Monday, February 2, 2009

Anticipating the Future - Information Online Day 3 Keynote

The morning Keynote presentation on Day 3 of Information Online was certainly the highlight of the day for me. It was titled Anticipating the future of librarians: understanding trends and staying relevant in the digital age and was given by Andy Hines, a professional futurist. I don't think that means he reads the Tarot or has his own crystal ball, although I have no evidence to suggest he doesn't!

Rather, as he explained it, as a futurist he looks at trends along with generational changes through a number of lenses such as values, demography, lifestyle, work, education and technology to try to understand where organisations need to be to meet the demands of future clients. What I might call strategic planning. It was all interesting but I'm just going to pull out a few things that resonated with me. I encourage you to chase up the full paper through the Information Online web site when it's available though.

Firstly, he described the typical differences in values between poor, developing and high income societies, arguing that postmodern societies move beyond success as a primary goal toward self-actualisation. We're in a period where we ask ourselves, 'What does it all mean?' This is manifested in, amongst other things, a rejection of institutional authority for a greater emphasis on trust in personal relationships. Andy suggested that this could partly explain the rise of social networking and I would add that it is consistent with the rise in the use of Google for information searches at the expense of reference services.

Next Andy described the attributes of Gen-y, the future users of library services. The key point here for me was that this drive for self-actualisation is leading towards a desire for intense personalisation. Everyone has their own personal needs and your services better cater to those or your clients will satisfy them somewhere else. This makes it hard to differentiate your target audiences, let alone market to them. You can no longer expect to speak to a mass audience.

We must create personal relationships with our users and one way of helping this along is for libraries to focus on authenticity over perfection. This is something I've been thinking about quite a bit lately and has been explored by John Blyberg, Kate Sheehan, Seth Godin and others. We need to become transparent and let the community in.

What does this mean for libraries in terms of services?

Libraries need to focus on services that cater for personalisation and encourage co-creation. We need to move away from ownership toward sharing. We need to foster community connection and interaction through virtual and physical spaces...

Sounds like Library 2.0 to me.

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