Guest post #16 – The future of libraries: a time for new heroes… by Dave Coplin

Today, many of us walk around with more computing power in our pockets than used to sit on our desks just a few short years ago. We are more connected, more engaged and more in control of our lives than ever before and yet, incredible though it is to believe, we are still right at the very beginning of our society’s journey with technology.

We have learned to love (or in some cases, tolerate) the power of social media and the increasingly real-time nature of our world. The power of the internet and mobile technology has enabled us to live with and access an incredible range of data, information and services. These offer us the capability of augmenting all of our real-world experiences (joining the digital and analogue worlds together) in order to help us to become greater than the sum of our own parts.

In many ways, this evolution is no different to the impact that books have had for hundreds of years: joining the consciousness of the reader with the knowledge of the author and extending Proust’s “heart of reading” well beyond the wisdom of a single author to the combined wisdom of the world.

Over the next twenty years, the increasingly connected nature of every action and every “thing”, combined with technological developments like the incredible prevalence of screens, e-ink and display surfaces and natural interfaces will take us to a new level of reliance and integration of technology. However, there are still some crucial obstacles that remain in our way, blocking our ability to take advantage of the technology on offer.

Some of these challenges exist at a cultural level, with privacy being perhaps the most fundamental of all such sociological debates. However, often hidden beyond such issues are significant barriers pertaining to the spread of knowledge and literacy that, if left unheeded, weaken the very foundations of our society (and economy).

None of these challenges are new, in fact a great deal can be learnt from our past. As such, the four key challenges we face should be familiar:

•         Preserving our knowledge heritage

•         Curating the wisdom of others

•         Helping others exploit the potential of access to unlimited knowledge

•         Providing equality of access

If only we knew of a profession/community/movement (dare I say religion?) that had dedicated the last couple of millennia to focusing on these issues to ensure the furtherance of knowledge and literacy across society?

However, it seems that despite the desperate need for help from those that are best placed and most experienced, we often seem locked in very different conversations.  Whether it is the mis-perceived lack of “value” of such resources in a recession, or the futility of the debate around (paper) fibres vs photons (e-books) as we contest the very definition of “a book”, we seem to be obsessed by the medium rather than the potential of the knowledge it transports.  Where we need help now is not in the squabbling on the digital/analogue boundary, or a very real “life and death” fight for existence of our community libraries, but is instead around the core principles of extending knowledge and literacy in a modern society. Ensuring that, like our ancestors before us, our greatest knowledge assets (both digital and analogue) do not succumb to the ravages of time; that people can find relevant information in a vast ocean of content – ultimately finding a needle in a billion haystacks; ensuring that our children (and every other member of our society) are equipped with the cognitive capability and skills that enable them to harness the incredible potential that technology brings us. It should not just be a case of feeding them with the basic tools that will become obsolete tomorrow, but instead teaching them to “fish” in a growing digital pool and ensuring that every single member of our society, regardless of location, background, skills and wealth, can benefit from all that is on offer.

It is time for a new breed of superheroes. Librarians of the world – your time has finally come…

Dave Coplin is Director of Search for Bing/Microsoft UK and a lover of literacy and knowledge sharing in a modern, digital society. Dave can be found on Twitter @dcoplin and at www.theenvisioners.com
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