Living in the Future: Libraries Supporting the Next Wave of Cultural Evolution


Published on

A presentation I gave at the New England Library Association - IT Section - Spring conference in June of 2012. Inspired by a talk by Michael Edson at Computers in Libraries 2012, I thought hard about the science fiction present we find ourselves in, the science fiction future we'll get to next, and how libraries can position themselves well between the two points in time.

  • Be the first to comment

  • Be the first to like this

No Downloads
Total views
On SlideShare
From Embeds
Number of Embeds
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide
  • My presentation was inspired by thoughts I had while listening to Michael Edson speak at Computers in Libraries 2012, giving this presentation: We are living in our own future. If you’d asked an educated adult in the early 1980s “Will you ever be able to hold a supercomputer in the palm of your hand, with instant access to a worldwide network of information?” You’d probably get a good laugh and a “What do you think this is, Star Trek?” Yeah, the joke’s on us. We are living in that science fiction future right now.
  • For instance, doing our grocery shopping via our mobile devices – in the store itself, or outside of it. Check out what Peapod did in Chicago’s subway system:
  • Or, let’s upgrade those little “did you like us?” surveys we get with our checks at restaurants to an online form that sends responses directly to a database or spreadsheet. Fun factor for our users, ease of use factor for us!
  • Libraries can help our users navigate and participate in this science fiction present in many different ways. Let’s look at four of them.
  • Yes, we’re mostly familiar with social media at this point, but there’s always something new just around the corner. This past year, it’s been Pinterest. NYPL labs It is a poster child for the cloud – the company is basically some engineers, some business people, and all their computing is in the cloud, specifically Amazon Web Services.
  • It’s in the physical world as well as the online.
  • This conference is focusing on the cloud as a tool for libraries, so let’s zoom in on that for a while. New England Library Association, IT Section:
  • When you talk to someone on the phone, where does that conversation happen? There are lots of terms for that, but one that we’ve used since the 1990s is “cyberspace” Another from the past few years is…the cloud. With the cloud, it’s the place where the data lives. information happens. It’s a distributed network of information and interaction.
  • – run by Blake Carver, longtime librarian and awesome guy
  • The Boston Public Library is using the cloud – as embodied by Google Maps – to augment its website. We needed a map of parking near by the central library in Copley Square, so I turned to an interactive and easily updatable resource.
  • And then, I discovered that *someone else* had made a much better map of bicycle parking nearby (and throughout Boston), so I linked to that as well.
  • In addition, Google Maps gives us Street View, so that we don’t have to describe or take photos of our buildings to make them more recognizable to our users.
  • Flickr is an obvious use of the cloud for libraries – getting our collections digitized, online and accessible.
  • is another service that can be cloud-based or locally-based, and whichever you choose, it doesn’t make a difference to your users. That’s another aspect of using the cloud – it’s invisible from the end-user perspective.
  • Digital Commonwealth is a project to provide universal and single-point-of-entry access to all of the digital collections of Massachusetts libraries, archives, and historical societies.
  • On the national level, we have multiple cloud or cloud-like efforts:
  • And more specialized ones as well. Digital Scriptorium -
  • Google is back again with the Google Art Project – a way to give better online access to the galleries and collections of museums around the world. For places that largely hold collections out of copyright, this is brilliant. They use the same 360-degree camera as for Google Streetview and walk them through museums and galleries. Google is also trying projects with the same technology for subway stations (MBTA – inside stations) and more relevantly, an inside Libraries initiative.
  • Another obvious use of the cloud – data storage, access and backup. DropBox iCloud MSLive Amazon Cloud LOCKSS lots of copies keeps stuff safe -
  • Amazon Web Services – pay-as-you-go server time Computing time Storage & backup Database & website hosting Just-in-time and pay-by-use services mean you can respond agilely to new or changing needs.
  • Amazon Mechanical Turk Crowdsourcing & micropayment jobs for all sorts of things that libraries do, like tagging hundreds of archival photos.
  • Another way we can be a part of this science fiction present is to respond to the maker/hacker/DIY culture that surrounds us. They’re everywhere, and we can work together towards some fantastic goals.
  • Why? One of the resources libraries have prided themselves on is assistance to job seekers. But the needs of those job seekers now go far beyond resume software and interviewing workshops. This special section from the April 21, 2012 edition of The Economist spells out some of this future and current employment context. Read it and be inspired to see how your library can help.
  • On the left is a graphic from that edition of The Economist (, showing a new kind of distributed manufacturing. On the right, a webcomic critique of that same possible process: . The extra comment on the comic from the artist is: “We don't sell products; we sell the marketplace. And by 'sell the marketplace' we mean 'play shooters, sometimes for upwards of 20 hours straight.’” No matter how we feel about this distributed, web-facilitated working future, it’s coming and we need to understand it and see how we can be a part of it.
  • Start simple - skillsharing From salsa dancing to kayaking, the Library's first-ever How-To Festival showed how to do more than 50 things in five hours in one day – all for free. Thanks to everyone that attended and helped make it a big success. And especially thanks to the more than 80 presenters who stepped up to share their expertise and experience as part of this How-To Festival. It was an amazing celebration of life-long learning – and highlighted the talent and generosity of this community.
  • Dutch Repair Café – made of local folks who skillshare
  • The Fayetteville (NY) Fab Lab is an experiment in adding a maker space to a public library. Wildly successful, it allows users to come and try out DIY and small-self-manufacturing tools in a library setting.
  • The MakerBot Replicator is a first step towards making our science fiction present look like the science fiction future. A 3D printer that can take a digital file and print a three-dimensional object from it. Most work using plastic, but some also make designs out of metal, biological materials (print me a new heart, anyone?) and food.
  • Here’s the online library for MakerBots. Maybe one of our next steps is to collect and catalog digital designs for the 3D printers we provide access to?
  • Allen County Public Library (Fort Wayne, Indiana) has partnered with a local makerspace nonprofit startup to provide workshops and access to tools and devices.
  • Finally, let’s look at ways that libraries can support and engage our users as creators and co-creators of content.
  • Denver is doing some fascinating things with co-creation and co-curation of collections in their Creating Communities project. A mix of library collections and uploaded content from users. Neat!
  • With all of our archival local images, imagine a project like Denver’s combined with a fun idea like the “Looking into the Past” Flickr pool. Contributors take an old/historic photo and superimpose it over the current site, then photograph that and submit it. Get users involved locally and thinking curatorially. Looking into the Past Flickr pool as found on Buzzfeed:
  • A better example of Looking into the Past:
  • The New York Public Library is crowdsourcing its effort to rectify (straighten and correct) its thousands of historic maps to more closely match the more accurate maps of today. Using the NYPL Map Warper, anyone can go in and help match the past to the present. This would make a fantastic class project or library workshop. For more from NYPL Labs, check out their webpage:
  • The printing-press-sized Espresso book machines are beginning to appear in libraries. These serve our users in at least 2 ways: 1 – By providing on-demand printing for public domain, out-of-copyright, and Creative Commons licensed print materials 2 – By providing a possible platform for their own self-published works to be printed, collected and sold. Espresso machine – Brooklyn PL
  • Beyond simply providing access to the machine, the iStreet Press program at the Sacramento Public Library offers a more formal program of workshops and publishing opportunities for local authors to create and publish their works through the library.
  • Another attempt to create a book from start to finish within the library, entirely happening through the cloud.
  • Taking that idea a little higher, the Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library crowdsourced the writing of a novel.
  • For many, many more ideas of libraries using and providing publishing services to their users, listen to Amy Buckland, Char Booth, Michael Porter and Nate Hill speak at South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive from this past spring: – look - listen
  • We are currently in the science fiction present, but the science fiction future is still not far off.
  • Nate Hill has been a part of the Library Lab project from the beginning. These modular discovery and creation stations could revolutionize how libraries shape their physical spaces to interact more effectively with the online opportunities and possibilities their users want and need access to.
  • In a slightly different direction, The Storefront Library was a temporary library set up in an empty storefront in Boston’s Chinatown. This ultimately agile library space was a huge success, and shows how we might adapt nonstandard and non-traditional spaces to library services moving forward. All of the service, and much less of the infrastructure makes for more responsive spaces.
  • The same people who brought you the Storefront Library are now working on The Uni – a portable reading room that can bring the library outside of its walls entirely and into whatever public space they want. In addition to bookmobiles, we can set up mobile reading rooms and circulation departments – using mobile-based circulation devices – to farmer’s markets, outdoor events, and any other large space we can think of. Community outreach at its finest. “ The Uni Project aims to do one thing and do it well: temporarily transform almost any available urban space into a public reading room and venue for learning. We start with the conviction that books and learning should be prominent, accessible, and part of what we expect at street-level in our cities. The purpose of the Uni is to share books, showcase the act of learning, and improve public space. It is intended to be a new resource for a city, providing residents with a place to gather and contribute to their own well-being and advancement, as well as that of their neighborhood. The Uni consists of three basic components: a structure (144 cubes), a collection, and a team. These components scale according to the conditions of each site. A small, permanent staff works year-round to enlist others in the Uni’s work, seeking out partnerships for locations and programming to fill the Uni’s calendar, such as readings, talks, workshops and screenings.”
  • One last trend is Big Data – using the social data of the internet for the benefit of users. Big Data is still in its infancy, but we’ll be seeing more and more about this infometric number-crunching in the next year or two.
  • Library Journal, reporting on that cutting edge.
  • In Michael Edson’s talk, he read at length from William Gibson’s “Zero History” – a science fiction novel that had just come out when he first developed this presentation. Gibson wrote then of magical, beautiful silver penguins flying over the French Quarter in New Orleans. They sounded ethereal, fantastical….
  • … and they existed at the time that Gibson wrote his book. We are living in the science fiction present. Let’s figure out how best to make it work for us, our libraries, our users, and the world. Festo – AirPenguins -
  • Living in the Future: Libraries Supporting the Next Wave of Cultural Evolution

    1. 1. the Future iving inL g the N ext Wav e u pportin Lib raries S volution lE of Cultura
    2. 2. The C loud
    3. 3. Hack ers,Makers, ore D IY a nd m
    4. 4. ary U sers Libr tors o-)Creaas (C
    5. 5. e Fut ure…To th
    6. 6. “It’s amazing to consider that a particle physicist,a molecular biologist, and someone lying on abeach with a novel by Stephen King may all bereading from the same device and  purchasingtheir content from the same venue.”Joe Esposito, Predicting the Present
    7. 7. you! hank r KoerberT ife om Jenn o erber.c om nniferk il. c oerber@gma r.k jennife