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Library Futures

In this morning’s Talk Libraries, Erik Boekesteijn interviewed Matt Finch, whose  website describes him a consultant whose “work spans scenario planning and foresight, policy consultation and strategic direction, community outreach and content development, plus facilitation and training for staff at all levels.” He began his talk by stating that “All roads lead to libraryland, particularly when you’re talking about the future.”

Matt uses scenario planning to discover blind spots as organizations and governments try to foresee the future. He is not in the prediction business, preferring his role to be that of a listener. Reminding us that since we don’t have any actual data from the future, we have to recognize that the future is uncertain and can’t be adequately represented by a graph. One thing that is clear, however, that life after 2020 will be different, due to the pandemic and an economic downturn. Libraries, he thinks, are very likely to encounter drastically reduced funding.

Given that scenario, Matt recommended asking what your library can give up. You can’t continue to add services without the money to support them. Another recommendation: Look for partnerships that can help with the funding issues. Also, become friends with your procurement department. Procurement will be vital going forward.

As user experience, buildings also need future thinking. Matt applauded the National Library of the Netherlands for showcasing the library building to Parliament.

What is the future of the written word? Just think about a future where technology has perfected speech to text and text to speech. What would that mean for libraries, given that their mission is very tied to written to word. Whose voices have power? Who gets heard and who doesn’t?

Reimagining the digital experience raises difficult questions. If librarians are just gatekeepers, why does anyone need us? Librarians can be seen as obstructing value not adding it. When it comes to news, are librarians viewed as paternalistic, telling people that we can differentiate between true and fake news. He also noted that law librarians are becoming knowledge managers.

Librarians used to swim among the physical shelves of their libraries. But we have a different power dynamic from, say, physicians or lawyers. We create place where people can swim by themselves. Now we are swimming in new information environments. The trick for libraries: How do we help people navigate information without saying we know what is right and what is wrong?

We should respect that people have different perspectives and help a movement to a more compassionate world.



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