Future proofing libraries

Ensuring libraries are fit for purpose and future-ready requires a combination of future scanning, a willingness to experiment, co-create and fail, a commitment to enhancing our own skill sets and the ability to learn from the wisdom of the crowd.

In an event organised for its AGM, MmIT invited four speakers to explore the ways libraries and librarians can keep an eye on the horizon while responding to the current, complex needs of users.

Dave Parkes is the Director of Learning and Library Services at De Montfort University (DMU) but spoke about his role as a member of the New Media Consortium, a global research initiative that explores the trends, challenges and technology developments likely to have an impact on teaching, learning, and creative inquiry.

This type of futurecasting relies upon a 'crowd' of interested experts to identify, discuss and distil trends, innovations, challenges and developments that will impact higher education. Contributors use a wiki to share their thoughts, argue their ground and – eventually – reach a consensus on the topics that should be included in the final report.  The annual report attracts a global readership of 1.5 million. The wiki is open to all and makes fascinating reading.

Despite the complexity of the process, a model for futurecasting emerges that could be applicable to all of us, irrespective of the sector in which we operate. After identifying the challenges that may impact us in the next 1-5 years, we can classify them in three ways:

  • Solvable
  • Difficult
  • Complex (or 'wicked')

When it comes to exploring the potential impact of technological developments – or other external influences such as politics and economics – we can focus on 'time to adoption':

  • One year or less
  • 2-3 years
  • 4-5 years

This stage of focusing on the likely 'time to impact' would perhaps avoid what Martin Hamilton (a futurist for Jisc) referred to as the "we were promised a jetpack" factor! The astonishing innovations that have already seen creative robots and the gene editing of Crispr, may leave many of us wondering we are heading towards a dystopia, not utopia!

Better then to focus on what cutting edge information professionals can and are already doing to better serve their audiences! This includes the rollout of makerspaces and a FabLab in public library services in the south-west of the UK (Tabitha Witherick) and a masterclass from Alison McNab on how to use free to access tools and apps to maintain your own current awareness and provide cutting edge services to your users.  You can follow Alison here.  

You can find out more about MmIT here.  The group is hosting a webinar on tools and tech for librarians in February 2018.