Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Where is Library Technology going?

This started out as a comment on a piece by Chad Haefele on his Hidden Peanuts blog (which I found via an Aaron Tay from Nat University of Singapore tweet - yay 21st century):

Defining what I do: What makes a technology emerging or disruptive?

 All too quickly I realised I was rambling - but what struck me (eventually, as I stream-of-conscioused  via a keyboard) was Chad's description of his job seemed to be implying (or I wildly extrapolated) that change would be consistent; evolutionary rather than revolutionary. That his job (and mine, and yours) would stay approximately the same. The tools, methods and channels would be different but at their core libraries would be the same.

So I started:
Interesting piece Chad, I've pondered how to describe this aspect of my job too.
Then almost immediately went on a tangent down a steep incline:
Sometimes I think it's me that's disruptive rather than the technology. Echoing the the point Walt picked up on and you acknowledge, re: mp3s -  you don't have to change, you make the choice.
My disruptive influence is that I don't think the library's survival is paramount; I think the meeting the user's need is. Sometimes we have to acknowledge that we just get in the way, for at least some users.  I'm happy for people to make the case for the continued mystic aura of the library - but the justification shouldn't be based on 'the library is a good thing' it should be about why the library is best placed to meet a valid user need.

What libraries fear is being bypassed, so we watch each new technology enter the hype cycle and we ponder how we can use it, if we should, who else is, and how we would manage it with all the other kittens we're herding.

For a long time we've been picking winners and dropping losers from our rosters of resources and services but I have this itching in the back of my brain that makes me think we are slowly reaching a singularity - a point where our systems do their thing well with little help from us. When our only value is in one-to-one communications and relationships. And that value is only to a relatively small proportion of our client base.

Thinking out loud from an academic library standpoint - what happens if the MOOC model foments new and better standards for accreditation and education delivery? If students can build their degrees from subjects offered anywhere in the world, and not be tied to a particular institution? If textbooks and research lit and data sets are open access? If microcharging finally works? If the wolfram alpha model of query analysis gets more sophisticated and more widely adopted? If linked data is ubiquitous?

In this post-apocalyptic scenario could we be reduced to small groups of curators, advocates and mentors organisationally attached to the student and/or research services areas?

Will we be willing to let go of the library as a brand? Does it matter?

 The flaw I see in my speculation is I'm painting academia after the singularity as a tranquil place where all is perfect, and therefore not needing change, or change agents. Bollocks to that. Like any good singularity we just can't see what's on the other side from here.


Jonathan Rochkind said...

What I keep coming back to is that libraries (academic and public) are essentially the only information-specialist institutions whose business interests and mission are soley to help our our patrons -- not to get them to buy something, AND not to sell our users as demographic data to advertisers.

I'm not quite sure where that gets us; just because we're the only ones in that position doesn't mean we manage to succesfully help the users or not (currently we are not succesful as we ought to be or need to be to justify our existences).

But I suspect that focusing on this, and finding ways to provide services that those who want to buy or sell our users would be unlikely to provide themselves, is a good place to think about.

Alan @JCU Library said...

You're right Jon, our mindset is an outlier in today's world. The problem is we operate within bodies that are business-like (at least in terms of an ROI-like approach to funding). Not only do we have to make clients' informational exertions better we have to try and measure those intangibles and assign a monetary worth to them.

I like your definition of our 'space' to innovate in, but I still worry that:

a)we're operating in the margins
b)our main purpose is survival (so we operate in the margins where there are no competitors)

I shouldn't blog at midnight - this morning I came across this post hidden in my to read tab group
- it might have made my explication more coherent

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