The Future is Not Out of Reach

David Lee King, Digital Branch & Services Manager at Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library, gave this second keynote, subtitled Change, Library 2.0, and Emerging Trends. He started off with “If you hate being on Flickr, duck” — the second time someone has said this at a session. Is photographing the audience the new fad?

“We are the lucky ones” being the computer geeks, yet much of the audience raised hands when asked if they felt pulled in multiple directions being in IT work.


  • Shared comments as conversation is “new” (at least in terms of public conversation with patrons and community) — e.g., AADL director’s blog and comments
  • Friending on the web – Flickr/MySpace/Facebook, IM buddy lists – you now have friends for life (do you? is this really web-dependent? As the technology changes and Facebook gets bought out by Yahoo and requires a Yahoo login, will your old high school friends really still stay on the same channel with you?)
  • Content changes e.g. patron-generated content such as Denver Library YouTube contest, RSS feeds for snippets of only certain kinds of content (“PaperCuts” blog at Topeka; sports blog at Kansas City) — this need not be viewed as transferring control of the information to patrons, but adding “user-generated” (staff and customer) content to the authority-controlled content — involving the user
  • Tagging: del.icio.us at Lansing Public Library for reference links; AADL customer-generated tags in OPAC; Casey Bisson at Lamson Library WPOPAC supports tags
  • The web as platform: instead of going to the library to use library content, patrons are going to the library to use the Internet to use non-library content — “we are now a launch pad to a destination rather than a destination”
  • Mashups: combining content used to be limited to e.g. writing a research paper, now it is combining applications and content from multiple web sources

Why are we doing these changes and transformations? Should we be doing these?

  • We should be relevant to the next generation: IM and texting, creating user-generated content; using content from other users in making their decisions, e.g., Amazon user reviews. Why did few in the audience raise hands when he asked if their library did IM reference?
  • Mobile technology is getting much easier to use & coming down in price.
  • What are you doing in your library to interact with patrons in these spheres? To support them in using & understanding new apps?
    • Charlotte & Mecklenburg podcast booth for teens
    • www.myspace.com/vsotkc to create interactive art exhibit at Topeka
    • Princeton Public Library classes in Flickr
    • Teach parents about MySpace
  • Save time by using newer tools to support your own professional work
  • “Customers actually want to participate with you now”
  • Be a community leader — Topeka was the first place in their community to teach business people classes in Word. Why not teach them how to create What’s New blogs? (Not sure how many local business people in my area would be remotely interested in spending time on updating their web site since they don’t even want to read email)
  • Land a cool job: “NextGen Librarian” and “Web 2.0 Librarian” and “Digital Branch Manager” and “User Experience Strategist”

How do I make time for this new stuff?
Says you have time — if you make it a priority — gave example of the library cart drill teams and said these are the same people who “don’t have time” for learning new technologies. (Are they? Are the people on the drill team the circulation technicians — who often, in my library, are also the first to embrace new technologies that make their work easier?)

Read from (NYPL?) news where 200 librarians took advantage of early retirement as alternative to learning new technologies — “letting go of the past” can feel to librarians like their whole life is being negated — this can be scary.

The OCLC customer perceptions report said most patrons saw library as books — but it is not just books — it is not really useful comforting yourself with the idea that you can stay with a focus on traditional services (hmm, but I’m absolutely hopeless with the print reference collection, so when a customer has a question that’s answered better via those resources than via our databases, isn’t it an important and valuable service to keep the people who know the print references like the back of their hand?)

Granting time (advice to managers)
Not just a matter of staff taking time to play — managers have to give time for learning, creating, what may seem like playing

Steps to take (advice to managers)
Plan carefully
Model new behavior!
Constant communication
Describe the change succinctly
Photo of “Do Not Block Entrance” sign fronted by stanchions blocking entrance: Don’t be the person to send staff to LITA Forum to learn new stuff and then not let them use that new stuff when they come back 🙂

Predictions for 5 years from now

  • more interaction, participation
  • personalization (maybe My Library’s time has finally come)
  • more multimedia — anyone can post a video to YouTube vs., say, how it was in 1997 to post a video to a web site
  • mobile – tools like iPhone are precursors – actual functionality for non-nerds

One thing is sure: change
Flickr set from New Zealand National Library “In 2017 libraries will be …” (cute! Check it out!)
“In 2017 libraries will be anywhere, anytime, anyhow”
“In 2017 libraries will be about communities, not computers”

Q: Changes you see that you don’t like?
A: Second Life just because it’s cool, if it’s not relevant to your community. Doing technology outside the planning process: When the library director has just heard about blogs and says “we need to start one tomorrow” — it is easy to set up a lot of these technologies without putting much thought into how they fit into your larger plan.

Q: What about obsolescence — all the time you waste on technologies that go away soon?
A: Not a waste if you learned something. Start small with a pilot project.

Q: What about academic libraries that are hesitant to allow user-generated reviews etc. because it’s “not scholarly”?
A: You can set up separate forums or discussion groups to open up for conversation. A product manager for Encore says many of their academic customers are also concerned about this, but the faculty are “users” and their contributions actually add value. You can open up the “user-generated” part to just a subset of users.

Q: Digital divide issues: larger institutions being able to do things that smaller institutions cannot
A: Find out what your community needs and seek to meet those needs — focus your efforts.

Q: What kind of archive will we have in 40 years of our community “conversations” today in these online media?
A: That is an issue for libraries to address. If you have an archive of letters from 40 years ago, should you be saving blog posts?


  1. Pingback: Computers » The Future is Not Out of Reach

  2. Kate Todd

    I loved this presentation and especially the very visual PowerPoint slides that he used. But I don’t see the .ppt file anywhere. Will it be available for those who attended?

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