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The future of knowledge (without the futurists).

It looks to me like there is an incipient backlash against library futurists. I have to admit, I dabbled in this myself recently. It’s kind of an easy target and as a friend pointed out: the internet is for backlashes (or something like that), but now I've been thinking that this backlash against library futurists is problem: we don't know the future but we know the present is changing before our eyes.  So, how do we figure out what to do if we don't look to the future. Maybe tarring all futurists with the same brush is throwing out baby with bathwater.

 

Our current public library approach...

to supporting the digital needs of our community is to spend a lot of time on late adopters. These are a valid part of our community and they need help. However, they are a dwindling community. They are mostly a common demographic cohort. Late adopters are mostly from that group who are old enough to not have adopted many digital technologies naturally during their growing up. I'm sorry to be so blunt but, that means they will die off. Inexorably. Of course, many of these folks will become quite comfortable with current technology before they're through and many other "old" people (ie: within the same demographic cohort) are not late adopters and are using a selection of current technology that meets their needs. 

 

However, "Knowledge" is changing. I've posted about this and presented about it. What's more, library professional concepts were based on documented knowledge: that there is a stable container for each unit of the information that accrues to knowledge, and that access to it, during the time that it's still current, is also stable.  

 

So, are we now moving to an era of "heuristical knowledge"? In a digital mileau where there is the absence of stable documents for each piece of information that leads to knowledge, teens, youth, millennials, whatever-you-call-them, may be showing us the way of moving forward with this different kind of knowledge.

 

In the way that they are absorbing, internalizing and showing us a new way of processing knowledge, they may also be going back to a pre-document way of organizing knowledge that looks more like the classical age than the "modern" age we have inherited from the enlightenment.

 

There are many contradictions and misunderstandings on the way to this different understanding of information and knowledge. In a recent, simple example, youth are still accused of poor net literacy but this is poor bureaucratic literacy. Any young person emerging from high-school into the world of working or higher education will find that they have to learn how to navigate bureaucracies and many bureaucracies operate online and this gives the illusion that these youths have an online lliteracy problem when, really, it's the bureaucracy that they have to learn how to deal wieth. All youth generations have this problem. 

 

My question, then, is: Can we look and this generation, extrapolate how to serve them, without being futurists? The corollary to that, of course is, who cares about the label? If "Futurist" means that we keep looking at what we know now (about youth and knowledge, in this case) in order to plan for our next steps, that's what counts. For me how youth "know" what they know in digital environments now is something we need to know for the future. I'm going to try and find out.

Philip Hall 2014