The librarian of the future – Caveat Bibliotheca

Dorothea – a mover and shaker in the librarian world has gently chided me on my approach to “the library of the future”. She has a point but I’m not sure what to do…

Peter, could I suggest a slight modification or addition to your project?

I, as a librarian, have a strong allergy to thinking of libraries as buildings or materials. I am not a building. I am not a book. I am a human being and a professional, and I am not (or at least should not be!) constrained by the building I work in or the scope of object I work with.

Please consider asking “What are librarians for?” I venture to predict that you will arrive at answers that are more useful for both librarians — and libraries.

I understand the concern – not quite sure how to react. The topic I was given was “the library of the future”. I agree it’s a lazy-thinkers trap to start with the concept of library and then only think about librarians later. And I certainly agree that it is easy to dehumanize people in this metric-stricken world.

I can see some people as independent of organizations – scholar, chemist, poet, hacker, etc. I could think about the scholar of the future. I like the idea that they could be peripatetic – like the dilettante landed gentry of past ages. I can see biologists – like Darwin – who did not need formal employment – or like James Lovelock.

But “librarian” has certain connotations that I find difficult to remove. Is there mileage in the “amateur librarian” – or “librarian as a hobby”? Possibly. But I cannot easily see a librarian existing outside an organization. I believe there is an element of service in the term, so whom are they helping.

I like the idea of an amanuensis – I could settle for that – where the amanuensis acted to help a scholar or creative artist. But – and you aren’t going to like this – I can see many of the functions or an amanuensis being provided by machines. Indeed our Sciborg grant from EPSRC – which is developing OSCAR inter alia – was subtitled “The Scientist’s Amanuensis – the vision that scholars can benefit from software prosthetics.

I’m sorry – but I have read and admired lots of science fiction and that colours some of my vision of the future.

I know this sounds bleak – it’s not meant to be – and yes, we need organization and we need people. But the roles will be changing

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5 Responses to The librarian of the future – Caveat Bibliotheca

  1. Well, I can at least point you to a project I think is moving in good directions. That would be Purdue’s Distributed Data Curation Center (google “d2c2” and you’ll find it; I don’t recall whether links work here).
    Another concept to look at is that of the “embedded librarian,” the librarian outside the library. This is my hope for my own future, and I would like to see it become one part of the future profession as well. We are just hopelessly overidentified with our buildings!
    I’m proud to say that I placed one of my best library-school students with our campus’s most prominent medical-imaging specialist for a scientific-data practicum this semester, and she is doing sterling work. Change happens. Slowly, but it does.

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  3. Chris says:

    can i suggest that the question you should be asking/answering is not “what is a library for?” but is instead “what can a library do?”
    you could use your historical research to inform your opinion but, really, it is a chance to let your imagination run wild– what would you, as a scientist, like the library of the future to do to make your research better/easier?

  4. Chris says:

    can i suggest that the question you should be asking/answering is not “what is a library for?” but is instead “what can a library do?”

  5. I dunno; I might even go broader than that. Just say what you need, Peter. We’ll figure out how to fit in. 🙂

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