Futures Studies Prepares Information Professionals to Transform, Not React


Published: July 18, 2014 by Sue Alman

You might wonder what futures studies have to do the LIS education, but as I noted in previous CIRI blog posts, information professionals and the instructors who teach them must plan for the rapid changes in society including technology, employment, and the ways we interact with others! As I started to prepare for the course and MOOC on the Emerging Future: Technology Issues and Trends, I explored the world of futurists and discovered resources and issues pertinent to LIS.

What If? was the theme of this year’s World Future Society Conference held in July 2014. As a first time attendee and presenter I was impressed with the breadth and depth of presentations and debates on topics that ranged from ubiquitous computing to conscious evolution 2.0. The participants were a mix of educators, corporate futurists, scientists, professionals from many sectors, sci-fi enthusiasts, and transhumanists—all presenting sessions meant to challenge discussion about the future.

There was a commonality among attendees in their exploration of the future as witnessed in sessions on the future of education, technology, medicine, agriculture, world economy, human existence, space exploration, global politics, and numerous other topics. I had discussions with an educational policy maker, formally educated futurists, a Dupont scientist, and various individuals who traveled from many developed and developing countries to search for ways to transform the future.

Interestingly, three librarians attended my session on What If Libraries Were Ubiquitous, and we had a lively discussion along with the other participants. Although ubiquitous computing will enable libraries to offer virtual reference services and specialized information bundles, there are many issues that need to be addressed before that can be realized. We need to consider the technological, educational, legal, organizational, and economic impacts of ubiquitous libraries and archives. Below is a sampling of issues to resolve.

  • Public perception is that systems such as Google Now can provide all the information that is ever needed. The Google Now tagline, The right information at just the right time,” reinforces that perception.
  • How will ubiquitous libraries guarantee the following?
    • Code of Ethics will be followed
    • Trusted Sources will be used
    • Digital Divide will narrow
    • Queries will remain private and not be added to Big Data collections
    • Copyright will be upheld
    • Security will be maintained
    • Users will hone critical thinking and research skills
    • Serendipitous research will be enabled.
  • Economic models will need to be revised or devised in order to support both physical and virtual library spaces and content. How will the following models be adapted?
    • Public library model
    • Business library model
    • Government sponsored model
    • Vendor supported model
    • Fee-based model
  • Reorganization of institutions and employee positions will be necessary to accommodate hybrid libraries.
    • Educate new information professionals and re-tool workforce information professionals to accept new positions such as the following examples.
  • Disruptive Innovation Leader
  • Virtual Personal Assistant
  • Future Technology Research Engineer
  • Digital Strategist
  • Emerging Technologies Analyst
  • More…

Having a presence at professional conferences outside of LIS enables us to meet others and promote the expertise of our graduates, to earn a place at the table in all types of discussions, and most importantly to gain new perspectives on other disciplines. Our students must be aware of the past, present, and future in order to have the flexibility required to stay relevant. We should provide them with learning experiences so they are ready to transform the future rather than react to it.


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