The Library of the Future (Part 2): Services for the Self-Motivated Middle Classes?

A Brave New World?

The first module on the Hyperlinked Library MOOC provided a series of resources on The Hyperlinked Library Model & Participatory Service. Although I’ve not read all of the resources, skimming through a number of them I’ve noticed they tend to provide a very optimistic view of the future for the library in a heavily networked and connected environment. To give an example the concluding remarks from a number of the resources are given below:

  • These characteristics are just some of the facets of what I believe will make libraries truly innovative, useful and needed in the 21st century” – the final sentence on the article on The hyperlinked library.
  • The direction academic libraries take is up to us. It’s ours to figure out. So let’s not be satisfied by adding small features, but instead, let’s use our imaginations to dream big and create amazing experiences that transform our users.” – final paragraph in the article on “Facing The Future: Think Like A Startup” (PDF format).
  • cell phones, laptops, and the Web are rapidly becoming the best tools we have for staying connected to the people and ideas and activities that are important to us” – from the final paragraph of the article on Social Machines: Computing Means Connecting.
  • can make your imagination stir to life and water the garden where hope for something more might take root” – from the penultimate paragraph of the blog post on Finding the Future.

I also watched a video on “Library of the Future in Plain English”. As described in my first post in this series which seek to critique these seemingly uncritical views of the future for libraries in a highly connected digital environment role this video depicts a future which, from a UK perspective, seems to run counter to the ethos of public service and the trusted and neutral values which librarians have. Perhaps such values are no longer relevant or can be provided by for-profit companies which can stimulate innovation by exploiting new business models.  But if this is the case, there needs to be an open and public debate about the nature of the changes which embracing technologies, and in particular social media technologies which are typically owned by global companies based in the US.

Library Services For The Self-Motivated Individuals and the Middle Classes?

But in addition to the issues related to the ownership of the social media services and the terms and conditions governing use of such services there is also a need to consider whether the emphasis of networked technologies will undermine the services libraries have traditionally provided for a broad set of communities.

Back in November 2010 I wrote a post entitled “Dazed and Confused After #CETIS10“. My dazed and confused feelings began during the opening plenary talk given by Anya Kamanetz which was based on her recent book on “DIY University Edupunks, Edupreneurs and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education. As summarised by Christina Smart on the JISC E-Learning Focus blog:

Recent years have seen a drive towards higher participation rates in both the UK and US … but above 40% participation rates problems occur. Issues around massification, cost shifting (where governments push the costs onto students), and student loans are all at play. There is also the influence of Baumol’s disease, where disciplines like the performing arts, are unable to make efficiency savings by reducing teacher to student ratios.

Anya argued that the combination of cost, access and quality made a compelling “case for radical innovation” in higher education. Shifting towards open content, socialisation and accreditation could result in that radical innovation, and Anya expanded on the benefits of Open Educational Resources, Personal Learning Networks and open accreditation approaches. Citing developments like Mozilla drumbeat’s P2PU – School of Webcraft, Anya described how “professional networks can bypass the need for diplomas”. She concluded with the prediction that new business models for HE would emerge, as mp3 players and digital music had transformed the business model of the music industry.

These sentiments echo the sentiments expressed in the readings provided in first module of the HyperlInked Library MOOC. In my previous post I described how the Library of the Future video expects library staff to “have much more fluid and adaptable roles …  working flexible hours who may not be in the library building at all“. This begs the question of whether the flexible terms and conditions will include reductions in pay, volunteer labour and zero-hours contracts. But rather than revisiting the implications for library staff, in this post I’m concerned with the implications for users of library services. In particular I would like to ask “Will the emphasis of the hyperlinked library of the future provide most benefits to self-motivated individuals and the middle classes who will be best positioned to exploit networked services, to the detriment of  the wider community?

In particular what about the information requirements for those who:

  • Don’t have access to networked technologies, smart phones, etc.?
  • Don’t have the skills or confidence to use networked technologies?
  • Are not prepared to use services which require the user to allow commercial exploitation of their content or who do not want their preferences and network details to be mined for commercial exploitation?
  • Feel that use of such services contravenes legislation in their country or who cannot access such services as their host environment does not provide access due to legislative concerns (e.g. EU data protection legislation)?
  • Are concerned that their personal content hosted by US companies will be accessed by US authorities?

Michel Casey’s guest post on “Revisiting Participatory Service in Trying Times” addressed some of the challenges society is currently facing:

It’s far from the end for public libraries. It’s easy, in these tough times, to only listen to the naysayers and prognosticators of doom, to only hear those in our community calling for the elimination of libraries. But limited tax revenues, the Internet, and eBooks are not burying the public library. Limited tax revenues will force us to become more efficient, the Internet is part of our future, and eBooks are simply another delivery vehicle. We control this future, and we can make it a successful one by making full use of the tools at hand.

But does addressing the economic challenges require that we fail to acknowledge other concerns I have listed above?





5 thoughts on “The Library of the Future (Part 2): Services for the Self-Motivated Middle Classes?”

  1. At my small local library we have 5 computers for public use, all limited to 2 hours per person per day only, and you cannot come back later that day for another 2 hours, even if the machine is available, as I found out. I have found that many people who use them ask for help, and I try to help myself even though I am another customer. There are usually only 2 people to cover a busy desk, and when customers ask for help they say that they are too busy to leave the desk, and are often not skilled enough to help people with the computers anyway. I have seen many elderly people give up, and some of the less elderly adults just use the machines for the most basic mindless games. There is a chasm widening between those who are able to use the technology in libraries and the majority who cannot.

  2. You ask, “Will the emphasis of the hyperlinked library of the future provide most benefits to self-motivated individuals and the middle classes who will be best positioned to exploit networked services, to the detriment of the wider community?”

    In my personal experience as a public library user, I might say yes.

    A few years ago when I was a poor student I used the pulic library for technology, information, and entertainment. I couldn’t afford much of anything so I used library computers, I borrowed library books and I went to free library programs.

    Once I started earning an income I was able to afford to buy a computer, a smart phone and have wifi at home. I can do most of my information seeking from home. On occasion I download an e-book or audio books to my phone. I can even afford to buy books instead of only borrowing them. I visit the physical library much less frequently than before.

    If the library had offered me information on great apps or downloading e-books when I had a lower income it would have been useless to me.

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