Exploring Possible Futures for Libraries and Librarians
as developed by Richard Fletcher in consultation
with Wendy Schultz
We have divided you into
four teams. Each team has been assigned a possible future scenario.
Assume that you have been transported to that future. Do not debate
the conditions you face; instead, brainstorm ideas about the new
skills you would need (and which would be obsolete?), the new environments
in which you could work, how clients might be different, and any
other details of training, products, outreach, advertising, or other
strategies you might use to succeed in the conditions of your group's
assigned future. What would be the biggest change in your everyday
life from work as you know it today, to work as it would be in your
assigned future? What would you enjoy the most? What would you miss
the most? What new opportunity excites you the most? What condition
would you work hardest to change? How would you reinvent yourself
as a professional?
Take forty-five minutes,
and have fun.
Scenario 1 -- The Outsourced Future
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
GETS THE AXE
Kansas City, MO, October 1, 2008 (MSNBC)
Officials at the Linda Hall Center for Information Access were glowing
today as they announced a multi-billion dollar ten-year contract
to administer the functions of the Library of Congress. The
US Treasury will receive about 40% of the profits generated, not
to mention the immediate effect of the government's bottom line
by handing over staff, technology and the like. "We'll be
about $5 billion to the good this year," said Senator Ralph
Reed. "With recent congressional budgetary actions,
it became clear that the Library of Congress could no longer operate
as a government entity. Though we lament the passing of the
institution, we look forward to a bright future, providing information
access to the public, organizations and corporations," said
Melinda Dewey, executive director of LHCIA and great granddaughter
of classification guru Thomas Dewey. Dewey would not comment
on rumors that the entire Library archives will be transferred to
bunkers in the Missouri country-side about 60 miles from Kansas
City, on staff or program cuts.
The Library of Congress had run a deficit for many years.
As it scanned more and more items for INTERWEB storage and retrieval,
the Library found that it had fewer on-site patrons, but experienced
a thousand-fold increase in direct communications requesting assistance,
the effect of which was, as one LC librarian stated anonymously,
"there are a lot of people around here about to go postal."
LC librarians, a critical link in the nomenclature of global information
organization, had a five-year backlog of electronic and print copy
cataloging, leading to black-market cataloging that has altered
and jumbled millions of online records, leading to global ramifications.
The final straw for the Library came last autumn. A survey
of the new Congress revealed 20 percent had graduate or undergraduate
degrees while 70% had high-school diplomas and 10% had not graduated
from high school. It was at that time that the Library began
to make plans for its own demise.
Though Ross Perot, Jr. had offered to buy the Library, Congress
felt that it could make more money in the long-term by outsourcing
the institution. In doing so, Congress follows on the heels of a
15-year trend in outsourcing libraries in business and more recently,
public and academic settings. The Linda Hall Library, the
nation's premier privately funded scientific and technical
library, now adds another feather to its cap. With the addition
of the Library of Congress, what's next? "I've
always admired the depth and breadth of the collection at the British
Library," said Dewey, matter-of-factly.
INFOFUTURES on NYMEX proved to be the hottest commodity in town
with the announcement. A spot-market contract for one information
unit, measured as five gigabytes of premium quality data, sold for
+1498 International Monetary Units (or 871 US dollars).
One analyst said, "This is a good deal for the market --
it means higher information access fees, and the big ones, like
Microsoft, Murdoch-Time-Warner, will make a mint since they control
Team 2, Scenario
2 -- The Free Agent Future
Jon Mansharamani tried to look awake. It was about midnight
in Houston, but his client meeting was due to begin in about 15
minutes. Having worked solo for about five years now, he'd
concluded that this was the only part of being a free agent that
he didn't like -- having a client half-way around the
world who insists on NETVID meetings. And he knew with the
Singaporeans he'd have to look sharp, so he sat in his study
at home in his underwear, but waist up he had on a suit coat, tie
and white shirt, replete with cuff-links -- perfect for screen
transmission. He decided he'd up his rate for these
late night meetings -- it was a lifestyle thing, you know?
The client must be desperate for his skill set -- they had
found him about two hours ago in a free agent registry search.
Must be willing to pay, he thought. How could he refuse?
Jon had graduate first in his class at the UT business school after
starting out in Library and Information Science. When the
B-school took over the struggling library and information science
program and immediately created the MBIS degree, he knew that he
was in the right program. The Master of Business Information
Services program had added international business, systems science
and a few other goodies that the LIS folks just hadn't ever
gotten up to speed on. Most of his peers had gone to work
for the global information services firms like Andersen Consulting,
Bloomberg or CNN. Jon was among the handful of 2003 grads
that'd opted for free agency. Have computer will travel
was his motto. With his grad school degree, a few years of
experience in telecommunications before and a web site, he was in
Singapore Airlines had found Jon's telecommunications expertise
and his information research skills to be an attractive combination.
They were looking for someone to do some quick competitive intelligence
work on the evolving PCS market in the U.S. The Austin-Dallas-Houston
triangle contained the greatest concentration of R&D in PCS
in the world along with a sizeable portion of the U.S. market.
The business was low margin -- devices were ubiquitous, but
service differentiation was the key, at least that's what
they thought. With a PCS subsidiary in Asia, Singapore Air
wanted to know what the people on the ground in Texas were talking
about, without anyone knowing who was interested.
Jon had prepared a quick presentation, a spiel on new surveying
techniques and information mining. He was sure that Singapore
Air folks would be interested in his most recent competency, an
information discovery process for a food retailer -- talk about
trying to understand peoples' tastes! And there was
nothing-lower margin than food these days, except for telecommunications
and energy. Now, if he could only get them to agree to bi-weekly
progress meetings…life is, after all, about a lot more than
Team 3, Scenario
3 -- The Artificial Intelligence Future
In the darkness of the late afternoon winter's day in the
South Atlantic, off the coast of the Falkland Islands, robotically
controlled exploratory drilling for oil and natural gas was taking
place. Over 12,000 miles away in his office at Exxon Production
& Research, Dr. Hal Levingstone alternated between looking at
his video screen and outside his window. It was late July
in Houston and another lunchtime thunderstorm was underway --
33 C and raining like hell. The weather had gotten downright
weird. He stared at his monitor.
The early results of the drilling, sedimentary analysis, petrography,
NMR logs were being fed into EPR's supercomputers. Hal,
a Ph.D. geologist, was hoping to find an analog of the current data
in some of the historical databases. He'd completed
the profile for the Petroleum Abstracts database, uploaded it and
now waited for the Earth Sciences database to give him some good
hits. Gradually, a three dimensional model of the drilling,
correlated with geophysics and geological reference data began to
take shape in a window on his screen, the references appearing as
small universal signatures for oil, gas or dry holes. He noted
the geographies -- North Sea, U.S. Gulf of Mexico, Newfoundland,
but nothing for Siberia. That troubled him -- he knew there
were similar geological structures off Siberia -- he'd
read that somewhere.
Not like the old days, he thought. When he'd graduated
from Rice in the late 1980s and joined EPR, he'd gotten a
tour and demonstration from some of the librarians of the services
the R&D library could provide -- online computer searches
of GEOREF and hundreds of other databases, document delivery, and
then the old fashion manual stuff -- like contacting the Lenin
State library (when the USSR still existed) for esoteric Soviet
geological papers. Whenever he had to research a new exploration
area, off he'd go to the library. Mary would run his
searches, send him the results completely annotated, suggest alternative
approaches, even let him know that two years ago someone else in
EPR had looked at this area -- maybe it'd be worth a
call to them. Mary had been in the library for 25 years and
knew, almost by intuition, it seemed, how to get to the good stuff.
He gradually came to appreciate the subtle skills she had --
it really seemed that she had a sixth sense about understanding
more of what he was looking for than he did himself!
Sitting at his desk, staring at his monitor, he wondered what Mary
would think of this new AI module. He knew what she thought
of the old one -- she'd lost her job to it (as had the
rest of the library). Mary had more than a few unkind words to say
about ‘technological innovation.' As Hal looked
at his screen, the 3-D model complete, he remembered something Mary
had said. "This thing will never know all the nooks
and crannies of where information is still hidden. Why the
Russians never loaded more than 10% of their data into the Earth
Sciences database! How will this thing know who to call at
the Russian Geological Institute, Hal? What if the data that
would make or break a billion dollar project is in that other 90%?"
Mary and the resources in the library were one of the ways Hal tested
his thinking. Now all he had was a computer to talk to.
Somehow, it didn't feel right and he had a nagging suspicion
that there was a lot that was all wrong. Outside, the rain
continued unabated in Houston while terabytes of data poured into
EPR computers from Well 12X -- Babylon.
Scenario 4: The Knowledge Center Future
Jane Hoffman looked out
the panoramic window of the TWA flying wing at the verdant hills
of Ireland coming into view. New York seemed a lot more than
two hours away. She and her colleagues would arrive in the
P&G office in Dublin just in time for a pub lunch -- somethings
don't change, and for Jane, Dublin in August was about as
close to paradise as one can find on Earth.
Jane had in tow three newly hired Knowledge Center employees, green
beans just out of library school. They were bright and enthusiastic
and ready for adventure. Jane planned to subtley remind them
of their plans for the next few days on the train ride from the
The task at hand was to investigate a series of events that Jane
thought might have some significance for Procter & Gamble.
Once she'd presented her findings and made her pitch to the
director of the Knowledge Center and his boss, the Director of Marketing,
she'd been told to assemble a team and leave Ias soon as possible.
The events, though loosely connected, might have a message
that could impact product development at P&G.
Ireland had long been a bit of a backwater for consumer trends,
but the rise of the global teenager phenomenon in the late 1990s
and an evolution in Irish folk music in the early 2000s combined
to create something larger for Ireland. In 2005, Irish folk
music fused with techniques and sounds unique to Nepal and the Himalayas.
Some called it ‘Fourth Age,' while others called it
‘Atlantean.' The Irish bands that pioneered the
sound was becoming popular worldwide. Jane had followed this
development closely for P&G as the company focused much of its
advertising on emerging markets in Asia and eastern Europe and their
young populations. Young Irish women entered the picture when
world press and glamour webzines began to highlight their ‘natural'
look. One of the lead singers from one of the most popular
bands was a young woman named Linda Roddick. A raven-haired
beauty, Linda's face was featured in media outlets everywhere.
It was in a routine information mapping exercise that Jane first
had an inkling a trend might be in the making. She'd
been running sales/UPCs in tandem with a GIS program, mapping geographically
what products were being sold where. Almost overnight, in
Limerick, sales for a particular eye-shadow had skyrocketed.
A few days later, the same had happened in Dublin. Almost
simultaneously, the eye-shadow sales increased in the U.K. and India.
After she cross referenced fashion webzine photo captions with the
product name, it all clicked. A spread in MTV's Fashion Webzine
featured Linda Roddick at an Irish music fest -- a product
filter had targeted 18-22 year old women for the eye-shadow spot.
The manufacturer of the eye-shadow was a small facility in the Seychelles
Islands, but the product was distributed by The Body Shop.
Jane had search the global news photography database and found a
photo of the opening of the small production facility in the
Seychelles. There at the dedication was the woman who had
provided seed-money for the factory, Body Shop founder Anita Roddick,
grandmother of Linda Roddick.
Jane and her team planned to conduct focus-groups in Ireland, then
head on to India and perhaps China if the daily sales numbers of
the Body Shop product continuted to grow. She and her team
would feed data from the focus-groups back to the product research
staff in Cincinnati; if it looked good, P&G could have a competing
product in the market within a few days using it's global
manufacturing and distribution network. Meanwhile, staff at
the corporate Knowledge Center in New York would be working with
product development and marketing to apply the findings of Jane
and her team to other projects that P&G had in the development