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Berlin Seminar: Envisioning library in 100 years.

At the Berlin Seminar for Cycling for Libraries, I moderated a Barcamp session on Envisioning the Library in 100 years following on the theme of conference sessions I've presented this past spring. 

Instead of a presentation from me, a group of seven of us got right to discussing and debating what the topic means to us. Our group included an few academic Librarians , including a medical librarian, a classics librarian, a Science & Technology librarian and a librarian for a Library School. We also had a public library Branch Head and a special librarian from a law-firm library. 

 Here is a distillation of the discussion, based on my notes. Which are spotty since I was also moderating the session but I think you'll get the idea. 

Right away someone thought that 100 years is too far ahead but someone else figured that we need to have something to hang the discussion onto, and 100 years is as good as any.

The classics librarian among us said "there'll always be need for the original, physical is important" but some of us disagreed that the original would be important to more than just a few speialists. The branch head said: "so far digitisation always meant that role of library has diminshed. It would continue that way. Digital is not catalogued, we're dependent on search rules. If we are mostly about the collection, we are in a losing battle and will have a smaller sphere of influence. Kids don't want the smell of a book – in the future we will be providing services, not having a collection."

The Medical Librarian pointed out that, in his library: There's the 20/80 rule – 20% of the collection gets used. 80% almost never gets used but they have to have it, just in case.

It was also pointed out, however, that digitisation can increase access to classic material. At that point, Google books was brought into the discussion and we agreed that it will be interesting to see how google will change over time but this wasn't the "Google" session, that was taking place in a different room. 

We went back to envisioning the future. Discussion ensued: Libraries might be more about service. The place will change – the library as a concept, as a state of mind is changing. In Public Libraries in Finland – place has become more important.

The Special Librarian reminded us that the value of being an uncommercialized space is valuable. You don't have to buy something to get there; the Public Library should offer that.

But then we were reminded to be careful: the idea of a place to get wfi will come to an end when free wifi is all over the city. In the next few years that will challenge us to find another way to attract people to our places. .

If we can make sense of the data, offer social programs, offer deeper inquiry, we may be able to continue to attract patrons. Libraries already offer a range of "stuff" – programs to push people to find new interests and ideas and to discover different stuff.

However, the idea of not being able to attract patrons with free wifi was causing us concern and the discussion came back to that. If we lose the “magnets” of books and wifi the question has to be asked: what will be we about. What will attract people to our space: Info gathering, assembly, and production – is that what it's about? Not necessarily, an academic librarian suggested the library should be more integrated into education and research areas.

On the other hand, someone suggested, every library has to define their role: in every community the library has to look at their users and respond to their needs. At the same time, we will want to make sure we are assertive to use our expertise and knowledge to help define community role.

At the end I asked the participants, what is the thing they'll do next week to try to start shaping this future.

The Library-school librarian will rrange a new study place for students in her library

The Medical Librarian will work on being a tour guide to students to lead them through information.

The SciTech Librarian want to get people to go abroad and get new ideas, learn from others.

The Classics Librarian will learn from young customers; what do they want to have?

The Law Librarian will ask colleagues what they want in their new library.

But the last word goes to the public library Branch Head : in the earlier discussion about being assertive to define our roles there had been concern about “losing the profession” if we, for example, become integrated into faculties. The Branch Head warned us, "that's dead wrong. If it's better for the customer, it's good. We should do what customers want. We should be prepared that librarianship will become history and not be afraid."

That's what he said, and with that challenge ringing in our heads, we returned to the Plenary Session and the final discussions of Cycling for Libraries.  



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