Six panelists from a variety of libraries in the U.S. and the Netherlands mused about the future of technology in libraries yesterday at the 2009 American Library Association Conference in Chicago. What will truly happen, of course, is not clear. They would agree. Libraries are in transformation and in danger of being just left behind. With economic hard times, decision making is going to be increasingly difficult but very important. Roy Tennant of OCLC Programs and Research said it most clearly that administrators need to resist across the board cuts of library services. It may be a good time to pare away services that no longer produce wanted results and concentrate on those that will perform well. Libraries can come out of the crisis better if they choose well.
Other than Tennant, panelists were John Blyberg of Darien Library, Geert Van Den Boogen from DOK in Delft, Clifford Lynch of the Coalition of Networked Information, Eric Lease Morgan of the University of Notre Dame, and Joan Frye Williams, an information technology consultant. Karen Coombs of the University of Houston was ill and unable to attend.
Before the panelists presented their individual forecasts, they spoke together about the three trends posed by moderator Maurice York of North Carolina State University.
In five years everything will be mobile.
In five years everything will be virtual.
In five years everything will be in the cloud.
This may have been somewhat of a set up instead of truly believed statements, for it generated much debate. Understanding the finer points is difficult, not just because of the technical language, but also because of some academic and philosophical jargon. Luckily for us, the entire program is available to view again and again at LitaBlog. Also, David Lee King seemed to understand the finer point a bit better than I did and bullet pointed them on his blog.
Here is what I took away and think is important for public libraries.
There may be many more mobile devices than laptop and desktop computers in the next five years, but that in no way makes the computers irrelevant. The mobile devices have their limitations. Their increase reflects a movement away from text to image, but text will remain important. Many people are more comfortable with larger keyboards and screens.
Joan Frye Williams said that providing information is not the point of the public library. Our libraries serve to transform us through culture, recreation, education, and information.
Many copyright holders have too much to lose for everything to become free virtually.
The use of the “cloud” is enticing because it is free of costs in many cases. However, it fosters unwarranted trust. Clifford Lynch said that inevitably there will be a crash and data loss. Users must keep their important documents backed up.
When PCs replaced mainframe computers, data became decentralized. Cloud computing is re-centralizing data. This may not be a good thing.
Technology and information vendors will try more and more to go directly to the end user. EBSCO supports NPR News as a marketing strategy. Libraries will have to be nimble to stay in the picture. They will have to market their value-added services. Eric Lease Morgan recommended that libraries create concordance-like tools to the web. (See Eric’s comment which clarifies his recommendation and provides a link to more information.)
Technologies will help libraries become more environmentally responsible.
John Blyberg said that libraries have a vested interest in the survival of news media. Our holdings of the past have reflected the output of newspapers, journals, etc. What will we have if they go away.
Libraries need to move their technological experts out of isolated IT departments and into public services.
There was so much more said at this meeting. If you want to know more, watch the video.