Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Library Futures - A Surfeit of Future Scenarios

Earlier today, I came across an ACRLog post entitled Add Cyberwar Contingencies To Your Disaster Plan that includes a couple of links to reports on possible futures/scenarios that can help in planning future library needs and services:

- Futures Thinking for Academic Librarians, an announcement post for an ACRL report on “Futures Thinking for Academic Librarians: Higher Education in 2025”
- 2010 top ten trends in academic libraries, a "review of the current literature" by the ACRL Research, Planning and Review Committee.

These in turn reminded me of a couple of scenarios I'd heard that had been developed for JISC et al's Libraries of the Future project, and a quick dig around turned them up here: Libraries of the Future - Outline Scenarios and Backcasting

The Libraries of the Future project has identified three scenarios:

- Wild West, introduced as follows:
2050 is an era of instability. Governments and international organisations devote much of their time to environmental issues, aging populations and security of food and energy, although technology alleviates some of the problems by allowing ad hoc arrangements to handle resource shortages and trade. In this environment, some international alliances prosper but many are short term and tactical. The state no longer has the resources to tackle inequality, and is, in many cases, subservient to the power of international corporations and private enterprise.

The challenges of the 21st century have created major disruptions to academic institutions and institutional life. Much that we see as the role of the state in HE today has been taken over by the market and by new organisations and social enterprises, many of them regional.

- Beehive, introduced as follows:
The need for the old European Union countries to maintain their position in the world and their standard of living in the face of extensive competition from Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC) has led to the creation of the European Federation (EF) under the treaty of Madrid in 2035. The strength of the EF has meant that values in the EF have remained open in the long tradition of western democracy and culture.

In the years leading up to 2050 the world became increasingly competitive; the continuing economic progress of the BRIC countries and their commitment to developing high quality HE systems means that even high-tech jobs are now moving from the West. On a worldwide scale, and in the US, UK and Europe especially, employer expectations now dictate that virtually all skilled or professional employment requires at least some post-18 education. In the UK these drivers have resulted in a state-sponsored system that retains elements of the traditional university experience for a select few institutions while the majority of young people enter a system where courses are so tightly focused on employability they are near-vocational.

- Walled Garden, introduced as follows:
Following the global recession of the early 21st century cuts in investment levels to help reduce the national deficit meant that internationally, the UK’s influence waned and it became ever more isolated. Indeed the UK drifted from the EU, particularly after the Euro collapsed in the century’s second global recession, and the UK itself fragmented as continued devolution turned to separation and independence. Fortunately, the home nations have achieved reasonable self-sufficiency.

Technological advances, whilst allowing some of the challenges faced earlier in the century to be overcome, has also brought its
problems. The ability for people to connect with like-minded individuals around the world has led to an entrenchment of firmly held beliefs, closed values and the loss of the sense of universal knowledge. This has resulted in a highly fragmented HE system, with a variety of funders, regulators, business models and organisations that are driven by their specific values and market specialisation. However, ‘grand challenges’ of national importance goes some way to galvanising the sector.

The ACRL 20205 report identifies 26 possible scenarios (?! - I thought the idea of scenario planning was to identify a few that covered the bases between them?!), with a range of probabilities of them occurring, their likely impact, and their "speed of unfolding" (immediate change, short term (1-3 years), medium term (3-10 years), long term (10-20 years)).

High impact, high probability scenarios include:

- Increasing threat of cyberwar, cybercrime, and cyberterrorism, introduced as:
College/university and library IT systems are the targets of hackers, criminals, and rogue states, disrupting operations for days and weeks at a time. Campus IT professionals seek to protect student records/financial data while at the same time divulging personal viewing habits in compliance with new government regulations. Librarians struggle to maintain patron privacy and face increasing scrutiny and criticism as they seek to preserve online intellectual freedom in this climate.

- Meet the new freshman class, introduced as:
With laptops in their hands since the age of 18-months old, students who are privileged socially and economically are completely fluent in digital media. For many others, the digital divide, parental unemployment, and the disruption of moving about during the foreclosure crisis of their formative years, means they never became tech savvy. “Remedial” computer and information literacy classes are now de rigueur.

- Scholarship stultifies, introduced as:
The systems that reward faculty members continue to favor conventionally published research. At the same time, standard dissemination channels – especially the university press – implode. While many academic libraries actively host and support online journals, monographs, and other digital scholarly products, their stature is not great; collegial culture continues to value tradition over anything perceived as risky.

- This class brought to you by…, introduced as:
At for profit institutions, education is disaggregated and very competitive. Students no longer graduate
from one school, but pick and choose like at a progressive dinner party. Schools increasingly specialize by offering online courses that cater to particular professional groups. Certificate courses explode and are sponsored by vendors of products to particular professions.

The 2010 top trends from the literature review are given in no priotised order as:

- Academic library collection growth is driven by patron demand and will include new resource types.
- Budget challenges will continue and libraries will evolve as a result.
- Changes in higher education will require that librarians possess diverse skill sets.
- Demands for accountability and assessment will increase.
- Digitization of unique library collections will increase and require a larger share of resources.
- Explosive growth of mobile devices and applications will drive new services.
- Increased collaboration will expand the role of the library within the institution and beyond.
- Libraries will continue to lead efforts to develop scholarly communication and intellectual property services.
- Technology will continue to change services and required skills.
- The definition of the library will change as physical space is repurposed and virtual space expands.

What strikes me about all these possible scenarios is that there don't seem to be any helpful tools that let you easily identify and track indicators relating to the emergence of particular aspects of the scenarios, which I think is the last step in the process of scenario development espoused in Peter Schwartz's "The Art of the Long View"?

So for example, OCLC recently released a report called A Slice of Research Life: Information Support for Research in the United States, which reports on a series of interviews with research and research related staff on "how they use information in the course of their research, what tools and services are most critical and beneficial to them, where they continue to experience unmet needs, and how they prioritize use of their limited time." And towards the end of last year, the RIN published a report on Patterns of information use and exchange: case studies of researchers in the life sciences (a report on information use by researchers in the humanities is due out later this year(?), and one for the physical sciences next year(?)...) A report on researchers' use of "web 2.0" tools is also due out any time now...

So, are any of the trends/indicators that play a role in the 2025 scenarios (which are way too fine grained to be useful?) signaled by typical responses in the OCLC interviews or the Research Information Network report(s)?

PS As if all that's not enough, it seems there's a book out too - Imagine Your Library's Future: Scenario Planning for Information Organizations by Steve O'Connor and Peter Sidorko. (If the publishers would like to send me a copy...?! Heh heh ;-)

1 comment:

Ed Chamberlain said...

Spent a fascinating day last week at the Walled Garden discussion group at the BL.