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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.



The Story on Storyhouse

Here are some highlights from this morning’s interview of Alex Clifton, Artistic Director of Storyhouse, by Erik Boekesteijn: Storyhouse is in an art deco building in Chester, a mid-size U.K. city that serves about 138,000 people. It is a combination of library, cafe, theatre and cinema, open from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. The building integrates all those elements and has no lockable doors. Alex says it’s full of life,  a busy and playful place where people can discover new ideas. It puts poetry on its walls and floors.

Before the pandemic, it has 2,000 activities and 1 million visitors. Now that it offers many services online, it hosts 80 events every month. To deal with the inevitable digital exclusion, it sends materials, such as arts & crafts activities for children, through the mail. Volunteers on bikes also deliver materials.

The library is a hybrid organization that reflects its vibrant and diverse city, empowering minority communities. It works with 113 charities to do this.

Intriguingly, Alex once performed Storyhouse’s annual report on stage. The Young Leaders program gives marginalized youths the opportunity to build program activities within the building, giving them full access to the building. That has also moved online.

Storyhouse has a very local focus and believes relationships with local libraries are very important.

Google’s Dan Russell on Search

According to Google researcher (who also calls himself a cyber-tribal-techno-cognitive-anthropologist) Dan Russell, most people learn how to search from friends (and a little bit from classes) and they remember stories. He tells stories about what he’s learned from searching in his book The Joy of Search (MIT Press) and his wonderful blog (

People have mental models about libraries and what the library does. Is Google omniscient?

How people search, identify, locate, evaluate sources.

How does Google work? Is it: Completely keyword search; Fulltext indexing; Partial text indexing; Link anchors; Blended results; What’s covered in the index?

When he asks people to draw a picture about how search works: 33% have the word “magic” in them.

Without a mental model, you can’t make predictions. What breaks your mental model of Google? It has a staggering amount of books, video, images, and documents.

But there are still difficult questions

What was the population of Japan in 1490?

How much apartment housing should San Francisco have?

It’s good to know what you can and cannot search. You can search on symbols, images

He can search on an image of what looks like an insect bite and surrounding rash on his son’s arm, but it’s not likely to tell him much

There’s an app that will identify mushrooms but how reliable is it? (only survivors get to rate the app)

Aerial photo of building in Palo Alto from years ago– Use time slider on Google Earth


What can you search for? What’s possible? Where to look? Google StreetView, Earth, others

Go through various iterations to get to answer.


He then told two search stories based on his experience, one about a phone number in Warsaw and the other a historical account of Perry on Delos. These are taken from his book and well worth reading.

It’s important to remember that not everything is on the web

Use CTR-F to find on a page. Surprising to me, Dan claims that 90% of people don’t know this trick.

Know the conventions of the culture:

Spoof sites (part of genre of internet culture is creating spoof sites

You tube is where people go to learn – do we know how to point people to high quality videos


The way we’re asking questions is changing

It’s always been a skill

Now it’s a critical skill

An interesting trick to find information about a website without going to the website is to search sitename –site:sitename

Site assessment is a basic skill

EPA Facts ( versus Environmental Policy Alliance

We need to design info systems to support informacy and continual learning

We need to teach our students about how to use all of our information systems

Augment skills of ordinary people

Search is not intuitive.

The latest post on SearchResearch is all about how  and how often searchers fact-checked. Well worth the read!



Resetting the Future at CILIL Connect

Lee Rainie, Pew Research Institute, looks at resetting the future in his opening keynote address at Computers in Libraries Internet Librarian Connect 2020. He shares research on Americans and libraries in crisis times: A major takeaway: People are using technology differently as their lives are upended. What Pew has studied since March and how it affects libraries.

No surprise here: Pew’s research reveals that the U.S. is a nation in the midst of very contentious issues.

Implications of race producing disparate results about COVID, with more minorities getting sick. Economic impact other major part of this story. And this hits lower income adults harder. Majority of Americans support BLM. Conversations about race have gone way up. More participation in protests and not just young and urban folks. Polarization is rampant and public trust in the federal government just keeps getting lower. The good news: Trust in libraries is still high. Pew polls are usually face to face but because of COVID, couldn’t do that, so fewer countries are represented

Americans are worried about voting in the midst of COVID and public has little confidence in tech companies to prevent misuse of their platforms during election.

American increasingly think that climate change is a major threat to the wellbeing of the US but it’s more Democrats than Republicans.

Enormous uptick in use of internet and adults are relying on it. New activities such as parties, watching concerts, going to fitness classes, getting groceries online. And, of course, we’re Zooming more. There’s a lot more gaming.

Libraries: Sanctuary, trusted information resource, family helper, community strengthener, democracy anchor. People rely on librarians to help them navigate our confusing information landscape, particularly when it comes to misinformation about COVID. Made-up news is a bigger problem than many other key issues. There’s a wide partisan gap in who’s getting the fats correct on coronavirus. 59% of lower income people struggle with homework online. Palpable hunger for grassroots solutions, talk honestly with their neighbors. Majority of Americans say the country can always find ways to solve our problems and libraries are institutions of hope.

Halo effect of librarian carries over from publics to other types of libraries. Higher levels of civic engagement now. Libraries are seen as safe havens for diverse conversations. When people are talking to each other via computer it’s not really a conversation. People feel more OK with not being nice to each other. Libraries are in public education business. Solving problems together, shoulder to shoulder, is easy way to foster cooperation and understanding.