Future of Libraries Issues

Q and A
During the two day summit last week in Vancouver on the Future of Libraries so many issues emerged, and so many thoughtful responses.

I note here some of the issues but guest bloggers will contribute more context and elaboration, even a few answers, over the next few weeks…

The future is not what it used to be!

City managers and provosts are seeing less expensive options within their jurisdictions, whether preschool programs in community centers or space in cafeterias. Shared services is shining a spotlight on perceived duplication, and we are expensive.

As we move into new areas (learning centers, after school programs, research support, maker spaces) others already occupy much of that space. Conversely, other public agencies are moving into “our” space.

As senior staff is reduced, library directors are not immune. More are picking up related responsibilities for community centers and cultural institutions and even parking and dogs in cities while in universities, information technology, information management, learning services, bookstores, museums, are all being rolled together in one portfolio.

It can no longer take two years to make decisions like integrating two desks. The world is moving faster than we are.

More Questions Than Answers?

There is a tension between some professional staff who see fewer demands equating with better service and senior administrators who see market share and actual use reducing and thus future reductions in funding.

Competition abounds, whether the new Google Help or scribd, or public agencies offering programs. The issue is competition for time as well as expertise.

What is our unique value proposition? What is our staff’s unique expertise (a teacher can do that, a social worker does that, a faculty member could do that…)?

Many great institutions closed while having high customer satisfaction.

How do we reclaim our brand? Our vendor partners are starting to communicate directly with our customers.

How do we balance values with action, charging fines on children’s materials for the revenue while espousing literacy, expressing concern about privacy while allowing amazon to collect data on customer e-book downloads to their kindles? Why do partner groups seem to value fee-based services better than “free”?

Have library boards outlived their usefulness? Keeping us from the adult decision-making table?

When do we get serious about positioning and marketing? Even our users don’t know the services we provide.

How do we celebrate what we drop, or how do we drop services, even though there are six faithful users and a passionate staff person?

Is the university business model broken? What if first year students migrate to MOOCs for credit or cheaper institutions with smaller classes? What are the implications for us? Are there really far too many universities as proposed?

Public libraries have been outsourced to private firms. Now academic libraries are being outsourced to private firms. How do we focus more on efficiencies and operations research to compete for the cost of service delivery?

Is the library one system with many doors or many unique neighborhood/departmental services joined in a confederation or collaborative enterprise?

Why do organizational structures still focus on buildings?

Why can we not agree on common key success factors for our industry?

Are books the brand? Is there a future in that?

What are the implications for education and the profession when employers are hiring fewer professional librarians for libraries?

How can the sense of entitlement be broken?

Collaboration and partnerships are critical. With whom and for what purpose and by what measurement?

Enough for one week.

Indeed, more questions than answers.

But critical questions.

About Ken Haycock

Ken Haycock is currently Research Professor of Management and Organization at the Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California, where he coordinates graduate programs in Library and Information Management.

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