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Rip Van Winkle’s Libraries in 2510

Rip Van Winkle

At conferences such as IL, one often finds sessions devoted to the future of libraries in 3, 5, or at the most 10 years.  But the organizers of IL 2010 went far beyond that with the Tuesday evening session on libraries 500 years(!!) in the future.  Well, at least nobody at today’s session will be around to validate the predictions!

The Audience Gathers

The Shanachies, Eric and Jaap, took us on a trip into the future.  They showed an interview with Ernie Ingles, Vice Provost and Director, School of Library and Information Studies, University of Alberta.

Erik Interviews Ernie Ingles

Ingles likes libraries because they are very dynamic places.  There has been so much change in the last 40 years!  That was 5 years after the first photocopies were introduced into libraries.  What’s next and how do we start preparing for it?  Where will libraries go?  We must stop thinking that there is something called a library.  There are many kinds of libraries, and the differences will become more profound.  We are the keepers and curators of yesterday’s and today’s knowledge for tomorrow.  Our client 500 years from now needs to have available some of the things of today.  We have to deal with that future not only in print but also digitally.  There is nothing permanent about a digital file.  We must stop thinking about decades.  We have managed to inherit a heritage from our predecessors.  It will be that way in the future, but we must start thinking how we are going to preserve our heritage.  We have not taken preservation as seriously as we should.  The world has to understand that we have the skills to do it, but we need a general understanding.  We need leadership to give librarians the confidence they need to make the case that this is important.  I would like to see that people have come forward to take on those challenges.

Ernie comes back to tell us what happened

From a viewpoint 500 years hence, Ernie said that nobody cared about long-term preservation.  Something went wrong!  Metadata terrorists were creating app things.  They were creating dysfunctional taxonomies–even though the knowledge was there, you couldn’t find it.  They made everything digital and forgot about print.  We heard about a “Saint Steve A.” who had the ability to counteract what the terrorists were doing.

An old video of an interview with “Steve A.” was found.

Erik Interviews "Steve A."

He has no doubt that devices will be implanted so that we won’t have to worry about losing our phones.  People find it hard to imagine how much change will happen.  We are entering a period of very dynamic change. It’s not about desktop screens, products, or content.  It’s all about context.  We have gotten much better at communicating to transfer information.  We can move more information than ever before.  We need to understand better how information flows and how we can improve its context.

Unfortunately the video was damaged, but the body of Steve A. was found and unfrozen.

He got very passionate about reading.  We brought people together, and it was depressing.  They would say things like, “If we could only catalog the Internet…”.  We showed them that this would take 9,000 years with today’s technology.  We were worried that librarians have not leaped up to the next plateau.  I wondered how we could shock them out of their complacency.  How do we protect the world of discovery and culture for the next 500 years.  Some people actually said they couldn’t think more than 3 years in the future!  How do we get our passion to transcend our small world?

We will be totally interconnected, but there will be “opt out” places where you can do things yourself and have free thoughts without being connected.  Will our search for libraries be in vain?

Erik interviewed “The Librarian in Black”, a.k.a. Sarah Houghton-Jan.

We are trying hard to connect to our users using whatever device they have.  It’s really important not to be device-specific.  We use open access so that our information will always be available.

The "Librarian in Black" Becomes the "Librarian in White"

Is there hope for libraries?  There is, but all the data we have is so encrypted, we need a key to the internet.


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