Distilling key trends to rethink libraries

Arup Rethinking Libraries Seminar

Long term decision making is a hazardous venture, especially in a fast-changing world. But the decisions still have to be made.

Before asking over 100 delegates to investigate a few trends for themselves, Julian Diamond, head of information management at Arup, ran through the issues that should be considered behind a couple of the 75 key trends that Arup has identified.

For example, lifelong learning, what will it’s role be in society? Figures show 16 per cent of the global population will be 65 or over by 2050 compared to 7 per cent in 2000. Also that in the UK forecasts say 24 per cent of the population will be over 65 compared to 16 per cent now.

‘Improvements in overall quality of life and wellbeing will also translate into an increased expectancy of what a ‘life well lived’ means,’ Julian says, pointing to an  ‘increasingly unpredictable labour market’ and the advancing sophistication of machines. As a result: ‘Adult learning is no longer on the margins of educational theory and practice, but has gained new impetus with lifelong learning seen as a key element in helping develop in people a sense of inclusion and empowerment.’
But does this mean it is a more important trend for library decision-makers than funding or the economy or water, energy, urbanisation or hybrid environments?

On funding Julian highlighted the decline of centralised funding adding that ‘more than 150 library-related projects have been successfully funded on kickstarter’ which may one day be an alternative to what he described as ‘the seemingly unrealistic and apparently unsustainable model of top-down funding’. So perhaps not surprisingly funding was one of the key trends identified by one of the groups in the workshop.

One group, including delegates from Melbourne Australia and Las Vegas, USA, chose community engagement.

Participants in the Future of Libraries briefing at CILIP Conference 2017

From right to left: Lucy Roper, University College of Estate Management, Reading; Amy Ward, Ashton Sixth Form College, Greater Manchester; Alice Corble, Goldsmiths University of London (Sociology PhD on public libraries); Claire Davies, Las Vegas Clark County Library, USA; Shirley Bateman, Melbourne Library Service, Australia; Steph Longmuir, NBS (RIBA Enterprises) Newcastle.
In their analysis of why they think this trend is important they say: ‘It is all about the community, without them we can’t exist. The service has to relevant to their needs, we can only maintain this with dialogue with users to understand constant change.’

They suggested a number of actions ranging from engaging with the community – both users and non users - to ensuring diversity of stakeholder engagement, including senior institutional stakeholders who need to better understand library value and impact.

In their exploration of the unknowns, they listed non-users, data protection issues, technology, funding models, politics and governance.

One group chose user-centricty and one of its members, Paul Allchin, British Library, said: ‘The interesting thing has been the discussion about why it’s important and what flows from it. A lot has to do with monitoring and feedback because we don’t think you can have library services without that.’

Another chose artificial intelligence, group member Ian Anstice of Public Libraries News, saying: ‘It could do away with our jobs’ adding that it could be ‘World changing, not just for our profession but for everyone.  We need to be in the forefront. We know how to deal with people and with information’ and predicting ‘neutral AI’  will be paid for and provide neutral information while normal AI will be free but will really be trying to sell.

At the close of the workshop Nick Poole, Chief Executive of CILIP, said: ‘It’s too important a discussion to end here. We will be looking at how we at CILIP can facilitate this.’ So watch this space!  
Trends chosen by 14 groups:

  • Community engagement
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Function diversity
  • Digital economy
  • Access and affordability
  • Knowledge economy
  • Information overload
  • Identity and localism
  • Content diversification
  • Function diversity
  • Big data
  • Lifelong learning
  • Remote services
  • User-centricity

Thanks to Julian Diamond, Elisa Magnini, Marcus Morrell and Richard Waites for leading the session.

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