“Waxing & Waning”; ILA Annual Conference 2009

Karen Schneider wore deer boots and turtlenecks circa 1975, and claims she can still be spotted wearing them to this day.  She learned what “going commando” means only recently.  She is also known as the free range librarian, a co-moderator of the PUBLIB public librarian discussion list, an Air Force vet, the newly appointed library director at Holy Names University, a published food writer and a beer home-brewer.

Schneider was also the keynote speaker for Friday morning’s session of the Iowa Library Association ’09 Annual Conference, where she gave her talk, “Waxing and Waning: Tech Trends for the Library Landscape.”  You can check out the slides from her talk here (via slideshare):

Mostly she talked about trends that are waxing, which was probably encouraging to librarians who worry that they’re going extinct.  She did mention a few waning trends, though, which I want to get out of the way first.

Waning Library Trends:

  • Authoritarian librarians & mean signs.  (See the Dickinson Library flickr stream for some really friendly signs.)
  • Paper.  It will become an anachronism in our lifetime; it will become a niche business with a devoted following, but will no longer be mainstream.
    • [Insert Karen’s Fair Use rant:  The rights to most digital media (such as eBooks) are based on a “licensing” model instead of an “ownership” model, which means that Intellectual Property is being governed by contracts instead of Fair Use.  We’re not allowed to share what we read anymore!  Librarians and the OITP need to advocate and lobby for Fair Use in digital environments, or we could see Fair Use go away.]
  • “Just-in-case” reference displays that take up space on coffee tables and collect thick layers of dust.
  • Locally installed catalogs (LIS)

But the great news is that so many library trends are actually waxing!  Schneider argues that there’s a really fantastic future out there for librarians who are willing to accept difference and embrace the “yes.”  Here are some of her waxing trends (you can see her slide show for the rest).

Waxing Library Trends:

  • The quest for narrative.  Speak with a human voice; talk to people like they would talk to you.
  • Ubiquitous informal engagement.  Start a facebook page for your library or send weekly emails to your book group.  Whatever it happens to be, find your technology sweet spot and keep up the engagement.  Embrace the blur:  the professional might overlap with the personal when social networking is involved, but that’s OK.
  • Incredible vetted information.
  • Resource sharing & consortia / Centralized mass storage.  This is for public libraries, too!  Yield ownership to access:  stop thinking about what you own and start thinking about what you have access to.
  • Cloud-based applications & catalogs.  But brace yourself for Cloud-Based Disasters!!!  Where is your stuff going to be when Gmail goes down?  Back up your data so you don’t become a victim of T-mobile: the sequel.
  • Ubiquitous computing.  Embrace the mesh and encourage wi-fi.
  • The library as a destination & an experience.  Karen had tons of ideas about how to amp up the library user’s experience:
    • Make electrical outlets readily available.
    • Install individual gaming consoles with comfy chairs.
    • You might not need to dump Dewey. . . but you could color code and back-light Dewey!  Clear signage is pretty helpful.
    • Do you have an automated book return?  Then let people watch robots shelve their books!  Encourage the whimsical, fun and engaging.
    • Encourage people who want to surface interesting information about your library — let them take pictures and blog about you!
    • Promote library materials at the holds area — think of this as your “Frequent Flier” or “Impulse Buy” section.
    • If people come in without library cards, find some other way to let them check out books.  In Cairo, Georgia, library users could opt to use a biometric fingerprint device to check out books!
  • Opportunities wax in hard times.  The first national Talking Books Program began in 1934 as a reaction to the Great Depression, because librarians and disability activists believed that disabled persons needed extra help.

In conclusion, Schneider admitted that she finds valet parking, fax machines and ATMs completely mystifying.  On the other hand, she loves those whooshing air-pressurized bank drive-thru tubes!  In other words, we all have certain technologies that we find difficult, and that’s OK.  Find out what new technologies you can deal with and then move forward by asking yourself:

what’s your narrative?
where are you waxing and waning?
how will you embrace “yes”?

(click here to see more links for ILA Annual ’09)

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