Friday, May 9, 2014

The Future of Libraries pt. 1

Thomas Frey likes to talk about the future. He asks the question “how will our lives be different in the future?” and looks for answers in many different fields. One of these fields is Library Science, or more specifically, libraries. Frey argues that our relationship with libraries will change. He talks about “four fundamental crossroads of change – literacy, books, education, and work” (Frey). Frey is right. Our relationship with libraries is changing. But it can also be said that change is the only real constant in any of our lives.
In the past we were taught that a literate person was someone who knew how to read and write, and that it was a simple as that. But how many of us have heard the phrase "computer illiterate" in the last decade? Literacy is becoming more than the simple ability to put words on a page. To succeed in this modern era we not only need to be traditionally literate, but computer literate and media literate. Like traditional reading and writing skills, these are things that modern libraries can help with. I have personal experience doing outreach work with a public library teaching senior citizen basic internet skills.
Frey points out that our relationship with print books is also changing. But this is not new. For at least the last decade my teachers have been going on and on about the difference between print sources and electronic sources for scholarly texts. What does this mean? That we've known about this change for a while now, and that digital media is not going away any time soon. With the prevalence of e-readers more and more people (and library patrons) are moving away from books entirely. 
Thomas Frey talks about the availability and over saturation of information in the future. 
In his article “55 Jobs of the Future”,  Frey tells us that in the future there will be people who make their living as ‘Book-to-App Converters’ (Frey, 2011), who would work on making what Frey refers to as a ‘Perpetual Self-Updating Book’ (Frey, 2011). A book-app hybrid would contain all of the information of a 40 volume set of encyclopedias, constantly updating itself. In my opinion, in Frey's world of the future, far from being obsolete librarians will be more needed than ever.
A moderately intelligent adult of 40 years ago was perfectly capable of walking into a library, finding an encyclopedia and looking up the one article it would contain on any given topic, let's say F.D.R.'s presidency. A moderately intelligent adult of today is perfectly capable of googling Franklin Roosevelt, but will be faced with approximately 20.9 million hits (this number can be verified with a quick trip to Librarians are not simply keepers of books, they are information specialists, tasked with helping lay-people sort through the endless amounts of information that we are faced with. How much more so in Frey's future world, when we could all have endless amounts of information on any conceivable topic, constantly self-updating in the palm of our hand?
The field of education has always been changing. Children used to sit in classrooms and memorize books full of facts. Now our children are more engaged in learning, and modern libraries are reflecting that change. Libraries of the future might not be filled with stacks and stacks off books, but that doesn't mean that they will bereft of educational materials. New technology, like 3D Printers is changing the way libraries (and librarians) will be able to engage with children.
The last point that Frey mentions, work, is an interesting topic. Libraries have become not only a place for people to do work (who have us hasn’t spent finals week practically living in the campus library?), but for people to find work. In her TED talk, Pam Sandlian Smith tells the story of a man who came into the library often, working on his resume on publicly available computers, attending resume workshops and ultimately landed a job (TEDx, 2013). Libraries have always been places where communities come together to support one another, and I doubt that that is going to change at any point soon.
While I obviously agree with Frey, I don’t think that libraries are going to change as dramatically or as quickly as he seems to think. Change is a constant. The library of today is very different than the library of 50 years ago, and obviously the library of 2064 will be very different from the library of today. Will we all be working in bookless libraries 20+ years from now? Maybe, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As I’ve been hearing over and over again over the last few weeks, being a librarian is not just about books. We are responsible for connecting people with information, and that is never going to change.

Frey, T. (2011, November 11). 55 Jobs of the Future. FuturistSpeakercom A Study of Future Trends and Predictions by Futurist Thomas Frey. Retrieved May 9, 2014, from

Frey, T. (n.d.). Futurist Speaker Thomas Frey. DaVinci Institute. Retrieved May 9, 2014, from

Frey, T. (2011, September 23). Introducing the Perpetual Self-Updating Book. FuturistSpeakercom A Study of Future Trends and Predictions by Futurist Thomas Frey. Retrieved May 9, 2014, from 

TEDx Talks. (2013, December 16). What to expect from libraries in the 21st century: Pam Sandlian Smith at TEDxMileHigh [Video file]. Retrieved from

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