Thursday, May 19, 2016

Oh dance, don't stop

I have Future of Libraries fatigue.

There...I said it.

I have Future of Libraries fatigue and the future hasn't even gotten here yet.

One of my favorite posts from Rachel contains this gem:
Here's the thing about the future:
There is no map.
There is no telling, there is no knowing.
It is out there and you have to go whether you like it or not.

I love that so much I printed it out and it's on my bulletin board at work, reminding me that the future is coming whether I want it to or not.

Two things I want to acknowledge at the outset:
1. I recognize that I need to stay informed about advances in the field of librarianship. I try to read widely about new projects and ideas. And when I feel like it's appropriate to add my comments, I do.

2. There are people (and libraries) who have the infrastructure and the bandwidth to live out beyond the bleeding edge. And for those experimenters, it is fruitful to keep their eyes open and their ears to the ground in identifying what the Next Big Thing might be.

Having said that, I want to say this: librarianship should be present with users to understand their needs and react to them as quickly as possible. And you can't be present if you're busy talking about what the future might look like.

So what does it mean to be present with users and to react to needs quickly?

Libraries needs to be agile and able to change course quickly when an emerging user need is identified. And this requires a commitment to experimentation and an acceptance that not every initiative is going to succeed. It requires that libraries stop romanticizing the past and drop the 'but we've ALWAYS done it this way' mindset in favor of letting of of what isn't working to make room for new things that will.

It also requires an engagement of users at every possible opportunity. Have you talked with your users about what new services they might want that you don't currently provide? Have you invited your users to give you feedback on services you are considering establishing? And if you have, have you taken their feedback seriously and acted upon it?

Look, there is absolutely nothing wrong with identifying how you want the future to be better than the present and then altering the course of the present to reach that future. We should all aspire to eschew stagnation at both a personal and organizational level. After all, libraries create strategic plans and then work to bring those strategic plans to life. And most librarians have the opportunity to include growth goals in their annual evaluations.

But let's not sell our present users short by focusing so much on a future that, when it arrives, will probably be significantly different than we even dared to dream.

Stay positive,

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