I rather stupidly thought that I was going to be able to write a single blog post to cover all my predictions and effects on the world of the information professional. Having just finished 1,400 words in one go and hardly managed to cover 2 concepts with any degree of success, this clearly isn't going to happen. Consequently I'm going to try and develop this into a series, with 'Predictions' as the category if you just want to follow those particular posts. I'd also like to emphasis again that I have no real idea - but then, neither does anyone else - so any comments or input you'd like to make would be gratefully received. I'm hoping that your thoughts and ideas are going to be useful in the CILIP Big Conversation concept, though this is just something I'm doing myself because I find it interesting.Having spent some time looking into the past decade in my previous blog post I think I can safely say that it’s almost impossible to predict what’s going to happen in the future with any degree of certainty. A single company such as Google, MySpace, Facebook can suddenly launch onto the net and within a very short space of time change the way everything looks. Alternatively a piece of hardware, such as the iPhone (and quite possibly the iPad) can also entirely change the way in which we do our jobs, communicate with each other and find and then disseminate information.
that actually mean that there’s no point in trying to predict something?
Obviously not, because if people are sensible and thoughtful about current
trends and extrapolate from them, I think there’s a reasonable chance that it’s
possible to get a reasonable degree of accuracy. Having said that, flexibility
is a key term to use, and if anyone is going to be making plans based on
predictions (which we all have to do), they need to be as flexible as possible.
So, with that caveat in mind, let’s take a look at some of the ideas and trends that we can expect over the next few years, and try and work out how they are going to affect the information industry, the information professionals and the associated organisations that surround them. I should say that very few of these predictions are mine (although thoughts on the effects on the industry are down to me); I’m neither brave or foolish enough to put my head that far over the parapet!
We’ll see a decrease in the importance of the desktop, and a rise in both mobile technology and data ‘in the cloud’. While we’ll have more technology and computing power at our fingertips than ever before, there’s going to be less of that sitting on the desk. A terabyte or Petabyte hard disc is going to become the norm, which means to say that I could easily afford enough space to download the entire holdings of the Library of Congress. However, I think it’s highly unlikely that’s going to happen, but I can see a library being in a position to create their own library of books, reference works, DVDs, music, and journals and then make them directly available to their users. Instead of having to log onto Amazon (presuming that’s still there of course), I should be able to connect directly to my local library cloud and pull down the content that I need, without a requirement to visit. Of course, the fly in the ointment here is the issue of rights management, but I can’t see any reason why it shouldn’t be impossible to come up with a situation where I can get hold of the book that I want on my phone or tablet device, have it available for a couple of weeks and then have it vanish on me. The power of the library and the library staff needs to be focussed on local interests and needs; different areas of the country will have interests in different things quite obviously. The titles available to users is much less important than something else entirely – the ability of staff to produce content appropriate to a location, group, community or individual, based on local requirements, time of year, current events and so on. For example, if there’s an outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease rural communities will need their local library to push out to them appropriate information on identifying the disease, government requirements, fact sheets, images, video based information and so on, while an inner London community might simply need to be told of general precautions if visiting the countryside and the fact that the local petting zoo is closed. At other times, all libraries will need to be able to send out information based on an event; if there’s an earthquake somewhere in the world people will want to know about the country, be kept up to date with developments, ways to donate and so on.
Does this mean that the librarian turns into a journalist? To an extent I think so. They need to be able to look at news, events and things of interest to their local community and provide appropriate content. However, rather than writing about the event, they need to be aggregating content, deciding what information works best, how it should be formatted, stored and made available. It will still be up to the end user to decide how to make best use of that.
Librarians will need to be even more proactive than they are already.
Mobile devices will become the normal way of accessing the Cloud. (Will we start to use ‘internet’ less I wonder?) While I spend a lot of my time on the internet via a desktop or laptop I’m increasingly using my iPhone, and developments such as the iPad will simply increase this. Bandwidth will also increase to the point where it ceases to be important; if I want data it will simply be there and waiting for me as soon as I ask for it. I can already stream live television to my iPhone with scarcely a problem, so this isn’t a hard prediction to make. However, the mobile device is going to become much more aware of the surroundings. I see no reason why it shouldn’t be possible to make it aware of things that I’m interested in – buildings from a particular period, anything associated with Jane Austen, friends in the area, restaurants selling particular types of food and so on. Libraries will be able to become involved with this, because who knows a location as well as the library? The mobile device will be able to locate the library data storage set in their local cloud, pull off anything that it knows will interest me, and then tell me about it.
I’m generally thinking about a public library here, but I don’t see why it shouldn’t work in a similar way in an academic environment. The library cloud will know what interests me from the content that I pull from it, Google documents (or similar) will be used to write essays, so appropriate content can be pushed directly to me, lectures can be streamed directly to my device, voice recognition software will note what the lecturer is talking about and links will instantly spring up next to the video so that I can pause the lecture, explore an article, view an illustration or video, then return to the lecture. The librarians will be instrumental in choosing appropriate data, working with academic staff and then making it available, with links to other content if I want to pursue an idea.
My mobile device will also mesh with friends or colleagues, and I think the library will have a role to play here in providing space. Students will not need to physically attend lectures (and indeed the lecture may have been pre-recorded), but people being the social animals they are will want to congregate together. At the moment space is almost dead, although white boards are beginning to change that. I can easily see a situation in which a space in the library is given over to a lecture, the walls will all be whiteboards and additional supplementary content can be made available there and then. Not quite the Tom Cruise concept seen in Minority Report (I don’t think we’ll be that advanced), but something similar. A librarian could easily be on-hand to advise, find more information, pull it up onto a screen, or download it directly to a student’s mobile device.
To this extent, the role of the librarian isn’t going to be changing, except in that it’s going to be even more important. Their knowledge, specialism and subject knowledge is going to be vital to sift through the flood of data that’s available, pull out the most useful material and get it out quickly. They’ll also be able to create a web/cloud based resource which will then take a life of its own – the librarian will set up an information feed (probably many of them) which will constantly monitor the Cloud for new content, pull it down, and send it out to students who request it.
Data manipulation and aggregation will become ever more important in the life of the librarian in the next decade.
More to follow in due course...