The Library of the Future (Part 3): Because We’re Right!

The Need to Challenge Orthodoxies

The approach taken in the Hyperlinked Library MOOC is to stimulate discussion and debate as learning can arise as a result of such discussions. The MOOC provides a series of lectures from guest speakers and recommended readings but it is not envisaged that the learning will arise purely as a result of passive consumption of these resources, but in engaging in discussion on the issues raised in these resources – and also, I would argue – in the gaps in the resources and the assumptions they make.

In my first post in this series, The Library of the Future (Part 1): A Privatised Future?, I raised concerns that the library of the future would be based on privatisation of the library infrastructure and a deterioration in the working conditions for those working in libraries. The second post, The Library of the Future (Part 2): Services for the Self-Motivated Middle Classes?, suggested that the moves from the physical environment and face-to-face interactions t use of networked technologies and engagement in virtual spaces could result in a devalued experiences for those unable or unwilling to make use of such networked technologies, with the benefits being gained by sectors who least need such external support.

This post considers the implicit assumptions which this MOOC makes, that the hyperlinked library unquestionably provides a model for the future and the need is to learn from the early adopters of hyperlinked libraries and share best practices.

Fake Certainties

Being overly confident in a position can lead to you to overcommit to a position
Being overly confident in a position can lead to you to overcommit to a position

At the IWMW 2013 event which I organised, Neil Denny gave an inspiring talk on “The Delicious Discomfort Of Not Knowing: How to Lead Effectively Through Uncertainty“. As described in the Storify summary of the talk “Neil Denny explored the experience of living through uncertainty and the communicative challenges that can arise out of our belief in our own knowing.  Denny argued that we should embrace living on the edge of our comfort zone and get used to existing in that uncertain space to help develop coping mechanisms“.

In a post entitled Fake Certainty published yesterday Neil revisited these ideas.The post described the hot air balloon peril: as “a result of  over-commitment, where we resolve to pursue a particular route and, having made that choice, we then find it is becomes increasingly impossible to deviate from it“.

Is the hyperlinked libary of the future based on ‘faked certainties’, I wonder? I’d therefore like to explore some of the certainties which advoicates of greater use of networked technologies in libraries seem to tend not to question.

What ‘Fake Certainities’ Might the Hyperlinked Library Be Based On?

What are the assumptions of the vision for the hyperlinked library of the future be based on which will need challenging in order to ensure that the significant investments to be made in implementing a vision for the library of the future will be based on strong foundations whose validity is based on evidence, rather than current fashions? Some key dependencies om which hyperlinked libraries would appear to require which will need to be validated include:

  • The relevance of learning through connections: Will the benefits of learning through one’s rich set of connections which are provided by use of social media be relevant in all contexts, for all people, in all areas, at all times? If not, when are alternative approaches needed?
  • To what extend can we trust our networks: How do we address the dangers of errors, lies and misinformation being disseminated on network tools such as Twitter? Might significant misuse lead to a backlash and a return to a preference for traditional trusted sources of information?
  • To what extent will users continue to trust librarians? As I described in February 2007 a blog post which provided a brief summary of and OCLC report on ‘Sharing, Privacy and Trust In Our Networked World‘:
  • “…general users “do not rate most library services as very private” even though “the majority do not read library privacy policies.” Most users do, however, “feel commercial sites keep their personal information secure” but only “about half think library Web sites keep their personal information secure“. The nature of trust of commercial social network services is also increasing with use.
  • Will users continue to be prepared to make use of Google, Twitter Facebook, etc.?: Although concerns over privacy, content ownership, terms and conditions, etc. are well-known and do not seem to be a significant barrier to continued use of these services, what would be the implications for a hyperlinked library organisation which was dependent on use of these services if users decided to stop using the services to a significant extent?
  • Changes to the technological infrastructure: As Tony Hirst has recently described in a post entitled “Remembering a Time When the Web Was More Open…?” on his OUseful blog “Twitter gave up on RSS/Atom, opting for JSON instead;  … Authentication also killed off a whole range of Amazon related mashups“. Might continued changes to the technological infrastructure used by large-scale providers of the services used to provide hyperlinked libraries lead to significant problems in use of the services?
  • Legal issues provide significant barriers to use of networked services in a library context: Pressures on libraries to ensure that their services do not infringe on copyright owners rights and to provide a safe and trusted environment for library patrons results in a move away from open social web services and greater use of managed ‘walled gardens’.

Perhaps these issues are somebody else’s problem? But if there is a belief that the future for libraries is dependent on a transformation to ‘hyperlinked libraries’ surely these and similar issues will need to be addressed?


Acknowledgement: The image used in this post was taken from http://theleagueofnotknowing.wordpress.com/2013/09/16/fake-certainty/ and used with permission.

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