Future of Libraries (Draft Scenario 3)

Scenario 3 Draft

This is a world of bewilderment. An anarchic world where nobody is quite sure what’s going to happen next. It is very much an event-orientated world where the latest gadget, real estate boom, health scare or terrorist attack causes individuals and institutions to wildly overreact. Nobody knows the stability or direction of anything

A key social dynamic in this world is generational change. It is a world of digital natives and digital immigrants. Generation Y is now approaching retirement although most don’t give up work due to a combination of debt and the need for physical contact with other people. Generation Z (sometimes known as iGen) is very much in charge although the continued presence of Gen Y and Gen X creates all kinds of cultural issues, especially in workplace environments.

The economy is very much a re-run of the first decade of the 21st century. GDP growth is surging ahead, especially in the Middle East, Asia and parts of South America and this causes runaway inflation, real estate bubbles, environmental degradation and resource shortages. Everything from people and water to tranquillity and certainty seems to be in very short supply.

The high level of global connectivity has fuelled a rapid expansion of knowledge content (as it is now known) and this just adds to the level of anxiety. Knowledge goes out of date faster than mobile communication devices and the sheer volume of content (much of it now co-created) means that information trust is at an all time low. Technology is also chaotic with new formats and standards being created daily. This media mayhem should create an opportunity of libraries and librarians but unfortunately most people simply dismiss both as relics of a bygone age.

Corporations with almost unlimited budgets start to buy up existing information resources and fund the creation of private information. Copyright therefore becomes closed and individuals and institutions are forced to pay for access to the most reliable and useful information, either through annual subscriptions or via ad hoc pay-per-view micro payments.

The high price of energy, together with the widespread adoption of digital lifestyles, also creates a series of problems with regard to the electricity supply. New storage (battery) technologies partly solve this problem but blackouts become common, especially in urban areas.  Consequently, some people seek to back-up their lifestyles with a variety of old-fashioned products. These range from candles and bicycles to notepaper and analogue telephones. Some schools even go as far as buying old textbooks in case e-books become unreliable.

To make matters worse, the internet is plagued by a number of separate issues. Internet traffic has exploded. The number of users has gone through the roof but so too has bandwidth demand due to the shift away from text towards audio and video.

Internet brownouts eventually become such a problem that the government acts to limit demand. Priority access is given to essential public services, followed by large companies and lastly households. In some cases this means that the intenet is not available at all between certain hours, whereas in other instances data transmission speeds relate directly to user type. Fortunately, libraries are defined as an essential public service and they are given 24/7 access to the fastest wireless connections. They are also given access to additional funds if they agree to provide a range of e-government services.

To begin with it seems certain that libraries are destined to digital oblivion, especially since government finding is rationalised and the profession fails to attract staff due to ongoing image problems. However, there is a small silver lining behind the digital cloud. Smaller and medium sized firms that cannot afford premium priced information services and do not trust online information start to send their staff to libraries to get vital information. This coincides with a small rise in the number of visits made by freelance workers and this all results in people lobbying private employers to support the local library network.

Hence funding from private sources increases slightly and this enables public libraries to maintain their range of online and virtual services, which now includes technology support. In a surprise move some libraries then set up commercial services to compete with the high-end commercial information services and this generates a reasonable level of revenue for investment back in to the network. Nevertheless, a combination of staff shortages, resource scarcity and funding cuts mean that most libraries struggle to maintain vibrancy.

Eventually, corporations and governments start to realise that there is nothing more ephemeral than digital memory but by then it is too late.

Draft Timeline #3

2010
Retail sales unexpectedly increase by 10%
Internet hours in libraries up 59.5% over past 5 years but books loans static
The real estate association of NSW officially declares that the recession is over
House prices fall by 5% in NSW
Collapse of ANZ sparks widespread investor panic
China declares that it has hit peak water and starts to import water from Arctic Circle.
Australian government starts to outsource back-office library services
Libraries ban the use of ladders and staplers citing health & safety concerns

2011
Market for premium-priced information emerges online
Google introduce human search operatives as part of subscription package
Report claims widespread use of screens is damaging children’s eyesight
(report is largely ignored until it is released online)
First Mac virus causes widespread havoc

2012
Changing market for information creates various new jobs and opportunities
Report says that ‘recreational’ library visits up 16% in 5 years to 2009
Same report says that ‘information’ trips to libraries down by 55%
New York Times acquired by News Corp
First global phone virus emerges
Global shortage of Sony e-readers caused by plastics shortages
Several rural library services forced to merge
Widespread local council amalgamation in NSW

2013
Closed copyright increases. Most valuable information now owned by corporations
Library decline now hits 20% per annum
NSW state government collapses for second time in two years
IBM announces that henceforth it is closing its HQ in favour of a virtual headquarters
Survey says that 66% of adults (and 12% kids) do not trust online information
Video showing death of Paris Hilton in Hilton Paris causes internet to crash globally

2014
Peak oil hits. Price increases from $150-$175 in a single day
First major internet brownout in China causes widespread chaos
Library staffing levels slightly improve due to bookshop diaspora
90% of kids in the US have a TV and computer in their bedroom
Mayor in large metropolitan area forces public libraries to house Starbucks cafes
Households start to back-up digital lifestyles with various analogue products

2015
First major internet brownout in USA
Surging world commodity prices sparks energy terrorism
Schools ban use of mobile phons and iPods in playgrounds
Skilled labour shortage results in open immigration policy
Widespread chaos as government census crashes
Life becomes increasingly virtual
Article in Sydney Morning Herald highlights growth in vinyl record shops
Local government chaos as regions amalgamated
Reports says that the average father spends 6 minutes per day talking to his children

2016
Oil now at $150 per barrel (peak oil is here)
Peak Oil for Dummies announced as the best selling book of 2015
Work becomes more mobile and less dominated by physical presence
Increase in freelance and flexible working conditions
Libraries forced to extend opening hours as they become workplaces for many
Government announces new tax on website content
Government funding of libraries hits an all time low
Widespread public protests concerning library funding
Price of water rises from $1litre to $2 litre

2017
Workers become increasingly responsible for their own training
AusTrade says information becoming increasingly vital to exports
Libraries witness massive demand for desk-space from mobile workers
Libraries unsuccessfully start to charge for desk space
The ABC charges for premium content online
Report says that 78% of office workers now eat lunch at their desk
Federal government announces major distance learning programme

2018
Study announces that librarians ranked #3 for trust behind nurses and teachers
Government’s just-in-time learning initiative ends in complete chaos
Teacher fired for banning e-books is reinstated amidst parent outrage
Widespread chaos as research study unable to agree on resilience of media formats
Peak water crisis in most major cities in Asia-Pacific
Energy use reaches all time high. Electricity shortages start.
Shortages of key raw materials limits growth of technology

2019
Government regulates internet use
Libraries made exempt from internet restrictions
Librarians become increasingly multi-skilled and technology savvy
Rationalisation of government towards e-services
Google buys News Corp following death of Rupert Murdoch
New Libraries Act puts pressure on free services
Widespread adoption of some user-pays services in local libraries

2020
Growth in automated information back-up services
Racial tensions result in first ever library shooting in NSW
Government funding announced for improved library security
Water shortages become commonplace in Australia.
Electricity shortages still a major issue

2021
Widespread adoption of user-pays and subscription services by news media
Libraries follow suit although some librarians refuse to implement the idea
Free content on internet limited to headlines and user-generated content

2022
Libraries set up user committees to advise on collection strategies and services

2023
Government funding for public libraries unchanged in 10 years
Public outrage over threat to libraries results in local business support
Income inequality causes a series of riots in city-centres
Government announces self-sufficiency strategy

2024
Group of disenchanted librarians establish ‘library tents’ in rural towns
Google opens a series of physical information stores (i.e. libraries) in major cities

2025
Additional lifestyle services added to libraries including gyms and restaurants
Literary lunches and Dickens after Dark both surprise hits at the State library of NSW

2026
Nothing much happens. Just the usual series of chaotic events and funding cuts

2027
18-month heatwave and power-cuts in NSW causes widespread damage to old digital manuscripts and paper collections

2028
All public libraries equipped with back-up power generators

2029
Libraries attempt to sell off the least popular 80% of collections but fail to find bidders

2030
State library announces scenario project looking at the future of libraries in 2060

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