If you’re planning a 21st-century road map for libraries, who do you ask for advice? Your patrons and community members? People who’ve never stepped foot inside the building? Someone who’s already started revamping the libraries in another county? Check, check… and check.
York County Libraries is well into its strategic planning phase. In August, it asked avid users and non-users to share their thoughts in the “Let’s Talk Libraries” survey. It also hosted a presentation by library visionary Jamie LaRue, who revamped Douglas County Libraries in Colorado in the early 2000s.
On Sept. 13, library staff, board members and patrons looked forward once again — this time with futurist Garry Golden.
What’s a futurist? That was my first question.
Golden explained it as thinking and talking about how society, politics, technology and other aspects might change in the long term. What a futurist does not do is make predictions.
“I have very strong opinions … but there is too much uncertainty to make a single-point forecast of how the world will unfold,” Golden said.
Golden spent much of his hourlong presentation explaining how future trends might impact libraries nationwide — including those in York County. It’s important to stay one step ahead, so “in five years from now, 10 years from now, when you come back for the next round of strategic planning, we don’t say, ‘Boy, I wish we’d had an opportunity to talk about that… that changed the world,’” Golden said. “We want to avoid being surprised.”
Many changes libraries encounter will require a total transformation, Golden said, rather than “managing the decline.” “It’s not just doing what we do better and faster and cheaper, but doing stuff differently,” he said.
One trend that will surely impact libraries is that of the individual learner. Education shifted from apprenticeships to institutions in the 20th century, but the days of structured, classroom learning are fading. It is now the era of the learner, Golden said.
“Individuals are charged with guiding themselves toward their objectives, and teachers become guides and facilitators,” Golden said, using the online video library of Khan Academy as an example. “Learners are looking for libraries to curate, filter and provide content for their flipped learning base.”
Rather than high-stakes testing — at the end of a semester, or year — feedback will be more immediate, as in video games (you jumped over the cliff, here’s a special weapon) or even health care (you walked 10,000 steps each day for 30 days, here’s a deduction on your premium). While libraries mainly offer access at this point — to books, the Internet, media such as DVDs or CDs — Golden suggests they will become a place to master skills, to tell stories of growth and development.
Golden cautions these changes won’t happen overnight — but libraries in York and across the U.S. should be ready to adapt as the culture changes.
“There is likely a gap between the way you think the world works and how it might work in the future,” Golden said. He challenged the audience to find an aspect of his presentation and learn more about it and prepare for these upcoming changes.
“It’s not about how you live in the world, it’s about how your communities live in the world,” Golden said. “We need to be sure we know where it’s headed and are able to meet people there.”