The Friday vision session was given by Marshall Keys. He spoke about the chaotic transitions brought on by technology. He said that the “future of libraries depends on their ability to meet the emerging needs of users” and that we need to first understand what those needs are. None of us know what tools we will be using in libraries in the future, but we should keep aware of trends and try to anticipate them.
Keys talked about the “blog mentality” of the younger generation of library users:
- What I think is important
- What I think is important to other people
- Something is important because I think it is important (“Whatever” corrolary: If I don’t think it is important… whatever.)
- Privacy is unimportant
- Community is important
The last two aspects of the “blog mentality” are particularly relevant to library technology. Emerging users want community, personalization, and portable technology, and they are willing to have it all at the expense of a loss of privacy. For example, they want to know what their peers are interested in, and they can get that kind of information from places like Amazon, Netflix, and Friendster, but not from the library catalog.
Another point on technology that Keys made about our emerging users is that the phone is their primary information appliance, and as the sales of ringtones indicate, these users are willing to pay for the ability to customize their tools. One not-so-emerging proponent of a phone as a primary information appliance is the Shifted Librarian herself, Jenny Levine, and her treasured Treo. She and Marshall Keys would make for an interesting pair.
Side note: I am writing this in the SeaTac airport while waiting for my shuttle back to Ellensburg. At a nearby table is a ten year old girl and her little sister along with her father. Just now, he was having trouble with something on his cell phone, and she took it and showed him how to do what he wanted to do. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that someone so young would know more about how to use the phone than the person who owns it, but I am anyway.
The point that Keys was trying to make was that if emerging users consider their phones to be primary sources of information, then we need to be developing reference tools that acknowledge that reality. There are text message services that answer questions quickly for a nominal fee, and if our users are more inclined to pay for that service rather than come to us through traditional methods, then we need to consider ways to implement similar services. We also need to face the reality that a majority of library functions can be outsourced off-shore, including technical services and reference services. If we aren’t preparing for this eventuality, then it will be even more difficult once it happens.
Keys stated that, “a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” If we aren’t prepared to provide accurate information quickly to our users in the formats they prefer, then we will become irrelevant.