Posted by Lori Ayre on July 26, 2006

I was just enjoying some futuristic reading on the DaVinci Institute website. Thomas Frey is the Executive Director there. He wrote two articles that I'd like to discuss. One is called Findability vs Spyability: Will the convergence of search technology and RFID chips improve our lives or forever put us in a fishbowl for all to see? and the other The Future of Libraries: Beginning the Great Transformation.

From the RFID article:

1) "Privacy cannot be viewed in isolation without considering how it affects security and convenience. There is a three-way tension between privacy, security, and convenience and one cannot be changed without affecting the other two." Frey explains that it is important to find the right balance of these aspects of RFID so that no one issue dominates. When I began talking about RFID, I was concerned about the potential privacy issues but I found myself increasingly uncomfortable with the fear-mongering associated with RFID. As Frey points out, just because one can kill a person by beating them over the head with a book doesn't mean we should outlaw books. It's true that RFID tags can be abused by ne'er-do-wells but what has become ever more clear is that there are exciting possibilities in RFID for libraries. I still don't recommend leaping on the RFID bandwagon just yet, but it's not because RFID is evil. It's that RFID library applications are half-baked.

2) "All new technology begins with a lawless Wild West stage. Typically the technology is poorly defined and poorly understood and for an initial time period the developing industry is self-regulated." That's what I was getting at with my half-baked comment. We are in the Wild West stage of RFID. The industry is self-regulated and the library RFID technology is most definitely poorly-defined.

In the Future of Libraries article, Frey identifies ten trends. My reflections on a few of them:

Trend #4: "Search Technology will become increasingly more complicated." Frey forecasts that new attributes will be introduced into search technology including taste, smell, texture, reflectivity, and more. He argues that librarians will continue to serve as intermediaries in the search process because it will be too complicated for normal folks and people just won't have the time to keep up to speed. This is almost exactly the opposite of the self-service trend others have identified.

Trend #5: "Time compression is changing the lifestyle of library patrons." Or put another, cleverer way "we have more needs faster." This trend appears to be intricately connected to trend #4. Addressing the patron's need for instant information gratification is going to keep our profession busy. Think metasearch tools only way cooler.

Trend #6: "Over time we will be transitioning to a verbal society." Literacy, he says will be dead by 2050. The keyboard will be the first to go and this will signal the beginning of the end. Soon thereafter, we'll be getting and sending our information verbally. He may be on to something here. How many of us already tell our phones who to call or who to text? How many would rather listen to a podcast than read a report?

Trend #9: "We are transitioning from a product-based economy to an experience based economy." Well, anyone in the gravitational pull of Waynn Pearson knows this already. Waynn was the City Librarian for Cerritos where he created the first Experience Library. Waynn was on to this trend like white on rice. Thanks to him, many of us have had a chance to experience information in very new ways. At the Cerritos Library information was liberated from the page. Waynn retires tomorrow but I'm guessing he's only retiring from Cerritos, not from libraryland. Given Waynn's tendency to bubble over and erupt with enthusiasm I'm hoping we haven't heard the last from him.

Waynn Pearson

Trend #10: "Libraries will transition from a center of information to a center of culture." Gosh, this sounds familiar. I recently suggested that libraries were going to turn into community centers if they didn't find a convenient way to get information to their customers (think NetFlix and Amazon). But my scenario was bleak. Frey's scenario is rich and exciting. He paints a picture of a library tapped into the "spirit of the community, assessing priorities and providing resources to support the things deemed most important."

Thomas Frey is an interesting fellow. He and his colleagues at the DaVinci Institute provide an intriguing and unique twist to some familiar topics. Maybe Waynn Pearson will end up over there.