I recently read The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly and was taken by his description of the technological forces busy shaping our future. I’ve given a couple of talks based on what I got out of this book and what some of these forces mean for libraries. Below are the slides I used in those talks (you’ll need to download from the pdf link below the image). I’ll progressively add some notes explaining my points.
- Get used to constant change
- Get used to our users or clients creating and making their own things
- Big pointer to personalisation and anticipating user needs – but what are we doing about that in libraries – discovery & services?
- Stop waiting for perfect before releasing new services – people understand that now.
- Do we even notice what has happened when the changes are incremental. Can we do some of that ourselves?
- In an age of robots and self-driving cars, what work will matter for us? How do we add real value?
- There are more pointers here to providing deeper, richer and more personalised services for our clients.
- We need to stop relying on static collection growth and start providing just-in-time services and understand subscriptions better.
- I think UTS ePRESS has already started experimenting with the fluidity of the page, edition, container and format, but maybe we can go even further with things like open peer-review, constant improvement, broader collaboration?
- Maybe understanding how the stages of flowing impact on all media (towards being more open) is a new form of digital literacy.
- Can we look at our libraries as a platform for cultural life within our communities and how do we do that effectively – finding more audiences and giving them a deeper, improved understanding with context for knowledge?
- Using without owning is a concept that actually comes from libraries, but maybe now it is being pushed even further through platform synergy. I guess with things like ILL and Bonus+ we are already there too, but perhaps these things can be massively improved and decentralised even further using new technologies and concepts – shared collections, single platform LMS, rethinking “membership”?
- I guess this relates heavily to #5 for libraries as it talks about more collaboration and then extreme decentralisation – maybe we need to get our act together and start thinking more imaginatively about how we do that.
- Understanding how the “crowd” works and how we can participate in some of those crowd activities may well be increasingly important. Maybe we even become a bit of a hub for some crowd activities or movements?
- Again he talks about the importance of harnessing personalisation to anticipate and meet user needs. I don’t think we have done a great deal yet in libraries to match services offered like those of Netflix and Amazon. We could and we should.
- It also relates to the real experiences we offer our users in library spaces – with real people. This is a layer that will be increasingly appreciated in an age where screening is convenient, but where people still want face-to-face services and physical experiences. I think that the programs we offer in our spaces (training, assistance and curations) need to go much further than what can be gained from page or screen.
- This relates to us in a couple of ways – firstly helping others to understand the complex legal issues and secondly in assisting people to safely use and remix different types of media for all kinds of reasons. I see this as part of the new need for libraries to provide assistance and training in digital literacies (not just information literacies).
- Maybe there is something for us to learn from here in terms of maximising engagement with our programs (we’ve already started doing that at UTS Library with our orientation programs) and in terms of engaging more openly with games as they for part of contemporary culture and literacies.
- The other interesting aspect is the research showing that immersion into VR worlds is helping some people to re-establish neural pathways and connections after injury, so perhaps we need to throw out those awful; static personas and understand that our audiences will increasingly have more fluid identities?
- This seems inevitable already, so again I think we need to be aware of what is happening so that we can help people understand some of the benefits and also how to protect their privacy.
- We are the kings of metadata and as there is more data becoming available every day perhaps where we come in is giving that data context through reliable metadata.
- We must understand that questions are much more powerful than answers and maybe we start to harness them and learn how to use them in libraries? Sure we need to help people find and use data as well, but we also need to see that so many more things are possible now through constant questioning – like why not or how can we?
- There is even more here pointing to massive scale convergence, but we still need to help people negotiate some of the challenges and I think also become advocates for the changes needed to deliver the full potential pf this brave new world.
I think “librarian” now means many different things in contemporary libraries and that outstanding future libraries will be full of a mix of professionally qualified people who bring an increasingly diverse range of skills to libraries. So, who are these additional or relatively new folk and what skills do they bring? Here are my thoughts.
- ICT programming & development skills* – needed to manage repositories of research outputs and data; data archives; discovery interfaces; many large systems peculiar to libraries (e.g. RFID, ASRS, library catalogues, search and discovery layers & so many vendors’ products – databases).
- Legal or para-legal skills** – to advise on the increasingly complex IP and Copyright environment and on the mixing/creation/reuse of licensed material by students and academics.
- UX* – to make sure we get user interfaces and services right and iterating in the right direction.
- New media skills** – to better understand its creation and to assist students and academics with its creation and this will become only more and more important, so that means people comfortable with the creation and editing of sound, film, images, games, online publications, social media, etc.
- New (online) publication skills** – for OERs, ebooks & texts, OA pubs, print-on-demand, etc.
- Design skills* – in-house as they help with all of the above; they also help with the development of a design mindset (as opposed to just plonking “good ideas” on unsuspecting punters).
- Marketing & Comms skills* – in-house as they also help market our services to our community.
- Curators & archivists* – to assist with “special” collection development, exhibitions and the very important cultural aspects of libraries.
- Conservators# – depending on scale and collection needs.
- Data Scientists (or the like) or Analysts, or “Wranglers”** (probably the most apt description) – as I think we will need a few librarians who really do understand this field and who can hold their own in environments with various data gatherers or generators like academics, students and researchers.
* Those we have already at UTS Library.
** Those we are growing or developing in-house.
# Those we don’t have or need here.
Anyone else I’ve missed or badly described?
Here are my thoughts on GLAM sector collaboration and conferences in Australia. Firstly, we should stop having so many library “conferences” every six months. There just isn’t enough interesting, new or relevant material to justify participation.
Maybe we should consider having one major library conference (run by either VALA or ALIA, or both) every second year and on the other years we get the whole GLAM sector together and ALIA, MA, ASA and anyone else (like CAUL, NSLA, etc.) cooperate to run the one Australian GLAM conference. I’ve said this for years and nobody listens. It would be a useful first step in learning from each other, collaborating and maybe even starting to have one united voice for the impact of culture in our society. Who knows, perhaps we could even make major progress on a digital strategy for the whole sector?
I gave a talk to the VALA AGM earlier this week on our Artist-in-Residence Program: the thinking behind it, who has been involved, what has been produced and why we think it is a good thing. Below are the slides I used (29 MB PDF) and in many of the images there are links that take you much deeper into the works created by those artists.
I think my talk was very well summarised in one tweet by @StevenPChang (who is a Senior Research Advisor from La Trobe University Library). He said that I was “lauding the value of intuition, ambiguity, and aesthetics in a world obsessed with metrics and efficiency.” That is exactly what I was trying to do.
These are the slides I used in a Skype presentation that I did recently for SCU Library. Just some random thoughts and observations about academic libraries from my perspective at UTS.
These are the slides I used for a talk I did for UTS undergraduate architecture students who were working on a public library project.
Public Library Design
In this second part, I feature the talk by Michelle Ha Tucker, from IDEO. She deals with Library Innovation By Design.
Michelle’s talk is very easy to understand and quite inspiring for those thinking of taking this path. It is the path we’ve been on for some five or six years in developing a design mind-set with the aid of several design mentors and guides from UTS and elsewhere around Sydney. I’d agree with her observations and recommendations.
She described user centred design or design thinking as more of an approach than a process and then runs through a few different ways to describe the various stages that you tend to work through such as Inspiration > Ideation > Iteration > Scale, or Explore & Understand > Synthesize > Prototype > Refine & Scale, or simply moving from Research through a Concept Prototyping phase into Design. What I liked most is that she also said the best way to learn about it is to actually start doing it. There are a number of guides and toolkits around that can help. For example Design Thinking for Libraries, the Design With Intent Toolkit, and the (Social) Innovator’s Toolkit.
Michelle sees three reasons libraries should try design thinking:
- Libraries are the last great living lab (for designers?): we have dedicated spaces, a steady stream of users who can be observed and questioned on a day-to-day basis. And you can prototype, experiment and co-create with a diverse range of people.
- Librarians are great service designers. They really know their users best and the challenge is empowering front-line staff to create better solutions.
- Libraries are networked community infrastructure. We are at the centre of the communities strength and resilience connecting education and learning systems, public safety, economic development and civic engagement. MIchelle believes the best solutions are systemic, complex and cross institutional, so with libraries at the centre of all of this, we’re well positioned to connect and make those partnerships deliver. The partnerships must be activated.
Michelle also recognised some tensions or barriers such as moving from:
- just reflecting on data (historical benchmarking) to imagining a future or possibilities;
- research answers questions to (design) research opens up new questions (be comfortable with ambiguity);
- organisation structured around operational teams to an organisation driven by strategic teams; and
- failure is avoided (at all costs!) to failure is invited.
Some resolutions or thought starters: hiring T-shaped people with one depth but a broad affinity with others and also X-shaped people who have developed expertise in two different areas (like art and science). Those people will lead changes in libraries.
On Innovation, Michelle said it was a verb (not a noun), both process and outcome, something that can be taught and about thinking big and starting small. It is not always new and she encourages taking something you see and contextualising it for your needs.
Finally she said that change happens at a large scale not top-down, but by empowering people on your front-line to act.