Summit on the Future of Libraries: Day Two

Posted Monday, May 5, 2014 - 16:10
Library of Congress, site of the Summit on the Future of Libraries
Thomas Frey, futurist and speaker at the Summit on the Future of Libraries

“The future’s gonna happen, whether we agree to participate or not,” said Thomas Frey, executive director and futurist for the DaVinci Institute, to participants in “Libraries From Now On: Imagining the Future.” The event, a summit on the future of libraries held May 2–3 at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., included 80 foundation and nonprofit leaders, as well as librarians from all types of libraries.

Frey offered a number of key indicators that librarians should be mindful of as they navigate their institution’s course. “Libraries are the original sharing economy,” he said, suggesting that libraries consider becoming a “business colony” for the freelance job market, a place to consume and to create, and a place to find answers to all questions. “Humanity will change more in the next 20 years than in all history,” he said. “Future libraries are waiting for us to invent them.”

After each speaker, participants gathered at tables to discuss perceptions and ideas on the presentations. These were captured (PDF file) by a facilitator.

Joan Frye Williams, a librarian and consultant, helped gather together the thoughts she heard over the day and a half of conversations and presentations. “There's quite a bit of flexibility in the future world,” she said. “What value we’ll add, what business we’ll make, we’ll be involved in something that’s human, knowledge-based, aspirational, transformational, likely to be shared, and community-centric.” She added that it will be active, not reactive, collaborative and developmental, as opposed to strictly transactional. She encouraged the group to find useful, audacious questions that will help create solutions, and cautioned them to give time for ideas to work. “Libraries are quick to declare a failure. Sometimes we don’t ask for fear of finding out the answer.”

“This is a big, messy, iterative process,” Frye said about creating a future library. “We need to think timescale. What kind of ancestors do we want to be?”

The afternoon concluded with comments by Barbara Stripling and Keith Michael Fiels. Fiels revealed plans for the new ALA Center for the Future of Libraries in Chicago which will be headed by Miguel A. Figueroa. “It will be a watering hole where we can all hang out together with others who are future-oriented, an incubator at ALA,” he said. “This will help build a new public perception for sustaining libraries, bringing the best innovative, creative, and future-thinking ideas.”