No Librarians Left Behind: Preparing
for Next-Generation Libraries (Part 2)
by Stephen Abram
Editor's note: In the November/December 2003 issue
of MultiMedia Schools in the "DirectConnect" space, Stephen Abram
presented Part 1 of an informative essay on what he sees as important
trends school library media specialists should be watching for. (It's
the launchpad for his new "Pipeline" column, is the conclusion. Enjoy!
Greetings and welcome to the first "Pipeline." As I noted at the end of the
November/December MMS column your editor refers to above, I'm going
to finish the story begun in that issue, in which I addressed trends in search
technology and the Web, right here. We were just coming up to the third category....
What Devices Are Coming Down the Pike?
First, I think it's pretty clear that within 5 years the PC will not be the
dominant electronic tool, or even access device. Clearly laptops outsell desktops
now, and hand-held devices outsell both. Several things are happening that
we need to watch and adapt to. We must try to explore and understand how these
adaptations play out in our students' future. First of all, we are seeing increasing
use of flat screens. This isn't just about saving space on desktops. It's about
moving products, services, and information to where the users are ... which
means we will see screens appearing on our freezer doors, refrigerators, microwaves,
walls, countertops, and desks. These appliances are already in the high-end
stores and are common overseas. Imagine what it will mean to libraries when
screens are paper-thin and can be applied anywhereeven on our book stacks!
Now imagine them being wireless. . . .
Yes, wireless is another obvious trend that many libraries are adapting to
very quickly. Some schools are trapped in buildings that limit their technological
flexibility. It's just too expensive to wire through poured concrete, asbestos,
urea formaldehyde, or historically important buildings. Many institutions have
already discovered that such technological approaches as wireless SkyPort drops
and Bluetooth solutions can work around these limits cost effectively, strongly
enhancing service and access.
Besides the current penetration of the kid market with cell phones and pagers,
we see the proliferation of Palm Pilots, RIM Blackberries, WorldPhones, and
DoCoMo devices worldwide. Indeed, it's a rare new PCS digital phone that doesn't
come with, or have options for, MP3 players, radio, browsers, e-mail, streaming
media TV, or voice recognition. It will be this generation of students who
uses these devices as the primary access and communication tools as adults.
Their adoption of instant messaging is already clear. Text messaging is increasing
in popularity worldwide. Google is already beta-testing voice-based searching
through the phone.
Some libraries are supporting nomadic computing in recognition that this
is where their users are heading, seeing this as an opportunity to improve
service. Mount Sinai Hospital library in Toronto has made the wireless plunge
and offers many key databases available through doctors' and other health professionals'
Palm Pilots at the bedside. Information now truly needs to be where the user's
decisions are, not where they have to go. Doctors can check a drug's contraindications
as they prescribe it. Our young learners will enter as adults a world that
will be more in flux than ever.
Lastly, we can't forecast what's next without tipping our hats to 2001:
A Space Odyssey"Talk to me Hal." Voice recognition is almost ready
for prime time. Many of us use it when we call 411 and give our answer to
the computer's query, "What city please?" So, we're seeing ever more amazing
things from Dragon NaturallySpeaking, IBM ViaVoice Pro, RocketTalk.com, and
Philips Speech Processing FreeSpeech. Microsoft XP was released with voice
recognition built right in. It doesn't take a genius to see this turning
any telephone into a speak-search-and-read-it-to-me device, especially since
no one wants to use the telephone button pad as an interface.
Learning and Work Environments
This is probably the area of biggest change. For years we've been following
the technological advance we've termed "convergence." That's pretty well over
("It's so last century!"), and now the challenge will be to converge the content,
librarian services, and technology into our learners' context ... moving library
services to where they need it, not just when.
We can call this new environment a "collaboratory." This can be envisioned
as a blended and overlapping thinking, decision-making, and learning environment.
Adding librarian tricks to the bricks and clicks will be the goal. We have
lots of terms that show us that this is a strongly emerging trend. Consider,
for instance, terms like collaborative digital reference, virtual reference
libraries, virtual teams, and shared portals. This goes beyond virtual classrooms,
chat rooms, and videocon-
ferences. It's about communities of interest and communities of practice, and
it's also about e-neighborhoods. We're moving to a world where sharing and
integrated, cooperative partnerships will be the norm. These partnerships are
developing between teachers, teacher-librarians, school boards, parents, vendors,
and curriculum professionals. Libraries have been on the edge of some of these
trends as we have developed state-wide consortial licensing and services. We
have seen the trends toward applying best information literacy for an information-
and knowledge-based economy.
There are newer applications, beyond chat, ICQ, and Internet Messenger (IM).
Take a look at things like Groove Workspace, PlaceWare, WebEx, Centra, Flypaper,
Raindance, or Intranets.com. We're looking at a new way of working and a new
environment into which the services of librarians and researchers can be offered.
Another key trend is e-learningInternet-enabled learning. In this context,
we need to acknowledge that learning is the actual human process by which learners
adapt and absorb information. A blended learning environment is one in which
classroom instruction (virtual and live) and distance-education courses are
combined with e-learning that intersperses live interactions and learning nuggets
delivered in appropriate time framesasynchronously and asymmetricallyto
the right work and study environments. If libraries are not integrated into
the new blended learning environment, then we will lose relevance to the mainstream
of society and education. Our teaching, selection, collection, and service
development skills will serve us well in this new environment of buying, supporting,
and introducing electronic courseware.
You can learn about this e-learning trend at the Web sites of some of the
major providers: Saba, Click2Learn, SkillSoft, Docent, Isopia, and NewMindsets.
Many of these e-learning companies are targeting the workspace where our students
will be heading. Many e-learning support tools and courses are also being introduced
to the market by the traditional textbook publishers such as Thomson, Pearson,
and McGraw-Hill. Some are being developed by the school and academic sector
on their own. In order to be ready for this world of e-learning, we will not
only have to prepare our students with the information-literacy competencies
they need but also with meta-learning skillsknowing how to learn. Teacher-librarians
and others are well positioned to take on this task.
If you're interested in actually developing courses or implementing a learning
management system, there are wonderful tools and templates to help you. Many
librarians have already migrated many of their products, services, and information
literacy training to these Web-based environments. This opportunity exists
in course management systems like Blackboard, eCollege, WebCT, or Lotus Learning
Another easy-to-adapt opportunity is Web-based presentation management tools.
These tools allow you to place voice, video, or objects such as PowerPoint
presentations with voice-over on the Web. We see these types of applications
in BrainShark and Presenter.
School Library Microtrends
There are loads of opportunities in the library sector. One of the biggest
is what is being called Virtual Reference or Collaborative Digital Reference
Services. This is the ability to provide online remote service. This can be
as simple as an "Ask a librarian . . . live!" button on your OPAC or library
site, Web-based Q&A Cafés, or a real-time, live-chat homework helper
service. Some interesting things to look at are LSSI's (Library Systems and
Services LLC and Tutor.com) Virtual Reference Desk or some of the specialized
software in CRM (customer relationship management) or call-center applications.
We certainly see the day when school libraries will, of necessity, have to
keep online "homework helper" hours, through instant messaging, virtual reference
tools, or (sadly) e-mail.
Sowhat about books? We are definitely seeing cool developments in e-book
management systems. We're seeing large collections that are actually tied to
MARC records, allowing seamless integration into our OPACs. Some of the more
interesting ones are MeansBusiness (combines books with abstracted alerts),
OCLC/NetLibrary, Element K (combines books with e-learning), and ProQuest Safari
and Books24x7.com (now part of the e-learning company SkillSoft), which cover
the best of the IT e-books. Note that there are services emerging from Chapters/Indigo,
Borders, and Amazon in the e-books arena. Cliff's Notes can also be easily
purchased online and delivered to your e-mail box 24/7.
Lastly, fear and loathing are with us to stay. When we talk around the library
water cooler these days, hot topics are the threats to our new digital infrastructure.
Words that cut to our quick are SPAM, worms, viruses, denial of service attacks,
personal information, privacy, PATRIOT, patron records, CIPA, DMCA, FBI, Mounties,
CIA, porn filters. Need I say more? We are all reminded of our professional
role as library workers to protect freedom of expression, patron rights to
equity of access with privacy and intellectual freedom. Keep your armor on,
folks! We're suddenly "important" and "informed" on issues that the power brokers
and money folks care about.
The strategic window for opportunity for librarians is huge, but keep in
mind that it won't be open long. We're about to enter the Boomer retirement
era. It will be the largest flight of knowledge capital from the open market
in history. Knowledgetacit, explicit, and culturalwill need
to be transferred, not just information. The gauntlet has been thrown down
for librarianship. Use the technology, use our professional skills, learn from
others, and we will be so stupendously successful that the world will beat
a path to our (virtual) door!
So, as promised, here's a list of the top 10 trends to watch:
1. It's an Information Ocean, not a Highway. Information-literacy
skills are about avoiding drowning and succeedingnot following some
2. It's an Exploration Space, not a collection space. We collect to
let learners explore and discover quality learner- and curriculum-appropriate
resources and to engage in their own lifelong experience.
3. It's about learning impact, not information delivery. It's nice
to get the right resource to the right learner at the right time and to keep
those stats. It's better to measure the impact of our resources and services
on their learning performance.
4. Entertainment is a solid driver of change, and it's not about paperbacks
and Hogwarts' wizards. Denying the skills kids learn in PC Games, MP3s, Web
chat, and through interactive TV is foolish and short-sighted.
5. Lifelong Learning is the prime directive. The days are long gone
when you can learn a skill and apply it for a lifetime.
6. Virtual Space is service space. Using the new tools, we are well
positioned to focus on the learner's space and balance it with our partnerships
in the classroom space.
7. Culture trumps everything. National, ethnic, and local cultures
are stupendously important. The differences among us drive changes and unique
insight, creativity, and innovation and success in an increasingly global world.
Libraries are paths to your own and others' cultural stories and experiences.
8. Information Movesstatic content is the lowest form since
primeval data! While text on a page is still critically essential, libraries
will increasingly serve up streaming media. This supports the real nature
of the whole Earth as well as the diversity of learning styles among diverse
9. Fear and Loathing are with us to stay. Learning about electronic
safety is a critical skill for the future.
10. And, I'll give you one final insightContext is King, not
Content. If we understand the ecology and culture of our learners, we can
empower them to ever-higher levels. If we understand our institution's real
learners, not the learnedwe will succeed wonderfully.
And this is our greatest gift. While our foundation is in content of every
sort, our essence, our value, and our vision have always been about context.
We lift our eyes up and look to see how we take our building blocksbrick,
clicks, and tricksand apply them in the context of our society, students,
and institutions. We build better learners. We underpin a better, freer democracy.
We ensure the long-term success of our institutions. We help students, inventors,
artists, writers, and researchers create the future. Remember this as we step
forward to meet the challenges we encounter along this adventure we call librarianship.
So it's quite simple, really. If we keep our eye on the future and focus
on the learner's needs, no librarian will be left behind.
Stephen Abram received his MLS from the University of Toronto in 1980.
He is the immediate past president of the Ontario Library Association, where
he planned and hosted two summitson the Crisis in School Libraries and
on the vision for a province-wide digital library. In June 2003, he received
the highest award of the Special Libraries Association, the John Cotton Dana
Award. Also, in June 2003, he assumed the role of president-elect of the Canadian
Library Association. Stephen's day job is vice president of corporate development
for Micromedia ProQuest (Canada), where he influences print, Web, and microfilm
products such as eLibrary, ProQuest Newsstand, and the Canadian Almanac and
Directory. Contact Stephen with comments or notes about your challenges and
successes at firstname.lastname@example.org.