Libraries from Now On– Summing up the Summit

Continuing with the liveblogged notes–

Consultant and future-thinker Joan Frye Williams closed out the conference by summing up the themes she heard emerging throughout the Summit.   Throughout the two days, she circulated through the tables, looked at the brainstorming boards, and gathered some threads together for the closing statements of the Summit, and discover “what is the library ‘from now on?”

Below are my liveblogged notes from her discerning comments:  (many of these are direct quotes…or my summary of her words)

Summit is an opportunity to frame and reframe questions/conversations — it is an evolutionary process which involves rebalancing and rethinking and some movement

So what is the point?

Questions about what value libraries will add, what business we’ll be in, etc.   Williams believes that from now on, we’ll be engaged in a Human Enterprise; involves knowledge; knowledge based.

  • “It’ is likely to be aspirational and transformational — a desirable change happening
  • likely to be shared/community centric
  • F2F is a strong pathway for libraries.  In this library, the role of “us” is active, not reactive, collaborative and developmental
  • Developmental — an arc of learning, an arc of relationships, a long term arc of moving things forward
  • Transformational experiences which pay off is later.   Are we with people for the transformational experience of their lives or just for the transaction at the moment?.
  • Developmental relationship natural in a teaching environment, not so natural in an adult-relationship environment.  Sometimes when happens betw adults has been very condescending.  (i.e. “help the heathens”).  We don’t always know what is best for them.
  • Threads is that libraries will be a relationship-based enterprise, not anonymous.  Would you let someone who wouldn’t tell you their name cut their hair ?  We’re asking people to trust us with their development but we need to be in relation with them.(public)  (me :  that is much less an issue for school libraries than public…)

Relationship must be trust-based.  Have we leveraged that trust?
With trust comes responsibility–trust increases that level of responsibility.   Our success will be measured by other people’s outcomes.  If they are successful we are successful.

Innovating is a non-linear process

  • process will be messy;  too quick to dismiss messy projects or how promised; give things time to sort themselves out in the library–one of our adjustments is to adjust to messy processes–how well do we as a profession accommodate a shift to messy?

We ask the least useful questions–like “did you like us?”   It’s nice they like us but we need audacious questions and to  generate and triage new ideas.

We need to build capacity in designing, evaluating the results of meaningful experiments and research.     Sometimes we don’t go looking for fear of what we’ll find out.

Need to create capacity in creating rich environments, abundant environments for people to learn and achieve.  The through line of childhood story is abundant.  Libraries = abundance
To do better–providing incentives and inducements and excitement for reading/learning;  passive about getting readers (me:  schools, again, are most active in doing this…)

When we do outreach, we go out and talk about ourselves instead of finding out how it works for the customer.

Facility in creating new spaces and curating human connections that can ride alongside the data.   Broaden our notion of what we curate. (Curate ideas, people?)

Developing skill in analyzing user behavior.  We don’t look at patron behavior due to privacy but….balance between privacy and using data to make decisions.

The more scenarios the better.

Develop capacity in supporting a DEVELOPING enterprise which is different than supporting an established institution.  We need a different set of skills than if we are just managing to retain what we’ve always done… need both capacities.

Need capacity to think about decoupling things….How knowledge is managed, curated and distributed….are those all going to emanate from same place?

Where can we stand out?  What part of the power grid are we?  Which kinds of libraries are which part of the power grid, too?

Decoupling of services and delivery….sometimes actively resisted because we aren’t good at working through other people.   librarians not trusting others to “do it right”

We’re serving people in our community in phases, not all at once  — there are relationships we need with our communities but we are ignoring them because we are focusing too much on the transactions (check outs).   We need to build relationships so we’ll be there when needed — that is more than just the immediate transaction.   We belong to our whole community and I am strengthened when they are strengthened — need to trust others…

Issue of skills is going to be important going forward..

Is one size fits all for our communities fair?  What entry points do we need to provide?

Issue around value.    We have acted as we are the sole arbitor is what is important about libraries and then act hurt if others don’t agree.  Have to get beyond that and negotiate that.

What does success looks like…How do OTHER people know we are successful   — Word she heard which troubled her — the word “allow”

We need to be thoughtful about unpacking principles, opportunities, outcomes and techniques when what we are doing is risky.

Change is not a process we are going to do once and be over with.  It is a messy process and we have to develop the ability to be okay with that.


So, that concludes the summit…where to now?   For me, it will be one more blog post, pulling my thoughts together specifically about schools/school libraries.   For ALA, it’s establishing a Center for the Future of Libraries to be a think tank or innovation central, and the experience at the Summit will help guide that.   Next blog post to come….

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