Monday, 26 September 2016

Metadata Update # 35 Change and the Future of Libraries

I've noticed that there has been a lot of talk lately about the future of libraries.  The idea that a profession would think and talk about where they are going and what changes will occur is nothing new.  What does seem to be remarkable in the last year or so is that there is a more formalized movement to understand and start to map out that future.  For example, I recently spent some time reading the information on the ALA Center for the Future of Libraries website (  While the blog, articles and other resources collected up on this web page appear to be just starting to pick up steam, the fact that this Center exists at all is an indicator of the growing interest in the future direction of libraries.  In addition, the San Jose State iSchool annual world wide virtual conference (mini-conferences are being tested this year) has the topic of "Libraries of the Future"  It seems that the more that I read, and listen to the discussions in the field, the more that I can see how formalized discussions about the future are becoming.

One of the key messages that has come out of the discussions is that libraries need to change in order to meet the needs of today's patrons and patrons of the future.  Libraries need to change to remain relevant and effective.  There is a realization that while libraries had no real competition, quick and easy access to services like Google Scholar and Wikipedia has changed the landscape.  There are also changing needs for library space and library locations.  The theme is that the library profession realizes that libraries need to change in order to be successful and remain relevant in the future.  It's not that everything that libraries have developed and achieved over the years is thrown away and we will start over.  While it is true that in some areas there likely will be revolutionary change, the changes and adaptations that libraries will make in the future will likely build upon and extend upon the strengths that libraries have already built.

So what about those areas which will be turned on their ears because of change?  While those working in the specialization of cataloguing and metadata are aware that such changes are in the works, I get the impression that many outside of it don't fully appreciate how much things will change in the next half decade or so.  When I was at ALA Midwinter 2016 I heard a very interesting talk that Sally McCallum (Chief of the Network Development/MARC Standards Office at the Library of Congress) where she described a dramatic and unprecedented decade of change for modern libraries with regard to information discovery and access.  Of course, cataloguers can all guess that she was talking about the shift from MARC to BIBFRAME.  I think that she is correct in suggesting that libraries have begun to cross into a brave new world which, with some initial hard work and hardship, will lead us to new opportunities and realities which we can only begin to imagine today.  Yet, I get the impression that many in the profession don't yet believe or understand the scope and nature of change which cataloguers are just now starting to appreciate.  I get the impression that the impact of the revolutionary changes that are to come in the near future aren't restricted to the area of cataloguing and metadata.  The key message is that libraries will change and some of this change will be dramatic.

Given that this topic is of growing interest, I would like to write a few posts in the upcoming months which will explore the topic of  the future of libraries and the nature of change.  Given that my program of research focuses on disruptive change in libraries, I already have done a lot of work and writing in this area.  However, I like the idea of doing some informal writing and reflecting on this topic as opposed to exclusively writing journal articles and columns.  Also, I find the feedback email that I get from my blog to be very helpful in terms of broadening and deepening my understanding of the topics I write about.

To start out the discussion, I'd like to share a blog post that I wrote for a colleague's blog nearly 2 years ago on disruptive change in library technical services .  While I spoke about change in technical services, I think that the issues it brings up are relevant to practically all aspects of librarianship.  Then, if you are interested, I will be expanding on the models discussed in this blog post at the Library 2.016 mini conference. on October 6th 2016.  The nice thing about this conference is that if you can't make the live presentation, the recordings are freely available to watch at any time in the future.

After the conference, I hope to continue to expand on the topic in this blog.