PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.
People want answers when, where, and how they want them. That was the simple analysis of people's need for information by futurist Stephen Abram. He is the Vice-President of Innovation for SirsiDynix, our library automation company. SirsiDynix, since its merger, is responsible for the checkout of over 2 million items per day from America's libraries, 40 percent of the items checked out of our libraries daily.
Mr. Abram is planning for library services and needs a decade in the future. He contends that while it seems we are in an age of "great change," our parents and grandparents were the ones actually dealing with the big changesBetween 1900 and 1990, the generations dealt with automobiles, radio, television, microwaves, and telephones. Imagine the change that placed on society!
Since 1990, change has involved primarily further development of existing technologies. Mr. Abram also amuses that the 1990s was spent teaching us Baby Boomers how to "double click." He contends that we are now on the verge of an era of major change again.
We are moving from the "fact-based generation" of Baby Boomers, to the "thinking-based generation" of today. My generation learned by absorbing facts, facts, and more facts. Today's generation is less concerned with facts as with concepts. Relating to libraries, people used to patronize institutions while today people are more concerned with where the information can be found, rather than what institution can provide it.
He calls today's society as being in an "information ocean," rather than being on the "information highway." Mr. Abram contents that a highway implies rules, direction, road signs, and defined routes; and that is certainly not true with the Internet.
Libraries improve the quality of information and animate the information experience for the user. The reality is that most people are not good searchers for information. The stereotype of the library on the 1960s Starship Enterprise, where Captain Kirk simply says "library" and poses his question and receives the perfect answer simply doesn't happen on the Internet. People end up without the information, or with bits of the information, or actually wrong answers without search experience.
Continued technology advancements by libraries is important in the information age, in addition to promotion and awareness to users about the library's resources. The importance of the traditional library is also its ability to understand the user's psychological needs, to allow contact with a "real human."
People using our library system comment that it is important to have technology and electronic resources available from the library on their home computer. We were told that we need to be "computer literate" in our lives, but nobody mentioned that we should be "information literate."
It is equally important to have the human contact, in-person or by phone, to interpret their information needs. So many offices, points of contact for the public, have disappeared from our communities in the past decade. The Library remains a stalwart in its existence in the community.
Stephen Abram concludes with his famous statement, "People need to understand that when you cut a library, you damage a child, you damage the community, you damage your society, and you become stupid. That's just not a healthy thing."