Libraries Look to the Future

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"The future is always happening now" — Mark Strand

As the speed of technology change continues to increase, libraries are increasingly concerned with how to adapt and stay relevant in the future. It seems fitting that the topic of the latest Library 2.0 mini-conference addressed the future of libraries.

About the Library 2.0 Conference

Now in its fifth year, Library 2.0, founded and sponsored by San Jose State University’s School of Information, puts on several free virtual conferences a year to foster connection and knowledge sharing among information professionals. I had the privilege to volunteer as a moderator for the Libraries of the Future Conference. This event was held in conjunction with ALA’s Center for the Future of Libraries.

Libraries and Their Local Governments

The conference kicked off with an opening keynote discussion between several library innovators. Nigel Jacobs, co-founder of the Boston Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics, shared several lessons his organization uses to transform the work of government.

Jacobs explained:

"In government, we can often get trapped into doing what we know how to do versus what we should be doing. We need to build things people want or need, not just what we know how to build."

By taking an experimental approach to change, New Urban Mechanics participants have been able to test different approaches and more readily abandon an approach if it is not working or revise and scale up if it does work. Jacobs gave several exciting project examples, including a municipal app where individuals can report a problem and then be personally notified when it is fixed, along with a photo of the fix and photo of the fixer. The app uses technology to give users a more personalized experience and sense of involvement with local government.

How Libraries Can Help Low-Income Families

Panelist Jesús Gerena, managing partner of Family Independence Initiative (FII), discussed his work in using technology to help low-income families find pathways out of the poverty cycle. FII created two platforms for families to journal and share their stories as well as a social networking site where they can connect with other families and share resources. Gerena emphasized the importance of not making assumptions about your users but instead tapping into the creativity of these communities to develop tools that will best serve their needs.

Information Visualization — Are Libraries Using It Yet?

Seattle Public Library information desk with real-time circulation statistics

Dr. Michelle Chen, an assistant professor at San Jose State University, gave a fascinating presentation on information visualization for libraries. With the influx of data, information visualization skills are increasingly important and are a terrific way for libraries to demonstrate their value and position themselves as experts.

Chen gave the example of citation visualizations, giving a visual representation of citations throughout research databases. She also pointed to the Seattle Public Library’s visualization screens, which show real-time circulation statistics, demonstrating another engaging and interesting way of presenting data visually.

"Today libraries are dealing with problems of stubbornly siloed data, a publishing industry in flux, and changing user patterns, and sometimes a lot of technology churn," explained Ryan Hess, senior librarian for information technology and collections at the City of Palo Alto Library.

Hess discussed how promising technologies like AI, VR, and blockchain create exciting opportunities for libraries. The process of connecting digital objects can bring libraries into a new niche. With their rich data assets, they are increasingly connecting their cataloged resources with the greater web.

Hess also pointed out the game-changing possibilities as VR advances to an even greater sensory experience. He offered ideas for how libraries might think about meeting the needs of the changing user experience.

Slide from presentation about the future of libraries

You Can Check Out the Sessions!

If you want to check out more of the sessions and all of the conference recordings (plus extra resources), register on the conference page to receive free access. My hope is that you’ll get inspired and excited about the tremendous opportunities for libraries going into the future.

About the Author

Megan Keane is a TechSoup for Libraries special contributor. She is a longtime nonprofit techie, community builder, and yoga instructor turned MLIS student. She currently studies at San Jose State University School of Information and works as a project consultant for the Veterans Connect @ the Library Project. Connect with her on Twitter: @penguinasana.

Image 1: Library 2.0

Image 2: Seattle Public Library

Image 3: screenshot from M. Ryan Hess’ presentation