Keynote: The Future of the Digital Library with Sarah Houghton
It was pretty cool to meet Sarah in person. She was with us to talk about what the library of the future look like, post-tech revolution and post-budget cuts. Her talk opened with her asking what libraries are today, and what we want them to be. She asked us if money, bureaucracy and political will were no objects, what three things would we do differently in libraries? She pointed out that some of these things we are thinking about right now (in response to that question) are achievable, and some are perhaps even goals we might share with colleagues in the room, if we were to ask them!
Sarah called for us to re-affirm our core library values and be less reactive. Her talk focused on these core values, including:
- Providing complete and balanced collections and information
- Ensuring we provide education, entertainment, and self-improvement
- Research assistance
- Freedom of information access
- Information privacy and security
- Beginning with basics: we need to better communicate the non-book materials we already have! People know that the library has books, and yet what do we advertise often? Books! We don't need to advertise our books! What people don't know about is everything else we have.
- The modern "device continuum:" it is really difficult to ensure library catalogues will work on and with every device ever created! Things look better/worse or work/don't work on certain devices; however, given the shift in the rate at which people use mobile as their primary access point for data (astronomical), we have to keep up.
- Touch screens are ubiquitous. Kids don't remember life before touch screens. One great idea Sarah shared was using touch screens (iPads) as end-of-shelf range displays: they can flash the call # range, and then flash an ad for an upcoming program. I thought that was cool.
- Pretty soon, your data will always be with you (before I even had time to master the Cloud, I guess it's gone?): paint that becomes a touch screen wall will soon be available and will display your data when you walk in the room with your device in your pocket.
- How will internet TV affect AV collections? There are no online alternatives for libraries (eg. Netflix for libraries). What role does the library have to provide TV in the future?
- Download vs streaming: we are moving away from "I want to own this movie/album" to "I will accept having access to everything for $10/mo." People won't use all of it but they like to know it's there. So, think about how this would work for libraries: the ultimate in patron-driven acquisition.
- 3D printing and augmented reality: these have implications for local communities (history, genealogy, or small business) - what your community has that no one else does. When it comes to augmented reality, your library can match the physical reality with the local info from your archives. You can hold your camera phone up and see what used to be where building x used to be. More on this later from Fiacre below.
- There are implications for our profession when it comes to 'net neutrality: privileging certain data over other data (eg. cheques changing hands, companies deciding to prioritise YouTube traffic over Netflix, photo downloads over video). We need to be aware of legislation regarding these issues.
- Social media: Many in our communities remain unaware that, as with Facebook, "if you are getting something for free, you are the product."
- The challenge of digital proliferation is an opportunity for us: it gives us a lot of chances to reach people where they are.
- Digital collections: user awareness, formats, DRM, owning and leasing models, device support.
- Information services: we are still the only place where you can ask anything (I don't know how much I really feel this is a core professional value anymore, to be honest. Yes, you can ask anything, and we still need librarians for the in-depth research questions, but I don't think you need librarians staffing public library Reference or Information desks...)
- Programming: the digital divide and the long tail. In a time of reduced budgets, Sarah suggests libraries focus on the "middle section: the sorta haves" (they have technology, but not tech knowledge).
- Library websites = ugly gargantuan tower of awfulness. Don't focus on brand names on your website, eg. "Click here for EBSCO...." Focus on function, not brand or category.
- "Go mobile or go home."
- Sarah spoke about a great project for free ebooks: The Open Library Data project, from Internet Archive.
- "Spend some time sitting in your public computer area. I'll give you $20 if your butt doesn't hurt." Oh crap, she's got me there!
- Sarah told a great story about how weird it was as she was walking out of a concert, and everyone was in line hovering over photos they had just taken five seconds ago. It was odd, but also demonstrated the pride in creativity (look what I made!) and sense of community sharing that is pretty inspiring about our tech society. That is something we can facilitate in libraries: encouraging creation and sharing.
- Ask the people you serve what would make their lives easier.
- We are the library. We democratise information and expertise, and there is no more noble goal.
Yeah, this was a bit out of my comfort zone. Fiacre, you're out of my comfort zone! You hear that?
Seriously interesting stuff, though. Here are some snippets:
- Augmented reality = Combines real + virtual worlds, interactive, 3D
- Want to see where technology is going? Look at artists (no such thing as failure) and military (more $ than they know what to do with)
- Donteat.at - "Get a text message when you check into a NYC restaurant that is at risk of being closed for health code violations." Eg. your phone will vibrate and you will know to get out of there!
- Ground Crew: you walk by a community gardens, and your phone vibrates to ask you to water it. What could libraries be doing with this technology (which is already out there)?
- GeoLoqi: a way to securely share location data. Beyond that, you can actually send yourself a note for when you visit a particular location in the future.
- StreetMuseum: Museum of London iPhone app that shows you images of the place where you are standing throughout history.
- DIY version: Historypin and the rise of the "information flaneur," walking through information in order to experience it.
- The idea of "information decoration:" the manner in which information is made available is according to what people want. Focus on the information, not the technology. In fact, "good technology isn't experienced as technology at all, because it is meaningfully integrated."
* some links and images from her talk (similar to a few of her other recent talks) are on her blog here.
Some quotes and paraphrases:
- "I love the work we do; I just don't love how we do it. We worry too much about offending everyone."
- "There has never been a time when libraries are not changing. We can't use 'things change' as an excuse to do nothing. This is it. This is our world."
- STOP the "collections arms race!" In fact, collection size is rapidly losing importance as a measure of a library's worth. "Traditional metrics fail to capture our value to our mission."
- "Viable alternatives to the library now exist and boast fastest growth and easiest access."
- Demand for our traditional services is declining (now, here is where I would link back to reference questions from Sarah's talk.... I would love to see the two of them discuss this...)
- New patron demands stretch our budgets and our organisational culture.
- The future of our information economy is with Kickstarter and crowdsourcing. How will our patrons get access to that information?
- Stakeholder expectations are not keeping up with reality.
- "We're not acting; we're reacting. We are great crisis managers," but this can be a weakness, too. "We must move past this."
- "Technology or tools will not save us. They are only as good as the understanding and effort you put into them."
- It's time for librarians to examine their own fears and start paying attention. Examine the framework (stop focusing on the task work) and focus on advancing our values.
- Say yes. "What's the worst that could happen? And could I handle it if it happened? Not would I want to, but could I?"