Future of Libraries Summit: Reflections from Behind the Marker (Part Two)

In early May The Singer Group provided me with a great opportunity to act as a table facilitator at the American Library Association’s Future of Libraries Summit held at the Library of Congress. Last month we provided the first of the top 10 reflections on the Summit. Here are the remaining 5!

  1. How to electrify a room after lunch. Wow! Dr. Renu Khator, Chancellor of the University of Houston (UH) System and President of UH, incoming Chair of American Council on Education, brought the crowd to the edge of their seats. After lunch no less! She painted a very vivid picture of the future of higher education with library a key cornerstone. She reminded me, however, that high expectations are their own reward, don’t give up just because it is hard, and connecting your passion to your work really matters.
  2. De-coupling. Dr. Khator introduced this concept as a means of meeting the education needs globally in the face of limited resources. Ms. Joan Frye Williams admirably framed this concept in light of libraries as follows:“We need to talk about what might happen in libraries if we were to rethink the following processes as separable: knowledge creation, management, curation, and distribution; service design and delivery; and library support and use.” (Summit of Libraries Report link)Kind of like the hotdog (click here to read the hotdog-eating reference from last month) but at a macro systems level, I think we will all need to challenge ourselves to think through who is doing what and why. This will be hard but so worth it.
  3. Meet the Jetsons. After hearing Joel Garreau, Lincoln Professor of Law, Culture and Values at Arizona State University and futurist and Thomas Frey, Executive Director and Senior Futurist at the Da Vinci Institute talk about what is happening with technology today (think 3-D printing of houses in China and brain implants in monkeys making machines move six states away!), I admit to being uncomfortable. I am not sure I am ready for a Google brain implant or ever will be. I know, I know this same thing was said by people about automobiles, televisions, and social media and look where we are today. But one of the participants made me feel better when he stood up and said “Remember the Jetsons” and got a big laugh from the room. I think it is about being open to change and possibility knowing that it will be a journey for all of us. Oh, yeah and retaining a sense of humor along the way helps.
  4. “I don’t know.” I agree with Stephen J Dubner, these three words are the hardest to say in the English language (not “I love you” as most proclaim). In the absence of knowing we pretend, make assumptions, guess, and more. This works against true innovation and re-invention. I like transformation so I guess I’ll have to get better at saying “I don’t know”!
  5. Library staff members are THE difference. Joan Frye Williams, library futurist, captured the notion of impact on the library profession when she noted that reconciling the tradition of mastery with a future landscape demanding ever increasing agility will be a challenge. Participants emphasized throughout both days of the Summit that staff are key to the future of libraries. I couldn’t agree more. I think that means extending the conversation started at the Summit to start. Thomas Frey, Executive Director and Senior Futurist at the Da Vinci Institute reminded us that the future is what we dream of and think up today. In other words, we are creating the future right now! So I say keep the conversation alive and join the discussion today! (ALA connects link)

Katy O’Neill Berube
Future of Libraries Summit Table Facilitator
Singer Group Consultant
Interim Associate Library Director
Loyola ▪ Notre Dame Library
Baltimore, MD

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