Friday, April 08, 2011

William Gibson and the future of libraries

On day one of the UKSG 2011 Conference, John Naughton (The Open University and Cambridge University Library) paraphrased William Gibson, 'The future has already arrived...stop trying to predict it.'

'We are living through a revolution and we have no idea where it is going,' he suggested. He used the term 'information bewilderment' to explain further.

Capitalism, he argued, relies on the creative destruction of industries in waves of activity. This is exciting for those on the creative side but scary for those on the destructive (ie newspaper and music industries) side.

Obsolete business models are at threat and everyone at the conference is affected, he warned. In the digital age, 'disruptive innovation' is a feature and a way of cutting out the 'middle man' to create profit.

He cited Amazon Kindle Singles as an example, whereby they invite authors (previously published or unpublished) to publish shorter articles (longer than a magazine or journal article but shorter than a novel) as an e-book on the Amazon Kindle platform.

Prediction is futile but you can measure changes. Complexity is the new reality and the rise and rise of user-generated content offers numerous opportunites for end users to 'cut out the middle man' (ie publishers).

In the old ecosystem there were big corporations while the new ecosystem relies on everything being available in smaller chunks on content (tracks not albums, articles not journals etc).

What's it got to do with libraries?

There is an intrinsic belief that libraries and librarians do good work but a wave of 'creative disruption' doesn't care. Libraries have traditionally taken a physical form and one of the debates has been about how to maintain the idea of a 'library' when users are increasingly accessing content online. When all academic activity takes place in a digital environment (soon?) how will libraries justify their existence (from place to space)?

John Naugthon ended his presentation by suggesting librarians could add value by building services around workflows (social media; rss feeds etc) as the everyday avalanche of data crys out for the skills of the librarian to create order.

'The best way to predict the future is to invent it.'

Sounds like good advice for those of us in publishing too.

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