Libraries in 2020

A crystal ball with CILIP in As part of CILIP's admirable efforts to get the community's input on defining our professional future, they have encouraged debate, blog posts etc on these subjects:

  • What will the Knowledge and Information domain look like in 2020?
  • Where will a professional association fit into this domain?
  • How will you engage with this professional association?

You can go to the CILIP netvibes dashboard to monitor the debates across many platforms - WELL DONE CILIP for setting this up!

Here are my thoughts - it seems to me to be sensible to look at what the world will be like in 2020 first of all, then how libraries will fit into that, and then how professional bodies in general (and CILIP in particular) will best serve their members in that environment.


Technological progress increases exponentially. This article by Ray Kurzweil has lots of graphs illustrating this, and some eye-popping insights. Everyone can see that things are speeding up – what is interesting and quite scary is that the speeding up is itself speeding up! In other words, we’ll see a century’s worth of progress in the next 25 years (rather than in the next 100) – because we are doubling the rate of progress every decade.

What does this mean for libraries in 2020? Well for a start, using the model described above, we will make the equivalent of 20 years of progress between now and then. (I think that's how the maths works... :) ) Think of what we’ve done in the previous 20 years – 1990 had no mobile phones! (They’d been invented, but were only first generation and not used widely by any means.) No internet, not really - let alone 2.0... Hard to know how any of us functioned at all, eh? What the bloody hell will be going on in 2020 that’ll make us look back on the current era as positively stone-age? Who knows. As Information Professionals we are becoming increasingly good at being early adopters, so that bodes well. Perhaps the library will have a role to play in aggregating, explaining and training on all these new technologies?

Our technology will be mobile, but will we?

An interesting dichotomy I can see for 2020 is, everything is going mobile but we might be increasingly bound to our desks. At the moment we're all on the move all of the time, so it makes sense to access important information in a mobile phone. But a decade on the world will be more crowded, travel will be more complicated (and perhaps even socially frowned upon; there may be climate-change refugees by then, which would make driving 200 miles to a conference seem like a pretty indulgent thing to do) and employers in all sectors may have less money to spend on training and travel. So, training and conferencing will surely take place more at our places of work, presumably through some kind of virtual means.

Anyway, everyone knows mobile technology is the coming thing. Gartner reckons that phones’ll overtake PCs as the most common method of accessing the web by 2013. I don’t know about you, but I’m guilty of viewing this development as a full-stop rather than part of an ongoing process. Really, though, with rate of progress increasing so quickly, who’s to say phones will still be number 1 by 2020? I'd fully expect mobile technology per se to rule the roost, but not necessarily in combination with a phone as we understand it today. I'd rather access the web (and my documents, and my games, and my videos, and my music) on something like this:

Surely by 2020 we'll have what are, in effect, multi-tasking-ready iPads which one can roll up and stick in a pocket? Perhaps we'll just use phones for phoning. (Perhaps they too will be thin and bendy, and able to fit into the credit-card bit of our wallets - that would be ace.)

This time it's personal

You could argue that the first thing the internet did was make everything available to us; what it is doing now is personalising and customising it to suit us individually. I could imagine that Libraries will go through the same shift, by 2020. We will do our best to protect people from the Tyranny of Choice!

Context is everything. Another, more intriguing insight from Gartner, is this:

By 2015, context will be as influential to mobile consumer services and relationships as search engines are to the Web. Whereas search provides the "key" to organizing information and services for the Web, context will provide the "key" to delivering hyperpersonalized experiences across smartphones and any session or experience an end user has with information technology.

So, perhaps this is why mobiles will be important - MY device will give ME a completley unique and bespoke service based on my needs and habits. So let's think about that in terms of a professional body - at the moment CILIP sends round weekly emails, rounding up things of interest that have been happening in the world of libraries and information. Perhaps that could be much more comprehensive, perhaps an RSS feed rather than an email, and perhaps it could sift out the stuff I'm not interested in, and learn from the links I follow to provide me with more stuff I am interested in next time.

Is FourSquare the most annoying thing in the world? Yes - yes it is. Hey I just became the Mayor of Nobody Wants This Crap Cluttering Up Their Twitter-feed! However, FourSquare is leading the charge in location-based applications and this will surely be huge by 2020. Assuming we can navigate through the murky waters of privacy and data protection (or perhaps we'll all have given up by then), could CILIP use this to their advantage? Let's say we don't travel as much in 2020, so opportunities to meet up and network become increasingly valuable. CILIP could facilitate meetings without having to actually be part of them itself - imagine if you're in South London, and CILIP auto-messages you saying '3 of your network from [insert area of library interest here] are also in the area - would you like to meet them'? If people say yes to the meeting request, the CILIP app (or whatever it is) could suggest a suitable venue equidistant between all parties...

Librarians in the cloud

Do you think the concept of a self-employed Information Professional could exist by 2020? There are already entrepreneurial examples in existence - but what about people performing current information roles but not as part of an organisation? Perhaps that's too far fetched - but perhaps the organisation could exist without the physical space we call the library. It may not be feasible to keep all of them open, but there's no doubting that the modern Information Professional's skill-set will be more valuable than it ever has been, so perhaps we can exist without libraries in some form or other. If that is to be possible, CILIP and other professional bodies would have a big responsibility to support their members in such ventures - and of providing a network that everyone in the profession will be part of, even if they work alone, to ensure support, comparing of experiences, and an effecient system of refferal when you can't help a client yourself.

On a related note, I'd like to see Information Professionals being more active than passive in the exchange of skills and services. We often out-source stuff to other sectors or organisations - how come they don't out-source stuff to us? We should be bartering our skills - our increasingly essential skills - to the commercial sector, in exchange for stuff. Again, professional bodies could play a role in facilitating that.

CILIP specifically

I agree with pretty much everything Phil Bradley says in his article about CILIP in 2020. (I'm a big fan of Bethan's views also.) In particular, I'm passionate about the idea that CILIP should lead rather than follow in social media (etc) developments - and if there are other people forging ahead, harness them! I'm passionate about the idea of CILIP representing libraries more in the mainstream media - I don't want to hear an item about library closures on the news without a CILIP spokesman fighting our corner.

I'm very keen for CILIP to go where the conversation is. There was much fuss a while ago when CILIP's CEO, Bob McKee, debated whether CILIP should be using Twitter, and how. It's a no brainer, of course they should use it - but it's not TWITTER per se that is important here, it's whatever medium the rest of us are using. Right now, that's Twitter - but whatever it is in 2020, CILIP need to anticipate and move swiftly to be there, too.

And finally I'd like to see CILIP treated with respect. People are so often dismissive, scornful or even outright abusive of CILIP - they attack CILIP the abstract entity, but of course what CILIP really is, is the sum of its employees. Every single person I've met at CILIP has been enthusiastic, engaged and engaging, nice, and on our side. Perhaps there are exceptions to this, but I'm yet to find them. These are people who are doing their best as part of an organisation which is trying to rethink itself to suit the times - I find it very hard to criticise people I know are trying really hard, although that's by no means to say they don't deserve criticism... Just that it must be constructive - less of the huffy 'CILIP does nothing for me' and more of the 'I'll explain to CILIP what it could do for me'.  So let's hope that this whole process leads to more mutual respect between the organisation and its members.

- thewikiman