Unusual Economic Indicators

Apparently, Obama’s top economic adviser (Larry Summers) says the US is approaching the end of recession based on the number of Google searches for the term “economic depression.” This chimes with a story I read about a few months ago (but now can’t find) saying that Google thought the recession was over due to shifts in what people were searching for (they are starting to search for luxury goods again, for example).

What are some of the other less obvious economic indicators? I always liked the story of Warren Buffet following sales of cardboard because this tracked the shipping of goods (i.e. purchases) and I’m also a fan of how difficult it is to get a taxi in the rain and how easy it is to get a table at a top restaurant on a Saturday night. Given that supermarkets like Tesco are sitting on millions of bits of data about what people are buying/have stopped buying you’d think they are in a pretty good position to judge too.

Future of Libraries (Draft Scenario 1)

Scenario 1 Draft

This is a world of distant thunder, where people have become alarmed about the health of the planet, especially the destructive effects of global growth and rampant consumerism. Following a series of highly destructive weather events, financial catastrophes and pandemics, people turn against the globalists, the techno-futurists and the multi-nationalists to look for simpler and more sustainable solutions closer to home. This is a world of strong family ties where people trust each other. It is also a world where people are drawn to things that don’t change, where free public spaces that are open to old and young alike are valued and protected.

Hence the idea of local living gains momentum, which, ironically, becomes a global movement. The leaders of the campaign then merge their ideas with those of a number of other likeminded movements, including the Slow Cities movement and the Fair Trade Alliance, and the Commonsense Revolution is born.

This is a sustainable world of switching things off, living on less and doing without certain things. It is intensely local, fiercely authentic, more emotional, less rational, more reflective and multi-sensorial. Climate change and resource shortages mean that energy efficiency is a key priority and local governments fund small grassroots campaigns to persuade people to generate their own power and recycle their own water. Grants also encourage people to grown their own food and large areas of publicly owned land are given over to city-farms and village growing co-operatives.

Alternative energy is key feature of this world, although most of the solutions remain fairly low-tech. Power generation shifts to local networks to avoid losses due to transmission and most homes, offices and public buildings generate at least some of the power they require through a mixture of solar and wind power.

Use of fossil fuels is significant for many decades (especially in transportation and manufacturing) but the mixture of high prices and green taxation means that the days of oil, coal and gas are numbered.However, at a domestic level change takes hold far sooner. The use of electrical goods declines and there is a slow but significant drift back towards analogue and human-powered technologies due to reliability and cost considerations. Hence, $2,000 tumble dryers are thrown out and recycled in favour of $20 washing lines. Cars are replaced with scooters and bicycles, people make and mend their own clothes and children start walking to school again.

Use of the internet, social networks and virtual worlds also decline, partly due to cost. This doesn’t mean that all technology is rejected, simply that people think carefully about what they need and try to achieve some level of balance by weighing up the personal against the collective disadvantages. Technology is balanced against overall human needs.

The only exception to the widespread rejection of electronics is the mobile phone. The use of mobiles increases for a number of years but eventually starts to fall off following a number of research studies linking mobile phone use to EMF radiation and cancer. Local governments then start to ban the use of mobiles in government building such as schools, hospitals and libraries.

To begin with this provokes a number of protests, especially from young users, who organise flash-mob protests, but eventually people accept the ruling and divert their calls to landline telephones instead. This co-incidentally proves to be an extremely good idea because landlines turn out to be far more resilient against power blackouts and phone viruses.

Work, too, is localised. There are still people that travel vast distances to work by public transport and there are those that travel the world in search of meaningful employment or escape. But by and large people shift their employment needs and leisure diversions to things that are more local. Work-life balance remains a key part of this equation, with many people giving up a proportion of their income in return for less travel or less stress. This means there is a gradual drift away from the big cities towards smaller towns and villages although some people, especially singles, are still attracted to major urban areas, which are now more ordered and calmer than they were in 2009.

In terms of information, things start to change here too. The production of new information declines substantially due to the slow shift away of the internet and digital devices. There is also a noticeable shift by consumers of information towards quality sources. In most instances trusted sources are fairly local, although a handful of well-established global infotainment brands and academic information publishers
do extremely well.

The movement towards safe sources also benefits physical books. e-Books are widely rejected due to concerns about sustainability but also because there is a feeling that digital devices like these benefit nobody over the longer-term. For example, a series of scientific studies demonstrates that the repeated use of mobile devices during the early part of the 21st century led to a decline in empathy due to a focus on the self and also a reduction in overall intelligence due to a lack of contextual understanding. People also believe that e-books accelerate the outsourcing of the human mind and user underestimate the literal and figurative sense of weight that is part of the analogue reading experience.

Physical books (including old and second-hand books) therefore make a rather unexpected re-appearance and physical libraries do well too because they are perceived as important pillars of the local community where people can physically interact and converse.  Thus, libraries are transformed into local information centres, dispensing vital community information and also providing a physical refuge where disadvantaged groups can seek protection as well as knowledge.

Government funding for libraries remains low in this world, partly because economic growth is now restrained but also because environmental security and the health of the ageing population remain higher priorities. A new Libraries Act also signals a shift towards the introduction of more user-pays services and an end to what some library users consider ‘restrictive’ practices. Staffing is therefore tight but libraries cope with surging user demand by recruiting multi-skilled personnel and also by enticing retired knowledge workers to work part-time.

It is not all good news though. Libraries struggle to maintain old buildings, which are regularly attacked by the wild weather and there is also pressure from local government to make the buildings as green as possible and to add as many government services as physically possible.

Draft Timeline — Scenario #1

Library visits up 4.25% over previous year and 17.49% over past 5 years
New strain of H5N1 influenza emerges and kills 250,000 in China alone
The Murray River records lowest ever flow of 88 gigalitres in January 2010
Collapse of Macquarie Bank sparks dancing protests again globalisation
Study finds that attention spans have declined to 2-minutes for teens.
Local newspapers resist widespread shift to e-news
Report claims that the average avatar uses more energy than the average German
Online banking accounts tumble in favour of local branches
The local living movement starts in Parkes and spreads throughout NSW
Library visits up 12% on 2009

Launch of Local Living magazine. First print run is 100,000 copies
American Express (aka American Excess) loses major class action in US
Biofuel production blamed for death of 150,000 children in India
Australia records driest year on record
Local Living circulation now at 200,000 copies per month
Widespread flooding in USA
Commonwealth Bank opens series of branches inside libraries
Climate change and work-life balance key issues in Australian federal election
Slow Cities movement signs up councils across Europe — traffic banned at weekends
Sony successfully sued in France for peddling addictive video games

Felix Denis buys Local Living magazine. US edition sells 950,000 in first month
CSIRO unveils nano ‘wallpaper’ for use on roofs and sides of houses
Water restrictions re-introduced and made permanent in most Australian cities
New-build swimming pools banned whilst existing pools attract pool tax
Google zeitgeist announces that ‘sustainability’ was 8th most popular search in 2011
Washing machine sales tumble by 50% year on year
Amazon withdraws Kindle 3 from sale in Australia
Global boycott of plastic packaging extends to plastics used in technology devices
Robotic pets the biggest flop of Christmas 2012
Bob Dylan’s Shelter from the Storm is re-released on vinyl and sells 900,000 copies

People start to fill in swimming pools to grow vegetables
Launch of the ‘Analogue Coalition’ to protect physical books and letter writing
Study by the Australia Institute claims that 45% of households have downshifted
Article in newspaper claims that second-hand bookshops opening at rate of ten a week
Survival store opens next door to the Apple store in George Street, Sydney
IAG refuse to insure any real estate situated within 5km of the coast
Boom in sale of domestic security products
Dick Smith launches Battler’s Bank
European Union collapses in face of rising nationalist sentiment
Oil now at $160 a barrel and rising
Boycott of plastic toys knocks 30% of Hasbro’s share price in US

McDonald’s announce that their menu is now 100% local and organic
Car sales down 20% with the exception of city runabouts
Apple stores burnt down. Slogans on pavements outside include people not machines
Major shift towards home-based leisure announced by Mintel Research
85% of adults in Australia claim they would like to be a civil servant
Number of robots in domestic service worldwide drops from 4 million to 657,000
30% of children now either walk or cycle to schools (up from 9% in 2007)
Chinese economy turns inwards after GDP growth slips to 4%
Wikipedia starts to publish physical encyclopaedias

Local governments announce library grants for citizen-preservation of local history
Sales of Dutch bicycles increase four fold in six-months
Government announces that the weight of the average child has fallen by 5%
Reports says that walking speeds in major cities have fallen by 5% in 5 years
95% of ocean fish now below sustainable levels
76% of young adults now a member of at least one single issue action group
Volume of traffic on UK roads drops by 30%
PEW report claims that 76% of Americans have nil or negative net worth
Insurance on property now represents 25% of global GDP

Study shows link between mobile phone use and childhood leukaemia
Local governments ban use of mobile phones in schools and hospitals
Ban extended to all government building including libraries
Teens gather outside schools to protest against phone bans
Police able to fine parents that place TVs or computers in children’s rooms
Penn State University says average person has 50 hours of free time per week
33% of Chinese patent applications are to do with bicycles or e-scooters

Second study finds definitive link between mobile phones and brain cancer
Mobile phone sales fall by 800% in six months
Local governments announce grants to ‘green’ old library buildings
6 out of 10 of the fastest growing companies in the US are environment related
Newspaper says that office productivity has increased 25% since death of Twitter
25% of Silicon Valley start-ups now clean tech related
Chinese economy collapses following major banking scandal
Google abandons book digitalisation project citing copyright issues

BBC media buys the Australian physical newspaper assets of News Corporation
US v Google anti-trust case results in break-up and sale of library assets
Book sales now exceed lottery ticket sales worldwide
Average life expectancy in Asia now 65 and falling
Invention of paper announced as ‘world’s greatest’
Deceleration named as the #1 trend of 2018 by What’s Next report
Study finds that investment in technology has no noticeable impact on intelligence

Oil hits $200 a barrel
Fresh water now largely priced by time of use x litres
Survivalism for Dummies is the runaway publishing hit of 2019
List of best professions includes; green architects, teachers, booksellers and librarians
40% of bank loans now used to improve the energy efficiency of real estate
Local government places restrictions on the use of technology in classrooms
Russia turns off gas pipeline to Europe citing resource security issues

NPR report says that library use has quadrupled over the past 20 years
YouGov report says that stress costs the UK economy £66 billion per year
Readers Digest named as most trusted media brand alongside BBC and ABC
Series of scandals relating to accuracy of information used by Fox News

Libraries introduce free health screening for over 55s
Rising sea levels cause mass population movements globally
77% of people say that they expect everything to be lots worse next year
‘Library on a bike’ a major hit across Asia
Local government allocates funds for development of mobile library network
Libraries experience surging demand for survivalist books and especially talks

Reports says that more people know their neighbours names that 25 years ago
Sales of fountain pens up 80% in Japan
ABC childcare in second collapse as parents shift towards home-based work
Best selling book of 2022 is Books and Other Things that are Supposed to be Dead
Libraries sell board games

Report says that average number of real friends has risen from 4 to 9 in 10 years
Libraries attract funding for series of events on Slow Living
Sales of garden equipment up 400% since 2019
Evening chess nights a surprise hit in local libraries

Oxford University study claims that obesity epidemic is officially over
Global demand for flood engineers outstrips supply by 500:1
High winds kill 2010 overnight in Melbourne
Woolworth’s announces launch of farmer’s markets in all its car parks from Feb 2025

Libraries offer free language services for recently arrived migrants
Extended Financial Families become the dominant household type in Australia
Laptop computers banned in public libraries
Report by Library Council of NSW says that paper is most durable media format

Imported bottled water now banned although some supplies manage to drip through
Libraries become pivotal in tackling social exclusion
Libraries create events to build community identity and develop citizenship
Best selling book of 2026 is Books and other Things that are Supposed to be Dead

Reports claims that Australia has lost 5% of its coastline due to erosion.
Increase in demand for wind-up products, especially radios and torches

Book by James Lovelock Jnr claims that 98% of human race will be extinct by 2100
78% of people say they wish James Lovelock jnr would become extinct by 2029
New local tax on non-renewable energy consumption

White candle sales catch fire and grow 800% in a single year
Local search trend intensifies
Collection strategies switch from vocational learning to local history and environment

Librarians named as ‘living national treasures’ by Local Living magazine
Report says that global happiness index is at highest level since 1945
Philanthropists divert funds to public libraries

Future of Libraries (Draft Scenario 2)

Scenario 2 Draft

In the beginning was the word and the word was good. But in the 1990s words became art supplies. Visual thinking had emerged as the hallmark of a new culture and the purveyors of mere words began to struggle.  This is a fast-paced world where innovation drives the supply of an endless variety of novel products and services.

Attention spans drop, demand for snack-sized information grows (a vicious circle) and employment increasingly shifts to virtual, mobile and networked models where people can work where, when and with whom they like. Demand for vocational information increases but so too does demand for escapism and distraction.

On many levels it is a harmonious world. Customers are now the co-creators of many of the things that they consume, including entertainment and information. In this sense it is more democratic than 2009. Individuals that did not previously have a voice are now creating and distributing ideas. It is a world where content consumers feed off content producers and vice versa. Individuals and institutions are highly networked and highly collaborative and library users have developed the ability to shift effortlessly across multiple formats and modes of information.

Technology, as you’d expect, is highly coveted, whether it is the latest phone, the latest hybrid vehicle or the latest energy dashboard. It is a world of smart science and engineering: genetics, robotics and nanotechnology. Clean technology is huge as is planetary engineering, which solves some but not all of the problems relating to climate change.The internet and virtual worlds are also big, very big,although
most people now connect to online sources of information and entertainment via mobile phones not fixed devices like PCs or TVs. Online video is very  popular, as is the spoken word but  text-based information and entertainment is in decline. Hence, sales of physical books, newspapers and magazine are all falling.

As it turns out, this is not a flat world, as predicted by Thomas Friedman, but a very spiky one, as prophesied by Richard Florida. Global cities like Sydney and San Francisco attract entrepreneurs and innovators but other areas, especially rural areas, struggle to attract or retain creative talent. This Polarisation is very evident within public libraries, with the very best urban libraries attracting the very best library talent from around the world, whereas second and third tier libraries struggle to compete.
As a result, library funding and library services are effectively split into two.

Flagship libraries (generally, but not exclusively, located in urban centres) modernise and extend their services and start to provide services to other libraries for a fee. Funding for digital and life-long learning is available from a variety of commercial sources and this inevitably leads to the development of a range of user-pays and subscription services, which in turn reduce access and equity in some areas.

Ironically, whilst online learning, social networks and virtual worlds proliferate, physical libraries and physical artefacts do not die. Far from it. The sheer volume of fast-paced, byte-sized information that is now readily available to everyone creates a significant demand for the very opposite.

Many people, particularly parents with small children and seniors, now place a high value upon physical media and physical spaces (especially known library and information ‘brands’).

This is partly because physical objects and environments (including people) are regarded as having greater resilience and trustworthiness but it is also because physical things are attractive due to familiarly and aesthetics. In other words, after several decades of digital living it suddenly dawns on people that something is missing in their lives — and this thing turns out to be physical things; people, physical places and physical objects.

Libraries thus evolve into venues for the physical interaction between people and ideas – a strange mixture of slow analogue thinking spaces and fast ‘spot knowledge’ centres. Other services are then added, ranging from cafes, restaurants and childcare crèches to employment and immigration services. Libraries then develop a series of joint ventures including help kiosks in shopping centres, airports and hospitals and cerebral workout centres in hospitals.

Librarians also transform into highly valued knowledge assistants and navigators, adept both at sifting information (recommending certain sources or content over and above others) and at contextualising information and knowledge. Librarians also become content creators. Local history is not only archived but is created and filtered locally and librarians facilitate the open cataloguing of much material. This local content is also turned into highly profitable live events, many of which prove far more popular than the static collections from whence they came.

Local and State governments still provide funding to libraries, but this does not generally cover basic running costs. Hence libraries start to introduce a range of premium (paid) services, although, again, this raises all kinds of issues relating to access and equity. This ultimately leads to a new Libraries Act, which on the one hand widens library access but also creates a series of new pay-as-you-go library services.

Media formats themselves are still in a state of flux and this adds to costs, as does the constant churn of new e-book titles, vocational courses and staff turnover.

Draft Timeline #2

Library loans up 0.18% over previous year and 6.11% over past 5 years
Kevin Rudd announces major Oz innovation funding
Apple voted world’s coolest brands by Arnholt cool brands survey
Libraries move towards open catalogues
Samsung launch solar powered g-phone called the Solo
Steve Jobs claims that reading is no longer important
Libraries shift emphasis from distributing information to editing it
IBM reveals that there are now one billion transistors for every person on the planet

Library users create 25% of library content
Gov survey reveals that 90% of employees work for small and medium sized firms
State funding for libraries now below that of public toilets
Survey say that 90% of 12-16 year-olds now own a mobile phone
Libraries become hyper-local news aggregators

Schools pay students to run IT support within schools
Survey reveals that average person now has 120 digital friends
Library collections polarised between vocational learning and escapist fiction
Dymocks announces that 8 of the 10 best selling books in 2011 were TV related
Sales of paper, pencils and pens continue to decline
Librarians become facilitators for user generated media content

Due to litigation schools announce that all lessons will be video taped
IBM announces $200 million library sponsorship deal
Library events generate more visits than loans
Libraries announce universal fee wi-fi in an attempt to compete with McDonald’s
Siemens announce ‘global nervous system’ based on wireless sensors
Singapore government completes universal free wi-fi initiative

Information increasingly ranked according to reliability
Libraries introduce free to fee sliding scale of payments for information
All NSW government services now accessible through virtualgov.com.au
McDonald’s persuaded to give away snack-sized books with Happy Meals
UKs new Poet Laureate announces that all of her poems will be written in txt
Urban libraries roll out RFID on all books and other physical artefacts

Libraries announce that they will no longer retain physical copies of new books
Libraries start charging for events, which become a significant new income stream
State Library creates replica of Clive James’s library to mixed reviews
Gov mandates that all library managers blog at least once a day
Survey reveals major split between urban and rural library funding in NSW
Federal gov rolls out national broadband strategy

Sony launches the long awaited ‘Readman’ digital reading glasses
Mayhem as Google announces that Project Gutenberg only accessible from G-phones
Westfield launches Book Butler services in all its shopping centres
Sydney water charges customer $25 for paper bills
Librarians transition from analogue gatekeeper to digital guides
News Corp announces funding for the promotion of reading and informal learning
Government’s smart library service comes to a halt due to a lack of funding
Libraries offer evening dance classes

All school lessons for years 5-12 now available as downloads
ABC introduce pay=per-view for all programming
Survey by CBA says that 90% of 18-25 year-olds have never written a cheque
Virtual book club meetings pull in 750,000 people per week across NSW
Study reveals that successful libraries are all defined by three things; what’s there, who’s there and what’s going on there

NSW library network announces that visits are down 10% on 2015
The ideas Store @ Surry Hills Public Library voted Australia’s best retailer
26 libraries across NSW close due to lack of funds
Libraries become cornerstone of new cultural preservation industry
Bottom falls out of the antiques market. People no longer want ‘old’ things

Libraries become favoured meeting places for teenagers and seniors
Libraries offer yoga and meditation classes
Seek.com.au announces funding for job kiosks in libraries
SMH Survey says that people spend an average of 65 days per year in virtual worlds
Information bartering and swap meets emerge
Libraries start to charge users to charge mobile devices

Secure data back-up services prove an unexpected revenue generator for libraries
Blacktown library re-brands its librarians as ‘information engineers’
Paper use now down by 300% since 2009
Information mediators revealed as the most in-demand profession by BRW magazine
Survey says the average home contains 8 phones, 6 computers, 2 TVs and 12 books
Top selling book of the decade is Cerebral Whiteout by Susan Greenfield

Rural libraries set up innovation spaces in conjunction with CSIRO
Libraries offer drop in technology advice and repair
45% of employees no longer have physical place of work to go to each morning
Library survey reveals that most popular services are: phone charging and toilets
Top selling book of 2021 is I want it Now by Paris Hilton

Peak oil crisis and plastics shortage creates further confusion over media formats
Survey reveals that 90% of people never switch their mobiles off
Hyatt Hotels offer ‘information breaks’ to escape constant digital connectedness
Increasing polarisation between technology haves and have nots
All school examinations now digital

Libraries start to charge users that use a desk for more than 3-hours.
Over-55s exempted from 3-hour rule following ‘grey protests’
Art Gallery of NSW creates digital collection and sells 50% of its physical collection
Top five selling books of 2023 are all about Climate Change

Libraries shift towards the provision of recreational services
With the exception of flagship libraries buildings become increasingly dilapidated
Low funding in most libraries increases wait times to 30-mins for simple queries
MIT study says that the average person now has to remember 36 passwords
The internet is now 10,000 days old

Art Gallery of NSW merges with State Library and move into single building
Libraries introduce staff selections — subjective listings of favourite information
Apple announces that its iBooks store now contains 122,430,055 titles
Facebook is now bigger than America, with a population of 456 million

Libraries start selling book collections to pay energy bills
Building maintenance costs soar by 200% since 2015 due to climate change
Most popular e-book of 2026 is Slow by Penny Wong
4.8 billion people now own mobile phones

Librarian that burnt books to heat the local library over winter is dismissed
Apple says its new iPhone can hold 136,000 books.

Libraries widen their local influence with the introduction of information evenings
Google buys the BBC

Average e-book now just 100 pages in length
Spam declared world’s #1 issue

National Australia Bank offers technology loans to finance e-education requirements
Libraries start to merge with churches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All public libraries equipped with back-up power generators

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

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

Future of Libraries (Draft Scenario 4)

Scenario 4 Draft

This is a world of restless hypertext and universal access. Global economic growth, primarily driven by Asia, results in an expansion of digital connectivity and an explosion of digitalised information. It is a fast-paced world of global markets and endless technological innovation.

Life is good for most people, although rapid economic growth creates a number of problems ranging from surging energy prices to unaffordable real estate. The price of oil soon rises to an all time high and there are shortages of everything from water, wheat and plastic to copper, lithium and cadmium. This initially creates various manufacturing and supply problems and leads to unrest in some regions, especially areas where the price of food staples are high. However, most of these issues are soon solved through energy innovation and the widespread adoption of virtual products and services.

One serious cloud on the horizon is ageing, which results in severe skills shortages in most regions. This is particularly true in industries such as information technology, education, healthcare and security. Most governments ultimately solve this through automation, outsourcing or by importing skilled labour but there are still problems. The first two solutions cause demonstrations and boycotts, while the third (immigration) sparks racial tensions. This is especially true in poorer areas and violence in the streets spills over into government offices, schools, hospitals and libraries.

As for books things have changed quite fundamentally. e-books have proven to be very popular and are now mandatory within secondary and tertiary education. Libraries therefore house collections of work related or vocational e-books that can be downloaded for free onto a variety of devices. This situation obviously creates ongoing copyright problems, although the invention of ‘read-once’ e-books and the ‘buy for life’ iBook service partly solves some of the most immediate issues.

The biggest problem for libraries, apart from funding, is relevance. People have access to information at home and at work and can buy or borrow digital books from a variety of online services at the click of a mouse. Libraries therefore attempt to compete by extending opening hours and by introducing a number of leisure related services ranging from healthcare screening and technology tuition to childcare and mental health gyms. Libraries also double as third spaces, providing free workspace to digital nomads and silver surfers that have nowhere else to go.

Libraries still loan physical books but these have become boutique recreational items or items of historical record much like newspapers and magazines. In terms of collections, most resources are now devoted to either the creation of local information or the acquisition of e-books and e-learning materials.
Timeline — Scenario #4

Launch of Kindle 2 in Australia starts to revolutionise reading habits
Bookshops go out of business at a rate of 50 per week in Australia
Apple launches iBooks store in US with provocative  ‘burning books’ advertisement
Announcement that 6/10 best selling books in Japan in 2009 were mobile downloads
Announcement that best selling book of 2009 was a cookbook

Global growth returns
Oil price hits $120 per barrel
China buys up vast stocks of Lithium from Bolivia
Food inflation returns due to widespread adoption of bio-fuels
Physical books can now be reserved online from most public libraries
First major internet brownout in China causes widespread chaos
Publication of a series of books by technology futurists saying “I told you so”
National campaign using games and music in an attempt to get teens to visit libraries

Amount of new information produced annually reaches epidemic proportions
Newspaper article says that only 10% of products sold in Borders are books
Hottest summer on record in most countries
Sales of print books continue to decline
Libraries stop lending films and music due to online competition
Inflation hits 10% or above in the majority of countries
Google buys Stanford’s map shop in London’s Covent Garden

Series of scandals surrounding circulation of false health information
All public libraries now offer some form of online virtual collection.
Banks no longer offer paper statements
e-books become mandatory in universities
Libraries become storage areas housing ‘digital originals’ (i.e. books)
Cyber attack on UK government results in loss of 45 million e-records
Major government investments in solar energy and water recycling
Digital publishing outstrips print format
Videoeasy goes bust
Report claims that 30% of 5-8 year-olds have never read a physical book
Paper use falls by 33% in offices globally in a single year

50% increase in sales of Toyota Prius
Libraries experiment with pay-per-view downloads
Claim that the average person now walks around with 10 batteries on his/her person
Libraries offer e-tax return guidance and advice service
Library network unsuccessfully launches @home book delivery with Post Office
YouGov survey says that the average household contains 10 books (8 are cookbooks)

Launch of 3-D TV by Foxtel
Sony introduce e-paper in Officeworks
Government urbanisation strategy focuses on high-density living
Creation of single library association
Boom in serious media titles
Widespread adoption of RFID in public libraries
Wearable computers now widely available

Libraries expand range of e-government services
Report says that average walking speed in 20 cities worldwide is up 25% on 2009
Government runs commercial to reduce noise in open-plan offices
Government introduces a series of laws relating to internet filtering and censorship
Libraries introduce cross-format media-on-demand vending machines
Supermarkets offer e-book download service
e-tax returns now mandatory

4.5 billion people now own mobile phones. 70% are now internet connected.
Libraries respond to demand for workspaces with introduction of hot desks
Libraries offer before and after work childcare
Libraries start to sell iPhones and Sony e-readers
Recruitment and CV services available in libraries
All books, documents and artefacts in libraries now geo-tagged
The content creation industry continues to consolidate
News Corporation starts to charge for all online content
Major retrospective of computer graphics 1980-2015 at the National Gallery

Series of clean tech breakthroughs result in oil falling to under $100 a barrel
Most library catalogues are open-source
Librarians start to recommend specific titles as being better than others
Survey claims that 25% of adults no longer read anything in physical format

Libraries as physical spaces highly valued by public
50% of e-book and e-zine sales now made through supermarkets
Library shelves fully digitalized and contain scannable user recommendations
Best selling book of 2019 is The Kingdom of Infinite Cyberspace

Libraries offer mental health workouts for senior citizens
Government funds study looking at reasons behind declining attention spans
All libraries now have cafes
MIT Media lab demonstrates new 5-D e-paper
Oil falls to $50 a barrel
First subscription-only public libraries in NSW

Localisation trend intensifies, especially with local search, local maps and local news
Collection strategies focus on local history and vocation-based materials
Libraries become the largest buyer of physical newspapers and periodicals
Google announces that it is no longer interested in digitalizing the world’s libraries

Local community movement starts and rapidly spreads around NSW
Philanthropists divert resources away from art galleries to libraries
Libraries offer courses in DIY book publishing

All libraries equipped with nano-solar power
Copyright agency approves ‘book for life’ download service

Wave of cultural consolidation with libraries merging with museums and art galleries
Typical library opening hours now 8.30am to 11.00pm
Library network announces major tie up with school library network

18 regional library services compressed into just 6 in NSW
Library of the future is built incorporating an art gallery, concert hall and museum
Steve Jobs announces that his memoir will only be available as an ibook download
80% of the global population now has Internet access

Librarians now widely known as information evangelists
Open libraries catalogues now commonplace
Libraries offer edited list of the best web links for particular topics
English now the third most popular language on the web behind Chinese and Spanish

Public libraries install media on demand vending machines
Libraries offer business news and intelligence service.
Libraries sell anti-virus software
UNESCO joins with the US Library of Congress to launch the World Digital Library

Information now ranked according to source credibility rather than in-coming links
Department of Media and sport announces that libraries will focus on sports history

Internet addiction now a globally recognised condition
Libraries offer evening courses in linear reading
Libraries offer school study spaces and homework classes

Physical books become luxury items alongside newspaper and magazines
85% of public libraries now virtual. Physical buildings used for storage only

Future of Libraries


Tweak to the matrix. As Oliver pointed out an axis based on low to high technology change doesn’t work because high technology change is a given. I can imagine one scenario where it isn’t but not two. This can be dealt with via the wild cards.

So…a revised matrix where the uncertainty is around whether a high rate of technology change is managed or chaotic. Much better.

User Filtered Media


This is from the London Paper — a free commuter paper. The idea is for readers to comment on whether they want to read more from particular readers. Good idea. But what if the idea was applied to journalists? What if readers rated everything a journalist wrote? What if his or her pay then depended on the results?

It could happen. It would be a very bad idea.