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The Future of Libraries: Challenges and Strategies

Ken Haycock

Ken Haycock

Ken Haycock, Research Professor at the Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California and Senior Partner, Ken Haycock & Associates, moderated the closing panel and set the stage by listing some of the challenges that libraries face today:

  • The future is not what it used to be. City managers and university presidents are finding organizations offering similar services to libraries but at less cost.
  • Others already occupy some of the spaces that libraries are moving into and are creating makerspaces,etc.
  • Competition abounds. The world is moving faster than we are.
  • What is our unique value proposition? What distinguishes us that warrants an investment of public funding?  What is our professional staff’s unique expertise?  Is it different from that of a preschool teacher?
  • We are about the only industry with no commonly accepted key success factors.
  • How do we drop services? Even if only a few people use them, there will still be at least one person defending them passionately.
  • Is our system simply a collection of unique neighborhoods joined together in a common enterprise?
  • How can the sense of entitlement by some of our staff be broken?
Closing panel

Closing Panel (L-R): Ken Haycock; Donna Scheeder, Deputy Chief Information Officer, Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress; John Szabo, City Librarian, Los Angeles Public Library; Corinne Hill, Library Director, Chattanooga Public Library

Haycock then invited three panelists to join him to discuss these issues. Below are some of the points the panelists made.

  •  We live in a society that does not value culture.  You must align with your funding agency and with their goals. If the community does not value you, you are done.
  • Our special advantage is our values, access, and productivity that resonate with elected officials and donors.  Deal with the perception of relevance.  We must be savvy about marketing ourselves.
  • What are the trends in society (not just the library trends) that are impacting libraries?  IFLA recently conducted a study of trends; see the IFLA website for the results .  What should we do to align ourselves with the goals of society? We cannot position ourselves alone; there is a whole area of national policy that we must align with.  It has been years since we had a summit on national policy discussing issues such as what do we do on copyright,or  at the UN?  IFLA’s Lyon Declaration, developed at this year’s meeting in Lyon, France, concluded that any goal we work towards depends on access to information.  That is our unique value. We provide information for free and access to the Internet if people don’t have it.
  • We live in a time of dwindling resources and we must prove value and return.  We also have unlimited opportunities; in fact, we may face the possibility of death by opportunity.  The information marketplace is greatly misunderstood.  There are a lot of players in it, and we are not the significant one.  We must find a different area to play in.  How do we ensure we are not moved aside?  The library director, leadership, and staff must be tuned into community needs.  What is the common denominator between us all?
  • We must be able to say no to things that are not going well and build adjacencies to things that are.  For example, the software company that developed the software for ATMs moved on and built the software for airline self-checkin kiosks. Our jobs and decisions are not easy. If you do strategic planning and have a goal, you will be able to make the right kinds of decisions.
  • How do we know when we have been successful?  Understand what success looks like.  It is not what we want to do; it’s what people need.  How do we do what our community needs?  Find stories of what is meaningful to people.  Tell your staff what success is.  The responsibility is on us to explain this to funders.  We must have metrics to show our impact.
  • What happens when people are not readers?  Reading is fundamental to everything.  There is no access to informaton if you cannot read.  How likely are you to be contributing to society if you cannot read?  Story time is for teaching children a love of reading and a love of books.  We must key what we do to the needs of society.
  • Give staff the flexibility to be as innovative as possible.  The arrival of somebody new is a tremendous time for experimentation. At some point, you must be evaluating your results, bring in cohesion, and eliminate things that don’t fit into the mission.
  • We need to realize that library education is changing.  Many professional librarians have an elitist attitude, which is one reason why the percentage of professionals in libraries is declining.  Our  jobs are evolving.  We must stop talking about “traditional” and “non-traditional” librarians.

Haycock asked the panelists a final question: What is one trend with the biggest impact on where we are going in the future?

  • How close we work with our communities in building our libraries and services. We will relinquish some of our expertise and become true partners with the people in our communities.
  • MOOCs and public libraries, reinterpreting lifelong learning, thinking about libraries as active learning organizations.
  • Academia does not see the disruption coming to their sector of the economy because of MOOCs. Libraries must support students and creators of MOOCs.  Do not understimate the potential for a greater digital divide.  Libraries will be able to make a difference to people.
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