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VIDEO: Uncertainty & Imagination: Evolving Libraries Through Technology

Daniel W. Rasmus, a futurist, former Microsoft employee, and author of Listening to the Future, presented the Wednesday keynote address. You can view the video below, but if you would rather have a brief summary, read it here. He pointed out that we have no data about the future, so we have to think it about daily. His address presented many thoughtful points that libraries must consider in today’s environment. The competitive world for libraries has changed; public libraries do not compete with major university libraries any more; they compete with online bookstores (particularly discount ones).

The following are some of the uncertainties that libraries are facing:

  1. How will we access information? People using tablets interact with information very differently from those who don’t.
  2. How will we represent books? We have gone from stone cuneiform tablets to HTML5. We do not know what future formats will be.
  3. How low and how high can we go? (in terms of the amount of information we can hold in our hand) We will have more capacity. Will it be personal capacity? Will it be in the cloud? (54% of people claim to never use cloud computing, but 95% of them actually do.)
  4. How will we find stuff? We don’t know how we will search in the future? Will we think about new cognitive models or will we stay with a statistical model?
  5. What do we hire a library to do for us?
  6. How do we represent knowledge? Traditionally libraries are repositories of linear narratives. In a networked world, this may change.
  7. What do we need to know? There are many new jobs today that didn’t exist a few years ago. We must think about how we retrain people as the population ages.
  8. What will be the role of place? Will libraries be virtual? Do we have to have different roles for a virtual population?
  9. What is the measure of success? Is it productivity or serendipity?
  10. Who will document our trust in information and who will censor it? There are places where books are heavily censored today. In a virtual world, how do you know that the content of the book was not changed? We are not sure about the validity of a book and what publishers are doing to the content.
  11. What rights management model will predominate? Will it be digital rights management or digital restriction management in a world where information wants to be free?


  • Don’t think about the future in a linear way. We still have problems foretelling the future. Think about it in a multidimensional way.
  • Document the uncertainties you face. Do not put them in your computer; print them out and put them on a wall. You must look at them every day. They will remind you that you have to think strategically about the future.
  • Consider the “ultimate” use or utility of a consumer technology an uncertainty until it becomes obsolete. Until something becomes obsolete, you cannot know what its future will be.
  • Actively engage with the uncertainties when making strategic decisions. Leave things uncertain until they play out.
  • Use scenario planning to help think about possible ways the future may turn out, plan for contingencies and mitigate risks.


OPENING KEYNOTE — Uncertainty & Imagination: Evolving Libraries Through Technology
8:45 AM – 9:45 AM – Daniel W. Rasmus, Futurist & Author, Listening to the Future and Bellevue College, iPhone Life Magazine, PopMatters


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