A Conversation about the Future

June 28, 2014

On Saturday morning, ALA President Barbara K. Stripling convened a panel to stimulate thinking about the future and the place libraries will have in it. The conversation was a follow-up to the national Summit on the Future of Libraries held May 2­–3 at the Library of Congress. Stripling said that “Each one of us will have a different future library. We have the power to envision our future communities and make a difference right now.”

Panelist Corinne Hill, director of the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Public Library, began by stating that “We need to know, understand, and accept that the world we live in is different from the one before 2008. Our current world is volatile, uncertain, complex, chaotic, and ambiguous.” One key factor, she noted, is that “Funding is not coming back to previous levels. Libraries have survived 3,000 years because we have adapted. But we need to think like mercenaries, not missionaries.”

Chattanooga’s 4th-floor makerspace is a good example of the kind of Future Think required, she said. “It’s a place for radical experiments, a makerspace, a sandbox, and a civic space,” all in 12,000 square feet. “We just acquired both traditional technology (a loom) and radical technology (a drone).” Plans are in the works for the loom, but the drone concept still needs “some development.”

Carolyn Foote, librarian at Westlake High School in Austin, Texas, provided a school librarian perspective, emphasizing that libraries are a “developing enterprise, not a warehouse for materials.” School libraries are the “foundation for all other users’ library experiences,” and librarians are best suited to keep track of trends in education. “We also need to be open,” she added, “to others’ ideas about what libraries are.”

Pearl Ly, library director for the Bay Area Community College of Marin in California, discussed some of the trends that have affected community college libraries in recent years, notably an increased demand for accountability in higher education, more emphasis on students completing their curricula, and demonstrating the value of both the physical and the virtual library to all stakeholders. “In addition to the library,” Ly said, “community college library directors are often in charge of media, audiovisual equipment, distance education, professional development, and even academic programs. We need to advocate for leaders who can help transform all these concepts for the future.”

Winding up the program was ALA’s new director of the Center for the Future of Libraries, Miguel Figueroa, who said that his idea of the center is more as a project that all of us are working on together. He stated that the greater part of his work will be in education (“how do we get people to understand that libraries are more than books?”) and enabling innovation (“how do we get librarians and others to work together to keep track of cultural, environmental, technological, and economic changes?”).


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