Dear Internet,

How do you become a library futurist?

Easy. You let others do the research for you.

This is, scout’s promise, not a dig at anyone.

Total pinky swear.

Let me explain.

“What is the future for libraries?” is one of the most popular question I’m asked in interviews. I have a couple of pat answers which are gleaned from the conversations I see on Twitter and mailing lists — but those are getting tired and repetitive.

My secondary answer comes in the form of, “I don’t know. Each library is different, has different needs, and plans for their future. It’s not always maker spaces and nerd nights. The future of libraries, therefore, is flexible. Libraries can be anything they want to be.”

Or something along those lines.

But that answer is also getting tired (and is also a cop out).

What really is the future of libraries?

First, it seems many ideas of what the future holds is related to technology. so let’s start with that first. TechCrunch, Wired, TheVerge, and ReadWrite are the main sites you’ll want to RSS or visit on a near daily basis. You’re going to see overlap between these four (and similiar) sites so don’t be afraid to narrow down to only one or two blogs to keep current.

Why?  I once posited reading tech sites had a better return value of keeping up with the profession over reading professional literature (and much cheaper):

While plowing through mailing list emails one day, a conversation erupted on the “value” of professional journals and magazines, meaning that what is the point of spending several hundreds of dollars for a personal subscription to LibraryJournal when a print subscription to Wired, which some consider more relevant for librarinating, is only $10?

Second, on top of tech sites and blogs, you’re going to want to look at places for special interests you have such as UX, Digital Humanities, or social mediaWhy? Academic articles take roughly 6 – 18 months from submission to publication. By that point, there are already several incarnations of whatever passing on by, which makes the article dated as hell. This is not to say you shouldn’t read those professional publications but you want to make sure you have complementary content in the mix.

In addition to the usual library land publications (too numerous to list and I’m sure you have your favorites), I’m fond of the list of journals found at Researching Librarian.

So you’ve got the sites / blogs / magazines, there is a lot of content — how do you determine what exactly is going to be the future for libraries?

Easy. Look for patterns of subjects across those sites and how they will work within the library ecosystem. Within a couple of weeks, I pulled enough content (which also coincided with chatter across Twitter, Facebook, and mailing lists) to come up with a solid list of nearly a dozen things we’re going to see in the coming future of libraries.

  • Security / Tor / Encryption  Who? The two people who come to mind in library land in this area is Alison Macrina (founder of The Library Freedom Project) and Ian Clark (radical librarian, politico, and curator of  surveillance.infoism.co.uk). What? TLFP’s goal is to “…make real the promise of intellectual freedom in libraries. By teaching librarians about surveillance threats, privacy rights and responsibilities, and digital tools to stop surveillance, we hope to create a privacy-centric paradigm shift in libraries and the local communities they serve.” This work is especially crucial  to keep libraries on point with ALA’s Code of Ethics, specifically article iii, “We protect each library user’s right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted.” Clark is especially passionate about privacy (in all forms), surveillance, and inclusion in a post-Snowden world. Why does this matter? Macrina’s, and Clark’s, goals is to hold library associations accountable for their statements in regards to intellectual freedoms as well as educating libraries and patrons on those rights. As more people continue access information on public networks, the ability to protect that information is huge.
  • Library as co-working spaces Who? Me! What? If you’re unfamiliar with co-working spaces, it’s a shared space for those who may typically work from home or on the road and need a singular location to work. For a small membership fee a month, the co-working space provides food/drink, wifi, unlimited printing, boardrooms, parking, and a whole lot of other perks. (I found that using a co-working space tends to be significantly cheaper than using coffee shops or other areas for work.) Why does this matter? Co-working spaces have become de riguer for 21st century work force. If you were paying attention, many of these things are things already provided at libraries, so what’s the difference? For a nominal fee every month, users can get expanded services (unlimited printing, better wifi, locker location, snacks/drinks) with free services already available such as access to databases and the stacks. Most public libraries I’ve seen already have the infrastructure in place to handle this addition so the investment could be minimal AND it’ll (eventually) pay for itself with the nominal fees being charged AND if you get them in them in the library, you’re going to see an increase in circulation and programming PLUS it’ll be on trend with what communities will be looking for from their libraries.
  • Geospatial / Geolocation Technologies Who? Academic libraries. This seems to be either a popular requirement in positions or its own position. What is it? In the broadest sense, geospatial technology is mapping of the earth’s features using GPS and running analysis against the data. Why does this matter? In many of the positions that have the title of “geospatial librarian,” they tend to work with the earth sciences departments and analyze / provide references to maps and other components, which makes sense. But for (most) other libraries, the use of geospatial technology is to map out the library’s stacks and other accouterments to make it easier for patrons for find materials down to where on the shelf or in the physical space where the item is located. Nearly every interview I’ve had that had this “preferred” requirement, they wanted this project completed within a year. Ha. Ha. Ha. As libraries continue to grow their technology, expect them to require GIS related education (of course they will) as a way, they think, to remain relevant.

Here’s the thing: one of my original pat answers in interviews, “Each library is different, has different needs, and plans for their future.“, remains true. You’re going to find all type of libraries, regardless of size, trying to cram the future to fit them, even if it has nothing to do with their community or purpose, to remain relevant.

Come back later when I have more thoughts on library futurism such as copyright, social media, digital preservation, internet of things, and a whole lot more.