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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

The Future of Libraries, Part II

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, July 16, 2006

Futurists look at the reality of today, the history of the past; and try to predict the future.


They are an important factor in planning for the future in any institution.


Last week, I talked about the Colorado-based DaVinci Institute and their predictions for the future of libraries.


Thomas Frey, the Executive Director of the DaVinci Institute, spent 15 years as an engineer and designer at IBM before launching this futurist "think tank."


Aside from his thoughts on the future of libraries, he has developed "trends" to be considered when looking at information technology.


The first trend is that communication systems are continually changing the way people access information.


He outlines communication from the invention of the telegraph in 1844 to Pod casting in 2004.  Will there ever be an ultimate form of communication?


The second trend is that all technology ends, to be replaced by something new.  The paper book has had a "long run" of 500 years, and it too will be replaced.


Society hasn't reached a standard vehicle of information storage is the third trend. 


Until technology reaches a size and media for the storage of information, it is impossible to plan for the distant future.


Search technology is the fourth trend.  Today's searching is based on text search, but the future will add multiple languages and forms of image, audio, and video search into the mix.


Another generation will likely find taste, smell, texture, speed, etc. as a basis for searching; making it extremely complex to find information.


The fifth trend that Frey outlines relates to a changing lifestyle of people, specifically "time compression."


People sleep 2 hours less than they did in 1925, one-third of us eat on the run.  Two-thirds of young people watch TV and surf the Web while talking on a cell phone.


Things need to be faster to accommodate our lifestyle.


The next trend will cause librarians to faint!  Frey quotes Dr. William Crossman as predicting that by 2050 literacy will be dead as we transition from keyboards to a verbal society.


Computers will become more human-like with personalities and traits, and will interact like other humans.


The seventh trend relates to the "global economy" and the demand for information.  Our ability to do business in a foreign country and understanding of cultures, society, and systems will determine business success.


The eighth trend is the need to work within global systems of trade, currency, taxes, and standards; similar to what is happening in the European nations today.


The ninth trend will change our experience from a product-based economy to an experience-based economy.  Words-on-a-page will be replaced by an experience created by various media.


The final trend relates directly to libraries.  Instead of a storehouse of information, the library will expand to a culture-based library providing people with experiences and a place to interact and share.


So which of these will become reality?  Some will, some won't.  Those that don't become reality will likely be impacted by problems of implementation.


When fiber-optic cables first appeared, their capacity was viewed as a wave of the future.  In reality, they attracted animals such as groundhogs that were attracted to dig them out of the ground and chew the protective cover to reach the "optic" part of the cable.


The 1949 prediction that we would all have small helicopters and heliports instead of cars missed the reality of air travel and space requirements without marked highways.


We will see which predictions come true.