SCLA 2011: Library Institutions for the Future

Speaker: Dr. Ron Brown

The future is a hard topic to address – how can you tell the future?

Best way to go is to focus on the possibilities for the future.

Many Worlds theory: the worlds we see & observe exist, plus parallel worlds that are created by decision points.

Questions: Is it cheating? Libraries exhibit the values of honesty & integrity.  But we have to ask what is cheating?

3 ideals:

  • open access
  • open government
  • privacy of the individual

These will change & flux as we move into the future.  How is cheating related to these?

If we have all this access to all recorded knowledge, is it cheating if we use the resource?  [What if it’s pirated? -A]

Technology itself isn’t a cheat.  We need to use everything possible to bring people into libraries & help them use our resources.

We should focus on people, though, not the tech.  The tech serves the people.

Consider the Renaissance man.  “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”  We hope to create the Renaissance man.

Imagine replacing libraries (places to extract books) with data centers that will extract answers themselves from all resources.

Privacy…
Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Twitter — their take on privacy is different from ours.  We have a legal wall up to respect the privacy of the user.  We don’t necessarily use data mining like Google & Facebook.

Now, what if we did use the private data to make data-driven decisions without sharing the information outside the library?  Or what if we could recommend items based on the profile of what a user is reading or checking out?  What if we could tell if they were trying to start a business or find a job & push relevant resources to each patron?

A study in Reference Quarterly demonstrated that you could reuse queries & answers.  You can resuse resources for 11 years on average.  Reference personnel recommend resources with staying power.  Collecting & reusing the answers has value.  We should tackle the question of how to increase knowledge discovery efficiently.

We also need to think about the fact our use of tech is foundational to the future of tech.  We are the place where kids touch tech for the first time.

We are the core of a social interaction–we are about people.  We are placed to help connect people to each other via tech.  The tech we should invest in is the tech that has the most potential impact on our communities.  Imagine if the library provided a service that would be the aggregator of a patron’s social interactions online?  What if we kept it for posterity & for genealogists and historians in the future?

[I still think our next big thing in libraries are 3D printers.  Ask me about that theory some time. 🙂 -A]

Go online & look for the new library at the University of Chicago.  They’re removed the books & made it as a place for people.  The 80,000 books are stored in 2 floors below the public space.  A robot will get the books for them from the giant bookstack under the library in 5 minutes.  Wow!  How interesting.  The future here uses technology to move books out of the public space & still allows people to get to their books.

Another video demonstrating an interface that’s done with light projection on your hand.  Looks cool!

He sees the future focused on the people.  The tech will change & become increasingly expensive.  The people will drive the acquisition of technology.  Our goldmine is people’s data.  If we choose to consider data totally private & not get answers from it in a respectful way, our future will be different & poorer, Dr. Brown says.

So what do you think the possibility is for libraries in the future?

Question time!

Q: What about the joy of browsing on the bookshelf in the UChi model?
A: Dr. B agrees, discovery is important.

Q: My county is fairly rural and we’re about the only place people can access some of these technologies.  How do you get people more comfortable with tech if you’re expecting people to drive the tech?
A: Dr. B’s more focused on what their needs are.  Ex: dropout rate of X.  Unemployment of Y.  What tech will be best able to help them find a job?

Q: Melvil Dewey even understood the value of browsing.  The public library is the people’s university.  I see our mission as being able to educate others about new tech in conjunction with books, for example, to write a business plan.
A: Dr. Brown agrees

Q: Word of mouth in an academic environment can supplement data mining.

Q: I feel there is more value in us being the 1 place where people’s data won’t be exploited.
A: Dr. B feels like not participating in identity service may be the less advantageous choice.

Q: We can make reading interest data quite anonymous, but patrons may not trust our ability to keep it quiet.

Q: Automatically generating info about people?  When we do it, we tend to get it wrong.  She brings up the PATRIOT Act.  Once we start collecting this, we’re going to not own this data very long.

Q: Aren’t we doing data mining now for acquisitions?  Isn’t this like being a little big pregnant? [laughter]

Q: The Amazon browsing point: they have no context for our decision to buy, say, a gift.  They often get it wrong.  This might cause distrust in us.

Q: How do we adjust data mining to make it work for us?
A: Dr. Brown says, yep, that’s his point.

Q: Amazon is very impersonal therefore you’re not embarrassed to buy the Kama Sutra.  If we start with suggestions in person, that might increase the embarrassment quotient.
A: Offering tech for checkout or for recommending itself, might make this a little more palatable.

Q: How can you sell this to the board or counties with ROI?  We’re a conservative state.  How can you justify this?
A: We’re founded to help the people.  You need to fight for it now if you’re behind the curve in tech adoption.

Q: From the children’s end of things: the youngest generations aren’t very concerned about privacy.  It’s important for us to think about this & to help the coming generations understand the moral implications of privacy & lack thereof.

Q: Wanted to clarify the point: yes, some libraries are in fact blocking social media.
A:  Yes, yes they do. 🙁

Q: We should teach kids about privacy.
A: We can provide a protected network.  In the future, there will be levels of disclosure.

Q: Points out that Overdrive for Kindle is being tracked without our permission.  We should be able to demand that they share it with us.
A: A great point.  We’re becoming beholden to publishers.  Whereas we have the data on people & should use that as leverage.  [They should treat us as equal partners. -A]

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