The Library of the Future (Part 5): Everyone’s A Librarian!

The Need to Critique

In a recent series of posts on this blog I have explored a number of scenarios for the development of the hyperlinked  library of the future. I have suggested that such developments may lead to a privatised library environment, an environment which provides services primarily for the self-motivated middle classes, an environment which fails to consider fundamental assumptions which will affect the sustainability of a hyperlinked library and a library which is part of a dystopian future digital landscape.


These posts (which led to the award of a Devil’s Advocate badge for heretical thinking!) addressed concerns which I have. I was early to embrace the notion that social media could provide professional and organisational benefits, as described in the paper on “Library 2.0: balancing the risks and benefits to maximise the dividends” which I presented at the Bridging Worlds 2008 conference and was subsequently published in the Program journal. The ideas in the paper built on a paper entitled “How to Stop Thinking and Start Doing: Addressing Organisational Barriers” published in 2007 which argued that cultural heritage organisations should be embracing the social web, rather than worrying about that all concerns about its use had not been fully answered. However in 2009 a paper entitled “Time to stop doing and start thinking: a framework for exploiting Web 2.0 services” suggested that there was a need to consider challenges to sustainable use of social media  in a more in-depth way.

Now, five years after I presented the paper on Library 2.0: balancing the risks and benefits to maximise the dividends at the Bridging Worlds conference in Singapore there is an even great need to understand the possible implications of institutional moved to what is being referred to as the hyperlinked library in order that risks can be properly appreciated, addressed or even accepted.

Everyone’s A Librarian

One final scenario is an environment in which the skills and expertise possessed by the hyperlinked librarian are widely embedded by the majority of adults.

We are already seeing skills in managing and curating digital resources being required in order to manage content created through use of digital cameras, camcorders and MP3 players, including use of metadata to manage and find large numbers of resources. The TV provides another example of how search skills are needed to find and access resources of personal interests: whereas once we had a handful of TV channels, with the resource discovery information being published in newspapers daily, now we have 7 day electronic program guides covering over a hundred digital TV channels – again large numbers of resources to search through and, if the programmes are recorded, subsequently managed locally.

But if the need to make use of metadata and knowledge of search techniques in order to manage one’s digital environment illustrates how librarian 1.0 skills are becoming relevant to everyone, it is the importance of social networks for resource discovery and learning for everyone in which we see a future in which the hyperlinked librarian is simply a skill which everyone will be expected to have.

The popularity of such social discovery skills can be gauged from the article in The Metro (a free newspaper published in the UK and made available on buses and trains in a number of towns and cities) last week (Thursday 10 September 2013).  The article, “We’re Starting to Trust Twitter Over Google” described how “looking closely at user behaviour across Britain [we] found we are relying less of traditional search engines such as Google to find content. Instead, we’re becoming more comfortable scanning and processing long streams of information from Facebook pages and Twitter feeds – content delivered to us be people we follow“. A blog post by the author of the article, Suranga Chandratillake, founder of the Internet Media Platform, provides additional information: “We also conducted our own Nation of Sharers study that found that nearly half (43%) of people aged 18 – 24 prefer to discover through their social networks rather than search engines. This means we are starting to trust twitter over Google. Traditional search will always have a place – but the balance is definitely shifting“.

Such social sharing is taking place in a variety of contexts. These days I find myself browsing for goods such as books, DVDs, gadgets and holidays on services such as HotUKDeals. This services allows users to upload information on cheap deals which can be voted on, so that the crowd can identify good deals.

Sunshine Stacey's profile on HotukdealsWe are seeing hyper-connected individuals emerging on such services, who are good at finding and sharing relevant information. One example of Sunshine Stacey who provides details on holiday deals. As can be seen from Sunshine Stacey’s profile, the service provides statistics on users’ engagement with the service, with Sunshine Stacy having posts details of 283 deals which have had 1.0 million views and have had almost 4,000 comments. It should also be noticed that the service also provides badges, with Stacey having 8 badges shown on her profile page.

What are the implications if the skills in being highly connected in order to maximise opportunities for finding information of relevance and engaging in discussions with one’s trusted networks in order to validate the relevance and accuracy of such resources and enhance associated learning through discussions based on the resources?

Might it mean that librarian skills will only be needed in very specialist areas (such as medical and law librarians) or, alternatively, for engaging with patrons who do not have the necessary technical and social skills and who would otherwise be left behind in an environment in which mastery in use of social media will be needed?

The Chauffeurs of the Twenty-First Century?

In this scenario might dedicated training for librarians in building a specialist ‘hyperlinked library’ be akin to specialist training for chauffeurs when few people had the skills to drive a motorcar? Back in November 2011 Aaron Tay asked “Is librarianship in crisis and should we be talking about it?” Aaron asked:

Imagine a young potential librarian-to-be contacts you and asks you for advice on whether he should enter the profession. What picture of librarianship should you paint? I believe it would be irresponsible not to at least mention the challenges and potential stumbling blocks that libraries are facing in the future, so they will know what they will be up against.

I agree that it would be irresponsible to paint a simple picture of the hyperlinked library.  I’ve shared a number of other scenarios. I’d welcome feedback and comments, including those who disagree with the scenarios I’ve described!


8 thoughts on “The Library of the Future (Part 5): Everyone’s A Librarian!”

  1. It is an interesting scenario, Brian, and you pose a number of rhetorical questions. But I wonder, to what you degree do you believe that this is the future of librarianship? And do you see the hyperlinked library model as beneficial in this new paradigm of information behavior, or is it something that–you think–is pushing librarians out of a privileged position?

  2. Thanks for the comment. I do feel that the issues I’ve outlined do need to be considered prior to significant investment in developing hyperlinked libraries. I suspect that a risk management approach may be relevant, in which it is acknowledged that certain risks could materialize. The risks may be considered small, in which case they may be accepted, with no further action needed beyond monitoring in order to see if the risks start to become more likely to materialize, in which case alternative approaches may be needed.

    I do think the hyperlinked library model is useful as it can help to provide a better understanding of possible future developments for libraries. However I also feel that such developments need to be contextualized, with the issues I am raising coming from a UK perspective which may not be relevant in the US.

  3. Thanks for the response. Are you more worried about deterioration at the the macro (professional) level or erosion of services and collections at the micro (community level)? I assume with your UK experiences–at least from what I know from your posts here–you’re more worried about macro-level issues.

    By the way, I enjoyed your application of Gartner’s Hype Curve for addressing some of the issues with adopting technologies that have been discussed in part in lectures, readings, media, and guest lectures.

  4. an age of digital tools such as video editing stations, podcast studios and multimedia PCs, this library is a place to have access to all manner of new and emerging technologies. To test drive. To make something. wikis, blogs and other tools maintain the knowledgebase and the “history” of how the library works and what procedures have been successful. No one is the keeper of individual knowledge, so if that person departs the knowledge does not leave with them.


    1. Whilst this comment is probably spam, it does make me think about the physical Hyperlinked Library building providing a space for use of a range of IT equipment with access to equipment and support being provided. Will the hyperlinked library building of the future be similar to Apple Stores, although people being allowed to use Android devices?

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