Book Review: Information Tomorrow
Information Tomorrow: Reflections on Technology and the Future of Public and Academic Libraries. By Rachel Singer Gordon, Information Today, 2007, ISBN 978-1573873031, 280 pages.
The 16 chapters of this book focus on different aspects of the technological and societal changes that interact to shape our institutions. Some pieces read as manifestos, some are polemical, some are technical. But there is something for everyone who is interested in the future of libraries. This work asserts that, in order to succeed, whilst re-inventing ourselves and our presence, we have to remain true to the basic principles of librarianship. We have to continue to meet our users' expectations and create spaces, both physical and virtual, which appeal to them. Technological drivers shape the medium but users shape the service.
Although the majority of contributions are from academic librarians, the perspectives offered apply to a variety of contexts. In today's libraries the focus is often on mobile technologies where overdue notices are delivered via text messages and RSS feeds inform users of new resources and library events. It might be a while before your library equips users entering its space with the option of automatically opening the catalogue on their smart-phones, but it is essential to know what is happening beyond 'the limits of the possible' set by your institution's IT department.
For the technologically 'savvy', there is a guide on how to leap into experimenting with new tools at little or no cost and on how free open source software is driving changes in libraries. As the library-ness of the software we use declines and we become more dependent on solutions developed outside our communities, we need new skills and knowledge to carry this through. For the benefit of those trying to outsmart suppliers of library management systems, there are astute general observations on the process and reflections on our new-found interest in programming, fuelled by the slow pace of LMS innovation.
The role of libraries in preserving scholarship is another point of discussion, as is the viability of new models of peer review and of individual article impact factors. But one message is clear: libraries must become change agents in their organisations as they have powerful insights into the need to be truly service-oriented in an on-demand society. One particularly comforting contribution dwells on what Google canot do and at what actually libraries excel – our ability to select, evaluate and decide on the authority of information. So we should promote our ability to make up for Google's lack of depth and exploit its shortcomings. Blended librarianship for teaching and learning can also give librarians a central role in delivering and enhancing student learning whilst supporting lecturers and teachers.
We should also learn to value our patrons' capacity to contribute to our virtual presence through blogging, content creation and generous donations of virtual properties for library expansion into Second Life. We should not be particularly concerned about the mythical privacy threats RFID technology creates to obtain information about patrons' reading habits by driving past their homes and reading RFID tags.
There are useful hints on how to enhance positive experiences on library Web sites by engineering them to mimic our physical spaces, on how to make them 'sticky' by using personas and mapping users' journeys. Truly embracing technological developments requires a shift in thinking and the real question this book will leave us with is: Are we ready to embrace tomorrow? It also encourages us not to allow the setbacks to discourage us off from striving for the horizon.
What this pick-and-mix collection, full of colourful examples, teaches us is that ignorance of technology is no longer an option. Knowledge can ensure fad-resistant solutions driven by needs; it can defeat technostress and can help us grasp that ever-changing definition of success.