Industries being disrupted by technology is a concept much discussed these days. The intersection of technology, innovation, and disruption is not particularly new. Harvard professor Clayton Christensen’s writings on innovation, which started 20 years ago, triggered an ongoing discussion. Some of his examples of disruptive technologies sparking innovation now seem dated and of historical value only.
But the importance of the concept continues. Think about recently disrupted business models—the hotel industry by Airbnb, taxis by Uber, bookstores by Amazon, real estate by Zillow, payment processing by Bitcoin, classified ads by craigslist, retail by eBay, and music by Spotify. Technological and innovative disruption are not actually new concepts. Go back to the disruption caused by Gutenberg’s printing press or, more recently, the advent of the personal computer. These changed how people live their lives and perceive the world around them.
Information professionals are not immune from disruptive technologies. Journal publishing has been disrupted by open access and book publishing by nonprint, electronic options and by self-publishing. These affect what we add to collections and how we access information. We’re experiencing a redefinition of journal articles and book chapters. Both have become entities in their own right, not only integrated into a journal or a book but also having a free-standing life of their own.
Libraries have been disrupted by the internet. The popular conception that everything is available on the internet dealt a serious blow to corporate research libraries. Academic libraries are no longer a destination. When students and faculty can access databases from outside the library, they lose the understanding that librarians are search experts.
The cloud is considered by some to be disruptive. I almost laughed out loud when I read, in “The Cloud Is Dead. Long Live the Cloud,” by Stacey Higginbotham in the May 1, 2015, issue of Fortune, that she thinks the cloud replaces “the days when everything we did on a computer started and ended with what was stored on the hard drive.” Information professionals have been doing online research in the cloud since before we had our own personal hard drives. We practically invented the cloud. We just didn’t call it that. We called it online searching. Our online is the current cloud. Oh, and it was, and still is, Big Data, another disruptive concept.
Technology has always been a disruptor. For information professionals, the question is what the next technology will be that disrupts our world. Augmented reality that lets us experience books, not just read them? The Internet of Things that saturates us with data? Video search? 3D printing? Websites replaced by apps?
Information professionals have been and still are at the forefront of technology. Although we may not mean to be disruptive, we are. Dynamic disruption brings transformations of library spaces and services. The trick is to recognize where to focus our attention to ensure a vibrant future. My new mantra: online searching—dynamically disrupting for almost 40 years.