Libraries of the Future

by | Nov 14, 2008 | Business Trends

Thomas Frey Futurist Speaker libraries of the future

Where great ideas happen, and people have the tools to act on them

Ten years ago, many in the tech elite were predicting the demise of the public library. Little did they understand that libraries are living, breathing organisms. Much like plants that flourish with good dirt, water and sunshine, libraries have begun to thrive in our information-rich environment.

Libraries are going through an age of rebirth, with cities investing heavily in their central libraries as the crown jewel of their community. Opulent multi-story glass buildings have been erected, attracting many new categories of library users. But the question remains – Where do libraries go from here?

Key decision points include the library as a place vs. the library as a service; should library’s core mission be to serve the underprivileged, as a support for schools and educational systems, a resource for business, an information hub and gathering place for the community at large, or all of the above? Should we still focus on books as the primary information medium or will libraries in the future become entirely digital?

The good news is that libraries can become whatever a community wants them to be. The bad news is that most communities have a poor understanding of the driving forces and available options.

Organic Alignment:  Libraries are judged by their overall relevancy to the people in their constituency. Much like Google’s approach to calculating the relevancy of search results to individual search queries, libraries need to continually assess how relevant the features and functions they provide are to the people in their community.

Done correctly as an ongoing process, organic alignment will enable libraries to shift resources, add and subtract elements, and focus on the primary needs of their people at any given moment.

The Library Experience: An experience involves a personal encountered, affecting more than one of our senses. As a way to measure relevance, people spend time rating their experiences.

How do we take words on a page, books on a shelf, or digitized bits on a memory stick and create information that has impact? Another way of asking this is, how do we create informational experiences that are entertaining, timely, pertinent, and fun, and at the same time, meaningful and relevant to our lives?

Gone are the days of libraries being nothing more than a “center of information”. Libraries now find themselves focusing on warm, inviting atmospheres, soft comfortable chairs, in-store coffee shops, and much more.

Library as a Place vs. Library as a Service: Libraries need to be both physical and virtual, but the physical location today adds a higher level of relevance to a greater number of people.

It’s important to understand the value of “place”. Libraries are a gathering place, a source of intellectual spontaneity, a safe haven for creative ideas, and are a place of solitude and support. These are just some of the features that we will have difficulty replicating online.

Business Colonies: The Internet is putting powerful business tools into the hands of individuals. Consequently the size of business units are getting smaller, to the point where many people are operating “empires of one” – one-person businesses with far reaching influence.

In the future, business colonies as groupings of small businesses, will form around specific themes (i.e. gamer colonies, video colonies, biotech colonies, etc). Colonies will develop around shared resources where expensive equipment and facilities are easily accessible, and libraries will become an essential focal point of activity.

Tools of Production: In his 2006 book The Long Tail, WIRED Magazine Editor Chris Anderson asserted, “When the tools of production are available to everyone, everyone becomes a producer.”

People are no longer satisfied with information flowing one way. They want to participate in it, add their own contributions, and take ownership of it.

To accomplish this, libraries need to expand their technical offerings into the tools of production. These tools will allow visitors to transition from readers to writers, from listeners to composers, from television watchers to television producers.

Here are some examples of new library functions:

  • Podcast Studios – Audio capture and audio editing stations will enable beginners to create podcasts and post them online.
  • Vidcast Studios – The video version of podcasting with video capture and video editing stations. These studios will create their own center of gravity, attracting a wide spectrum of creative people who hope to bring their ideas come to life.
  • Virtual World Stations – With over 400 companies competing with virtual worlds such as Second Life, these emerging alternate realities are where future business will be conducted.
  • Gamer Stations – Even though some elitists still think games are a parasite sucking the life out of our children’s brains, much learning happens inside these games, and it is a cultural phenomenon that we need to nurture.
  • Fitness Centers – Exercise and learning have much in common, and will be a good fit in a library. People frequently read magazines and listen to audio books while working out.
  • Other Resources – Some libraries will include art studios, drama studios, band practice room, mini theaters, and even mini-planetariums.

One way to think about the library of the future is that it will be home to highly relevant information experiences, where great ideas happen, and people have the tools and facilities to act on their ideas.

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Libraries of the Future

by | Nov 14, 2008 | Business Trends

I was thoroughly intrigued when I found out the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado was offering a degree in asteroid mining.

Yes, the idea of extracting water, oxygen, minerals, and metals from an asteroid sounds like science fiction to most people, but it’s not that far away.  In fact, Colorado School of Mines’ newly launched “Space Resources” program will help people get in on the ground floor.

After thinking about the proactive nature of this approach, it became abundantly clear how backward thinking most colleges have become.

When colleges decide on a new degree program, they must first recruit instructors, create a new curriculum, and attract students. As a result, the talent churned out of these newly minted programs is the product of a 6-7 year pipeline.

For this reason, anticipatory-thinking institutions really need to be setting their sights on what business and industries will need 7-10 years from now.

The Risk-Averse Nature of Education

When Harvard professor Clayton M. Christensen released his best-selling book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, his core message that disruptive change is the path to success, was only partially embraced by higher education.

While many were experimenting with MOOCs and smart whiteboards, changes in the subject matter of their courses still evolved at the traditional pace of discovery.

This is not to say colleges are not innovative. Rather, the demands of today’s emerging tech environment are forcing business and industries to shift into an entirely new gear. And that most definitely includes our academic institutions.

From a management perspective, it’s far easier to oversee a contained system where all variables are constrained. But during times of change, we tend to give far more power to the “unleashers,” who are determined to test the status quo and release ideas and trial balloons to see what works.

For this reason, managers and creatives often find themselves on opposing sides, and the winners of these warring factions often determine what we as consumers see as the resulting ripples of change.

Offering Pilot Programs

When Facebook bought Oculus Rift in March 2014 for $2 billion, the job boards went crazy, as there was an instant uptick in the demand for VR designers, engineers, and experience creators. But no one was teaching VR, and certainly not the Oculus Rift version of it.

Colleges have a long history of being blindsided by new technologies:

  • When eBay launched, no one was teaching ecommerce strategies
  • When Myspace launched, no one was teaching social networking
  • When Google launched, no one was teaching online search engine strategies
  • When Uber launched, no one was teaching sharing economy business models
  • When Apple first opened their App Store, no one was teaching smart phone app design
  • When Amazon first allowed online storefronts, no one was teaching the Amazon business model
  • When YouTube first offered ways to monetize videos, no one was teaching it

Since most academic institutions are only willing to put their name on programs with long-term viability, the endorsement of half-baked agendas does not come easy. However, that is exactly what needs to be done.

Colleges can no longer afford to remain comfortably behind the curve.

52 Future College Degrees

As a way of priming your thinking on this matter, here are 52 future degrees that forward-thinking colleges could start offering today:

  1. Space Exploration – space tourism planning and management
  2. Space Exploration – planetary colony design and operation
  3.  Space Exploration – next generation space infrastructure
  4. Space Exploration – advanced cosmology and non-earth human habitats
  5. Bioengineering with CRISPR – policy and procedural strategies
  6. Bioengineering with CRISPR – advanced genetic engineering systems
  7. Bioengineering with CRISPR – operational implementations and system engineering
  8. Bioengineering with CRISPR – ethical regulation and oversight
  9. Smart City – autonomous traffic integration
  10. Smart City – mixed reality modeling
  11. Smart City – autonomous construction integration
  12. Smart City – next generation municipal planning and strategy
  13. Autonomous Agriculture – robotic systems
  14. Autonomous Agriculture – drone systems
  15. Autonomous Agriculture – supply chain management
  16. Autonomous Agriculture – systems theory and integration
  17. Swarmbot – design, theory, and management
  18. Swarmbot – system engineering and oversight
  19. Swarmbot – municipal system design
  20. Swarmbot – law enforcement and advanced criminology systems
  21. Cryptocurrency – digital coin economics
  22. Cryptocurrency – crypto-banking system design
  23. Cryptocurrency – regulatory systems and oversight
  24. Cryptocurrency – forensic accounting strategies
  25. Blockchain – design, systems, and applications
  26. Blockchain – blockchain for biological systems
  27. Blockchain – large-scale integration structures
  28. Blockchain – municipal system design strategies
  29. Global Systems – system planning, architecture, and design
  30. Global Systems – large-scale integration strategies
  31. Global Systems – operational systems checks and balance
  32. Global Systems – governmental systems in a borderless digital world
  33. Unmanned Aerial Vehicle - drone film making
  34. Unmanned Aerial Vehicle – command center operations
  35. Unmanned Aerial Vehicle – municipal modeling and planning systems
  36. Unmanned Aerial Vehicle – emergency response systems
  37. Mixed Reality - experiential retail
  38. Mixed Reality – three-dimensional storytelling
  39. Mixed Reality – game design
  40. Mixed Reality – therapeutic systems and design
  41. Advanced Reproductive Systems – designer baby strategies, planning, and ethics
  42. Advanced Reproductive Systems – surrogate parenting policy and approaches
  43. Advanced Reproductive Systems – organic nano structures
  44. Advanced Reproductive Systems – clone engineering and advanced processes
  45. Artificial Intelligence – data management in an AI environment
  46. Artificial Intelligence – advanced human-AI integration
  47. Artificial Intelligence – streaming AI data services
  48. Artificial Intelligence – advanced marketing with AI
  49. Quantum Computing – data strategies in a quantum-connected world
  50. Quantum Computing – quantum-level encryption and security
  51. Quantum Computing – quantum computing implementation strategies
  52. Quantum Computing – AI-quantum system integration

Final Thought

More so than any time in history, we have a clear view of next generation technologies. Naturally, we’re still a long way from 100% clarity, but for most of the technologies listed above, the shifting tectonic plates of change can be felt around the world.

Without taking decisive action, colleges run the risk of being circumvented by new types of training systems that can meet market demands in a fraction of the time it takes traditional academia to react.

The ideas I’ve listed are a tiny fraction of what’s possible when it comes to emerging tech degrees. Should colleges stick their neck out like Colorado School of Mines and offer degrees that may not be immediately useful? Adding to that question, how many college degrees are immediately useful today?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

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