This closing session, moderated by Jane Dysart, was a conversation discussing the challenges for libraries in the future and some solutions to them. Panelists were Donna Scheeder, Past President, IFLA, and Consultant, Library Strategies International; Jason Griffey, Founder, Evolve Project; Susan Broman, Assistant City Librarian, Los Angeles Public Library; ad Peter Raymond, Founder and CEO, SolveOS. Here is an edited transcript of the conversation,
Peter: Libraries are where you satisfy your curiosity. They give us access to things we don’t have access to every day and help you find what is important to a community.
Susan has worked in public libraries for 24 years. She became interested in how technology is changing our profession. The biggest challenges for urban public libraries are serving the homeless, gathering people together, breaking down silos, and offering services in a central place.
Donna noted that librarians in Serbia found that the main reason for homelessness was that people could not use the computers. They developed a program to teach veterans computer skills and use them to apply for jobs; as a result, 95 of 100 of them got jobs and are no longer homeless.
Jason discussed where technology, policy, and law come together and affect one another. Data drives decisions in the world. We need to be aware of data and careful of it. AI and machine learning are only as good as the data used for training the system. Our role will increasingly be to train these systems to do what we want them to do. The world in which we have careful human analysis of things is finished. Machine learning will defeat that very quickly.
Donna: What IFLA is doing to respond to challenges: There are examples all over the world of people doing amazing things with few resources, but this work is disconnected. The library world has moved to action which is very good. The IFLA Global Vision project tested the theory that the issues and values are the same across the world. Its chief finding was that we are united globally in our values. We need to make the connections easy for people to come together. The Idea Store is where libraries can contribute to this project.
Jane: We need to listen to other people because that helps us learn. Try things out so they can be visualized. Libraries are doing “popups”.
Peter: If you see AI as the equivalent of a 2 year old child, we know it will grow rapidly like the child. Now we have driverless cars that are driven by AI. It gets better and faster; we are processing a lot of information accumulated over time when we are driving. The machine learns in milliseconds how we live as a species every second of every day. Get some hobbies; if it can be done twice, it will be learned.
Donna: We deal with literacy issues all the time. Now we have change literacy; we need to understand how things work. Many people are afraid of the changes; we must help them get through the changes because they will happen whether we want them or not, which is why we need to engage with AI.
Peter: We have not been through the changes that are happening now.
Susan: The skills in the future of the library staff and how they transfer to other things are hugely important.
Jason: Things like self-driving cars have many wonderful implications, but the most frequent middle-income job is delivery. What do you do when that stops due to automation? As other examples, image recognition will remove the need for radiologists in several years when AI takes over diagnostic jobs. And MIT’s HAMLET system is amazingly good at analyzing theses.
Jane; Have you seen interesting opportunities that libraries could try or experiment with?
Jason: They could partner with newly emerging communications or storage services running on a series of computers rather than a central server. Libraries have lots of computers and spare processing power. They could partner with decentralized technical people.
Susan: Libraries need to lead the way in digital inclusion and equitable access, and remove the gap between the haves and have-nots to help build people’s skills. We have always provided materials to people. At one time it was to books, now it is to video cameras, games, drones, ukuleles, etc., etc.
Jane: What’s a new topic to talk about next year?
Peter: Climate is what matters and affects all of us. People don’t know where to go to hear about climate’s effects. Bring the UN Global Goals into your library.
Susan:Engage neighborhoods and measure climate change. Inclusiveness, diversity, and equity are important.
Jason: Citizen science projects are very significant for changing people’s minds. Everything is political now; we as carers of fact and need to be on top of that.
Donna: Libraries should have conversations with people and bring people together to have a new understanding. Take another look at the companies that provide us with social media platforms. How do we get social media back without the things that are turning it into an enemy of the people?