Inspired Thinking: Ken Roberts, Facing the Future

We now realize that knowledge and creativity add economic value. We understand that future
jobs will place less value on a strong back and more value on a strong mind. Libraries give us
the chance to maintain a literate, creative society.

-Ken Roberts, FACING THE FUTURE  A Vision Document for British Columbia’s Public Libraries

Last weekend, Peter Mansbridge hosted a special edition of Cross Canada Check up about the future of libraries in an age of Google. The podcast itself warrants a listen as callers, and guests, talked about libraries as maker spaces, people places, and creative collaborations. The program itself came from the University of Waterloo, Stratford Campus. They don’t have a classic definition of a library as most of the programs  revolve around digital humanities. The students still get access to book from the main campus located 40 minutes up the road, but it’s all part of the changing nature of libraries. Before hearing about this place, the most notable non-library library came Tampa Florida.

A few words about the new Florida Polytechnic University. It’s so new it does not have any accreditation at this time. The school actually looked at a similar library at NASA. I have a couple of favourite bits from this story:

  1. The school’s titles allow the students to browse on one click, then purchase the book on the next click. I had to read the sentence twice as library usually allow for unlimited browsing. I know most people use libraries as a try-before-you buy option. This approach seems less library and more bookstore to me. To be fair, The Guardian says it applies to books the library does not own. I have a ‘but still’ feeling about all this.
  2. Instead of a traditional reference desk, students learn about managing digital material via a ‘success desk’. This moniker provoked a few laughs by its mere name. (As opposed to what? A ‘stupid desk?’ I recall one person saying.)

Both instances show the future of libraries has begun now. Reading Facing the Future encouraged me to look at not only my assumptions about information gathering, but also how the future will affect the students I help now. More and more of our orientations involve connecting people to information, and enabling them to think about the information they gather for a given project. What they look at as just ‘school work’ will have an impact down the line. If a student simply accepts information as fact, or truth, if it’s online, that person may not know the way search results get manipulated by a number of factors, chiefly search engine optimization (SEO).

As we head beyond this year’s Canadian Library Month, it’s time to find some ‘inspired thinking’. Mr. Roberts vision document isn’t a heap of wishful thinking. It actually tries to put together the kind of future libraries, in this case BC public libraries, now face. It’s hard to visualize a future as it’s not some big event, but a series of smaller events adding up to really big changes. I already see it now as we move deeper into databases and ebooks, while still providing physical materials as well. Even student prefer having a hard copy of the article they found, and not opening the PDF they saved or email. Mind you it’s from my experience and mine alone just like this document forms from Mr. Roberts own research. It’s like links in chain as one person may add their own yet they connect all the way back to the origin point.

Take a good look at the document, I hyperlinked it through the title in the opening of the post. While I linked a number of articles about Florida Polytechnics new ‘bookless’ library, Library Journal has an article entitled New Florida University Unveils Bookless Library By Sharon Riley. While articles linked to this post from two UK papers, and Yahoo, hit the highlights this article delves a little deeper into materials used in the new space. It also has a few more details about similar libraries, the ones Florida Polytechnic consulted, at the end to round out the information.

Can these libraries succeed? Do they build a successful, more literate society as Mr. Roberts stated. Sound off in the comments, or ponder a little more offline.

5 Replies to “Inspired Thinking: Ken Roberts, Facing the Future”

  1. quick note — it’s not “Polytheistic” but “Polytechnic” and it’s in Lakeland, not Tampa. You’re really six inches from my real life turf; rather than bore you with the political circumstances that led to its creation, I’ll limit myself to saying that it’s unlikely that that university will be there all that long or that if it persists, it will ever obtain serious accreditation in our lifetimes. I agree the library is a sham and that the exclusively digital library is an instance of the emperor’s new clothes, but I don’t think that this library is a fair representation of the phenomenon. It’s 90 percent a publicity stunt.

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    1. Thanks for catching the error. After shaking my head, I made the correction. Between the vision document, and this library comes an interesting journey to whatever future that will happen. Like it or not things are changing. What needs to drive the change is questioning if it will benefit users, or drive a bigger wedge between those with technology, and those who don’t.

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      1. As long as the mechanisms for knowledge dissemination remain proprietary, or rather, if they continue to be so, even the educational leaders (e.g., including the very campus from which Florida Polytechnic so cheekily detached itself, do not ask me how I know this) will eventually be priced out of the knowledge economy. It will just take a little longer — but these discussions have been underway for a long time. Which piece of knowledge can we afford to eliminate from our futuristic library because the stuff we really need is so expensive?

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      2. No need for an explanation. It actually makes a great contrast to the University of Waterloo ‘ Stratford campus. It made sense to go digital according to the programs within that campus, yet make sure students have access to books within the library system.

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      3. I honestly don’t think books are going anywhere in higher education. They may be used differently, and there may not be so many of them, but there are still some things for which the books makes the most sense.

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