CILIPs ‘big conversation’ is posing the question ‘What should our professional institute look like by the middle of the next decade? And what’s the roadmap that will get us there?’  These are both good questions of course, and worthy of discussion. However, before we can start to answer those questions I think that there are other, more general points that we need to consider first. Clearly CILIP does not exist in a vacuum – it is there to support the profession, so we need to look at where libraries and librarians are, and before we can do that we need to consider what the Internet generally is going to look like, since that will dramatically affect us all. Consequently I’d like to spend some time considering predictions for the future, and try and tie some of those into librarianship (and I’m using that term as a catchall for the information industry). Then we’ll be in a position to view what CILIP can and should be doing.
However, before we even do that I think that we need to look back a decade to see how far we have come. It’s very easy to take what we currently have for granted – we do it all of the time, but if we start to go back a few years it can be surprising to see just how far we have come. Ten years ago we managed without Broadband access, Creative Commons, Facebook, Flickr, Gmail, Google Docs and maps, the iPod, the iPhone, MySpace, Podcasts, Spotify, Twitter, Web 2.0 , Wi-Fi, Wikipedia, or YouTube.
I went back and looked at a copy of the first edition of my book ‘The Advanced Internet Searcher’s Handbook’ as well, since I wanted to remind myself of the search scene at around the turn of the century. There was no mention at all of Google (it had hardly come onto the scene at that point), and I was writing in detail about search techniques for AltaVista, index based search engines, getting the most out of Netscape, intelligent agents and the value of USENET groups.
How many of the first list do you not use every day without thinking about it, and how many of the second list do you use now?
Let’s now start to get up to date – I found some really interesting figures from Forbes the other day, which give us a feel for how we have progressed between 2000 and 2009. Unfortunately many of these are American, but they’ll give a good flavour. In 2000 6.3% of US households had a broadband connection – that’s now up to 63%. UK estimates are not available prior to 2006, but in 2006 28% of British households had broadband, and that increased to 70% in 2009. In the year 2000 12 billion emails were sent each day – that has now increased to 247 billion. 20% of US households had a digital camera in 2000, and in 2008 that had increased to 68.4%.
digital camera in 2000, and in 2008 that had increased to 68.4%.
How about Google? The search engine has gone from indexing a billion pages to 1 trillion in the space of 8 years, and from 10 million searches a day to an estimated 300 million in the same space of time. Blogs have also increased as well; in 2000 there were less than 100,000 and now there are over 133 million of them. Finally, $300 would have bought you 20-30 gigabytes of hard disk space in 2000, and the same amount of money today would buy you a 2 terabyte disk. Indeed, I’ve seen terabyte disks for sale in Tesco for less than £60. Indeed, the mere fact that most supermarkets will now happily sell a wide range of computers and computer peripherals still amazes me.
Other things that surprise me when I look back over the last decade, are many and varied. The ease of watching television online still fascinates me – missing a television programme that I like is no longer a disaster (if of course I failed to copy it when it was first shown), as I can simply visit the appropriate site and watch it again. Spotify has in almost one fell stroke rendered my CD collection redundant. Renting movies via iTunes has done the same for my visits to the ailing Blockbuster video store. Going into my local library the other day I was struck by the large collection of DVDs and CDs that they had (which of course is, or was, a revenue stream) and I just thought ‘how very odd’. How about Amazon? I now automatically visit Amazon to see the price of things (and not just books either) before I visit the high street, and I’ll often come home empty handy because it’s so much cheaper to use their service. I don’t buy newspapers any more, except a large Sunday one for a particularly lazy day, since my news comes direct to me from news sites, RSS feeds and friends via Twitter. I use my iPhone almost constantly, but seldom for making phone calls; checking emails, looking up websites, working out where I am, what’s near me and where I’m going, listening to music and so on.
How much of all this could I have predicted back in the early part of this decade? To an extent I can tell you, because in the second edition of the Searcher’s handbook I thought it would be interesting to make some predictions as to future developments. I thought that intelligent agents would become more widespread. To an extent I think I was correct on this – RSS pulls content directly to me, so no need to go out and search for information. I also said that search engines were going to become more intelligent by monitoring searches, learn from the sites that are viewed and adjust the results accordingly, and this is exactly what we’re seeing Google doing now. I was hopelessly wrong about micropayments; I thought that we’d all be using them and spending small percentages of pennies on viewing sites, particularly news or publisher content. I thought that virtual libraries would become more important as information professionals worked together to locate, check and publish content themselves, although I didn’t have any idea just how true this was going to become with the advent of Web 2 technology.
So what does all of this tell us? One thing really – that it’s almost impossible to plan sensibly for a future in which a single company can grab control of an industry (a headline that I saw today was ‘China denies attacking Google’), an internet resource such as Facebook can have a ‘population’ that puts it into the top 10 of countries, that other resources (like MySpace) which seem all powerful can rise and fall in the space of a few years. Technological advances such as ever faster broadband, more powerful smartphones and ubiquitous wifi are all elements that change what we do and how we do it – not in decades or years, but in months. Any predictions, any plans must have right at their heart the ability to be flexible. Much as many people will not like this, we need to be able to look at plans, roadmaps, routes, whatever you like to call them, and say ‘hang on, we’ve gone hopelessly wrong, lets tear this up’. We also need to have to confidence to see this as a good thing, rather than that we’ve made terrible mistakes and look foolish. We also need to be open to the ideas of the seemingly impossible – perhaps this very day we’re going to hear a rumour about a new resource that in 10 years time we take for granted.
In the second part of this blog post, which I’ll post in a few days, I’ll look at some of the things that other people have predicted for the next ten years, and I’ll do my best to see how they can fit into, or will dramatically affect the information profession. I do reserve the right to be hopelessly wrong however!
These are of course just a few of my own thoughts – what changes really stand out for you over the last 10 years? What did you expect to happen that did or what did you get wrong yourself? What do you use now that 10 years ago you’d never thought of? How has your job/role/library changed over this period of time?