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Future Libraries: Nerve Center of the Community

by | Feb 22, 2009 | Future Scenarios

Thomas Frey Futurist Speaker future libraries nerve center of the community

Ever since the people of ancient Nineveh began storing and classifying their books nearly 3,000 years ago, libraries have been hallowed and largely unchanging bastions of learning. But in the information age, libraries have been caste with a new identity, and the future is evolving into a very different place.
Ten years ago, as the Internet began to take off, many in the tech elite were predicting the death of the public library. What the critics failed to predict, however, was libraries’ stirring ability to reinvent themselves. Much like plants that flourish with good soil, water and sunshine, libraries have actually begun to thrive in our information-rich environment.
Such is their resurgence that today, libraries are going through an age of rebirth. Intent on making them the crown jewels of the community, cities from Vancouver to Prague are investing heavily in public libraries, producing opulent, multi-story structures equipped with cutting-edge technology. From rather hidebound monuments to knowledge laboratories, libraries are now evolving into interactive research and leisure centers. Yet this change, impressive as it is, is only the beginning.
2029 SCENARIO
To see how, let’s step through the doorway of a city library in 2029. In the past, libraries housed seemingly endless miles of shelving stacked with finely printed books, but now only a few remain. In much the same way that living creatures adapt to their surrounding environments, libraries have grown into a bidirectional feeding tube connecting the life-giving digital data streams and the user populations that nourish them. 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.
Traditional lending has been replaced with downloadable books, which are never out of stock, formatted for electronic tablets and readers. A bigger change, though, has come with the very concept of what a book is. Where once a customer would passively read and, hopefully, absorb a book, every volume now is more akin to an online forum, with authors, experts and other readers available to discuss and answer questions on almost every important book ever written.
In contrast to just a couple of decades before, almost the entire canon of book knowledge has been formatted for computers, making in-depth searches possible for even the most obscure tomes. But with many people now using this service in their homes, libraries have stayed ahead of the curve by installing high-tech spherical displays and holographic imaging that allow users to shift viewing angles and probe individual parts of complex data. Space imaging technologies have also made it possible to search the planets and stars, allowing the swarms of school kids who come here to embark on their own voyages into deep space.
With technology having improved so dramatically, a central feature of this library is the Search Command Center, where a team of experts, both real and virtual, assists with complex searches that now incorporate not just words, but sounds, textures and even smells. While many visitors come here to recapture a fond fragrance or a familiar noise, these searches have more practical applications too. Restaurateurs, for example, are frequent visitors here, using the search tools to rediscover certain smells and tastes without having to rake through endless ingredients and recipes.
And chefs are far from the only people doing business in the library. With the Internet having put increasingly powerful business tools into the hands of individuals, more people are working and operating businesses from home. To such people, the library offers not just a refuge from the isolation of their house, it also provides temporary office space complete with podcast recording studios, conference rooms and editing stations. At the same time, the library has developed into an entrepreneurial zone where business people from various backgrounds coalesce, work together and then disperse in much the same way that film production crews have always done.
Business colonies have become commonplace, forming around common business themes such as gamer colonies, video colonies, photonics colonies, and biotech colonies. In each situation the libraries evolve to meet the needs of the user populations, providing vital services for the colony as well as for the community at large.
Yet perhaps nowhere are libraries’ new found attitudes more manifest than in their surroundings. Long operating in a rather high-minded domain, where many of them viewed market demand as little short of vulgar, libraries today are often situated right in the heart of larger complexes with businesses that complement their services. Crèches offer somewhere to drop off the kids, stationary stores and restaurants tick over with student business, and patrons from fitness centers borrow magazines and audio books from the library to enliven their conditioning routines or stop in to do research on exercise and nutrition.
In our fast-changing world, progress is too often seen as a zero-sum game, where innovation inevitably comes at the expense of the old. Yet libraries are showing that innovation always brings opportunity, too. While retaining its traditional functions, the library of the future will be home to myriad informational experiences, where great ideas happen, and people have the tools and facilities to act on them.

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Future Libraries: Nerve Center of the Community

by | Feb 22, 2009 | Future Scenarios

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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