  How does this apply to/impact schools?

Migration and growth patterns show that midsized cities are growing; people can telecommute, they can live somewhere sunny and more midsized with a town square and a community.

Future of human nature:

Curve of evolution of industrialization and change is accelerating (in same way Moore’s law does) — Garreau terms it “radical evolution”.

Telekinetic monkey–mind probe that controls activity around the monkey.  We are asking what happens to libraries with Google.  What happens to libraries when we have telekinetic functionality?

Google Glass–what if Google is wired into our brains?

Garreau — so, what do we need libraries (or any places for?)

What makes people tick is community.

To prevail  is the humanistic solution Garreau is rooting for.  Suppose there is not one curve of change but there are two.  Suppose there is a second curve of change in which our human responses are coming up with imaginative ways to change along with the external changes, and how can we grow that?

Real question isn’t what computer will become, but what PEOPLE will become?  As librarians we start to take control of our own evolution. 

Instead of doing predictions, Garreau does scenarios — Build a disparate collection of stories looking forward, and look at where that takes your institution.

Education in the Future–Anywhere, Anytime  Dr. Renu Khator;  University of HoustonKhator

If you view Univ through business analogy-

Four divisions–we create knowledge, we store knowledge, we teach knowledge, we x knowledge

From Business point of view–
—There’s a market, supply and production.
–Our production model twenty years from now will be different;  things are changing at a faster speed–we can be in front and define the change or the change will define us.

BRICKS countries — Brazil, India, China, etc. — desire for knowledge is strong;  building world class universities

–29% of graduates –plenty of supply but supply and demand are mismatched.
–Demographics mismatch — 8th graders from 6 years ago–80% are enrolled in a community college, only 41% of Hispanics are enrolled in college.  What kind of society are we building?  You can import talent, but how much can you import?
–Expectation mismatch — we are preparing students who can be successful, but way we are evaluated is a mismatch

4600 institutions of higher education in U.S.
Why is production is broken?

Imagine a restaurant — beautiful, etc.  you don’t serve meat
Movie — beautiful theater, but no movie.  Okay, it does have a movie but only shows half a movie.
Plane –upgrade to business class, four bags, but plane doesn’t fly anywhere.  Or plays half a movie.  Is that okay?

With university production, the core mission is not being met.  Students come with a dream that they will leave with a degree.  So only half are graduating from there.  She actually visits all the classes;  and asks students to email her personally if they are planning to drop out and she promises she will try to solve the problem in three days.

Mission creep: Why are we all defining our excellence by being something different than what we are?  We are taking our eyes off of core mission.   In next 10 years, 1/3 of schools may no longer make it if financial bubble bursts.

Technology changes–
Delivery (for example MOOCs)  — they probably won’t be the tech that comes but they have challenged our assumptions.
Job market — w/in one quarter Kodak went bankrupt w/ 145,000 employees, and Instagram with 13 employees was bought w/millions of $
Market is expanding globally

People are looking to the U.S. for solutions for their countries
Global demand is growing so fast, but short supply of professors — a tremendous worry;  how long will it take if we don’t value our own education and educators.  Univ talent may go away even though univ buildings stay.

Trends for future:

  • Content and delivery may become separated in future — the McDonald’s effect may force it
  • Decoupling of learning from credentialling — who says what college degree will be?  The minute that piece breaks, higher educ will fall apart.
  • Tailor made learning – Delinking of professors with a “following” from their universities–they can set up their own shops

Universities will remain because 18 year olds will need a safe place to experiment with life, but the role of universities needs to be agile

What will keep you afloat?  You have to provide something of value not provided by somebody else?
Can you provide convenience?
Can you provide discipline?

Education may become free.  Corporations may partner in order to get employees, for example.

What about role of university in sports ?  That affinity is important.
Virtual football teams?   Some new virtual sport?

The biggest change she sees is the 120 credit model.  Many of new instructors coming in are adjuncts in order to fill the professor gap.

Dr. Khator–my job is to prepare my organization to be flexible,open,to have a culture of continuous innovation.

photo (4)Summing Up

After each session today, we’ve been engaging in table talk about how these trends and concerns apply to libraries of the future, or writing our thoughts in the innovation area.  The conversations have been pretty engaging — though I would like a little more freedom with exploring the questions.  But it’s so helpful to have the mixture of librarians at the table as everyone brings different perspectives (I do wish more of my school colleagues were here as we are a major piece in the library and educational ecosystem).

Lots of food for thought…and more notes to come once I process all of them.  More tomorrow!

2 thoughts on “Library Summit “Future from Now On”

  1. I wonder about the place of Reader’s Advisory in the library of the future. What about people who like fiction and just want to talk about what they’ve read, and/or get ideas of similar (or different) books to read in the future? Databases like NoveList can’t do the job when the majority of suggestions aren’t even in the library. Will Joan Frye Williams’ idea of Library triage include staff that are well read? I don’t see that being a priority. And if not at the library, then where???

  2. Good questions–My sense was that Williams was talking more about the notion that libraries could be flexible instead of static–that we could look at policies and practices as evolving things, not fixed. For example, looking at simple policies like how long books circulate at a school library–what is that based on–does the time period make sense, or is it what it always was?
    Personally I think reader’s advisory is what many library users come to the library for. Important to think about how that fits into the evolving picture, and that’s a piece that I think doesn’t always enter into the thinking of those who are not readers?

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