Libaries – a case for renewal

I met Dr Wendy Schultz a few days ago at a horizon scanning symposium at the MOD. She’s just sent me this, which I rather like. Please note: She wrote this NOT me, so all credit where it’s due. Note I’d added sources to comments.

Sunset Strategies for Library 2.0: a provocation.
Dr. Wendy L. Schultz, Infinite Futures, March 2006

This too shall pass: The ongoing Library 2.0 debate (1) frames library renewal within the current trends transforming our information infrastructure. But those trends themselves will evolve, even mutate, under pressure from emerging change. A futures perspective asks us to reconnect this dialogue to the grand sweep of time from the treasured past to the adventure of the future – and to put people and meaning at the center of our concerns.

What are libraries? Libraries are not just collections of documents and books, they are conversations, they are convocations of people, ideas, and artifacts in dynamic exchange. Libraries are not merely in communities, they are communities: they preserve and promote community memories; they provide mentors not only for the exploration of stored memory, but also for the creation of new artifacts of memory. What was the library of the past? A symbol of a society that cared about its attainments, that treasured ideas, that looked ahead multiple generations. Librarians were stewards, educators, intimate with the knowledge base and the minds who produced it. Librarians today are not just inventory management biobots: they are people with a unique understanding of the documents they compile and catalog, and the relationships among those documents.

Let’s borrow a page from analysts charting shifts in our economy’s “chain of meaning” (2). They see a rising ladder of value progressing from commodity to product to service to experience: e.g., from selling coffee beans to selling Maxwell House to serving coffee at Dunkin Donuts to providing an exotic Starbucks’ coffee permutation in its chattering, WiFi, jazz café atmosphere. How does that progression look superimposed on the Library 2.0 debate, with additions both from history and emerging issues of change?

Library 1.0: Commodity
The library from Alexandria to the industrial era: Books are commodities, collected, inventoried, categorised and warehoused within libraries. Libraries represent a resource base, contributing to educating the labour force, to supporting innovation processes fueling growth, and to informing the present and the future – whether in the neighborhood, in academia, or in business.

Library 2.0: Product
How should the library package its commodity – books – as products in an environment that disintermediates, dematerialises, and decentralises? Chad and Miller’s essay, and the debates and conversations around it, raise this question and answer it with the characteristics of our emerging information infrastructure: the library is everywhere, barrier-free, and participatory. Collaborate with Amazon; provide digital downloads of books; create a global, and globally accessible, catalog; invite readers to tag and comment. Yet as more information becomes more accessible, people will still need experienced tour guides – Amazon’s customer recommendations are notoriously open to manipulation; tagclouds offer diverse connections, not focussed expertise. This will drive the transition to Library 3.0: the 3D service.

Library 3.0 – Web 3D to Library 3D: Service.
There are SecondLife (3) subscribers who spend more than forty hours a week online, immersed in its virtual graphic world. Digital natives take 2.0 for granted; they are buzzing over Web 3D. Carrying Chad and Miller’s argument through this next phase transition, we arrive at virtual collections in the 3D world, where books themselves may have avatars and online personalities. But the avalanche of material available will put a premium on service, on tailoring information to needs, and on developing participatory relationships with customers. So while books may get in your 3D face all by themselves, people will prefer personal introductions – they will want a VR info coach. Who’s the best librarian avatar? How many Amazon stars has your avatar collected from satisfied customers? This could create librarian “superstars” based on buzz and customer ratings. People will collect librarians rather than books – the ability not just to organise, but also to annotate and compare books and other information sources, from a variety of useful perspectives.

With Library 3D, we have strayed far into virtual reality in the flight from bricks and mortar into software. Yet many businesses are demonstrating that storefronts can still draw customers, if they offer a compelling experience: a clearly defined environment that is authentic (true and good); humane (emotional, irrational); experiential (designed, theatrical); impassioned; relevant (understandable, timely); and participatory (open, lived, shared). (4) What would Library 4.0 be like? It will completely connect the digital and the sensual, moving from virtual reality (VR) to augmented reality (AR): all the services of Library 3D projected over our immediate surroundings.

Library 4.0, the neo-library: Experience.
This will be the library for the aesthetic economy, the dream society, which will need libraries as mind gyms; libraries as idea labs; libraries as art salons. But let’s be clear: Library 4.0 will not replace Libraries 1.0 through 3.0; it will absorb them. The library as aesthetic experience will have space for all the library’s incarnations: storage (archives, treasures); data retrieval (networks – reference rooms); and commentary and annotation (salon). Available as physical places in the library “storefront,” they will also be mobile, as AR overlays we can view (via glasses, contacts, projections) anywhere. Both virtual and augmented 3D reality will enable us to manipulate data via immersive, visual, metaphorical, sculptural, holographic information theatres: the research and analytic experience will merge with drawing, dance, and drama.

But Library 4.0 will add a new mode, knowledge spa: meditation, relaxation, immersion in a luxury of ideas and thought. In companies, this may take the form of retreat space for thought leaders, considered an investment in innovation; in public libraries, the luxurious details will require private partners as sponsors providing the sensory treats. Library 4.0 revives the old image of a country house library, and renovates it: from a retreat, a sanctuary, a pampered experience with information – subtle thoughts, fine words, exquisite brandy, smooth coffee, aromatic cigar, smell of leather, rustle of pages – to the dream economy’s library, the LIBRARY: a WiFREE space, a retreat from technohustle, with comfortable chairs, quiet, good light, coffee and single malt. You know, the library.(5)

I’ll meet you there.

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2 Responses to Libaries – a case for renewal

  1. Richard says:

    1) Including Chad and Miller, accessed here: http://www.talis.com/downloads/white_papers/DoLibrariesMatter.pdf, as of 12 March 2006, and subsequent essays and blog discussions.

    2) This paradigm and the examples are drawn from Andrew Zolli’s opening presentation at the Sun Brand Summit, accessed here: http://brand.sun.com/brandsummit/2005replay.html as of 12 March 2006.

    3) SecondLIfe is an online, participatory, 3D graphic virtual community wherein people are making actual fortunes; take a look here: http://secondlife.com/ as of 12 March 2006.

    4) Taken with thanks from Andrew Zolli’s closing summary at the Sun Brand Summit, accessed here: http://brand.sun.com/brandsummit/2005replay.html as of 12 March 2006.

    See work done at the Graphics and Visualization Center, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, on the “Office of the Future,” here: http://www.cs.unc.edu/Research/stc/stc.html as of 12 March 2006.

  2. Pingback: Libaries – a case for renewal | What’s Next: Top Trends | Libpro's Blog

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