ARL strategic thinking and design experience on December 4. Geneva Henry, vice provost for libraries and university librarian at GWU, welcomed us to the library and set the tone for an invigorating day. More than 40 participants enthusiastically took part in the discussions, being invited to imagine and articulate elements of the research library in 2033 by ARL’s strategic design consultant, Ann Pendleton-Jullian. The group was diverse and uniquely Washingtonian in character. Participants represented federal library and archival agencies—such as the Smithsonian Libraries, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), and National Institutes of Health (NIH)—as well as the DC Public Library, Montgomery College Libraries, and the libraries of such universities as GWU, Georgetown, Johns Hopkins, University of Maryland, and University of Virginia. A few ARL staff members also participated in the discussions.Crossing the recently transformed, second-floor foyer of the George Washington University (GWU) Gelman Library—now a state-of-the-art, student-oriented space—prepared us for an engaging
It seemed especially fitting that this meeting took place in DC, since this city is also the setting for Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report, the making of which used world-building techniques that are similar to the methods used in this strategic process, particularly imagining a reality that is far into the future and yet still plausible. For those interested in understanding a bit more about these approaches, it is worth not only watching the movie but also the disc of special features that demonstrate how the movie was put together. The ARL meeting participants spent the day creating a future reality for research libraries, much as the makers of Minority Report created a future reality for DC.
The first part of the day included sharing stories of “sharks in the water” and “cool cats” as in earlier meetings. Particularly Washingtonian elements arose in some of these stories. For example, NARA received 80 terabytes of electronic records from the George W. Bush administration and is expecting much more from the Obama administration, in addition to the regular large transfers from federal agencies. The National Archives faces the formidable challenge of identifying which records can be appropriately released now and which need to be withheld for later release because of privacy, national security, or other restricted content. NARA is concerned about the length of time this work would take using traditional processes, so they are investigating new automated tools that can perform textual analysis of large quantities of electronic data. Relying on machine learning and predictive coding for discovery, and limiting human review to the limited cases where the computer can’t judge, it’s possible that NARA can develop processes that will allow the release of what needs to be released and protect what needs to be protected without agitating the “sharks in the water” and while maintaining a “cool cat” disposition.
Another participant told a “shark in the water” story about the difficulty of identifying women novelists who are African American and have lived nearby, a popular demand by users of public libraries in our area. The participant visited Howard University Library’s African American Resource Center and also explored the OCLC database for author records, identifying everything written by particular authors and everything written about those authors. She then applied for and was awarded an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) grant to enhance the OCLC records with information on authors’ race, where they lived, where they grew up, etc. A “shark in the water” turned into a “cool cat”! Other stories highlighted the need for libraries to tell their stories and define their value in new ways, to support entrepreneurial activities, to engage in collaborative activities, to celebrate Library Day, etc.
During the second part of the day, we were asked to reflect on a key question, “What is the role of the research library for the ecology of knowledge in 2033?” Given a set of parameters, we were charged with developing vision statements to construct the 2033 reality in relation to some possible elements, such as spaces, meaning, people, and services. Though all of the products of this exercise will be considered and analyzed in multiple ways in the coming weeks and months, it is worth noting some of the vision statements to give readers a flavor of the way the role of the research library is being imagined:
- The research library is an embedded, curated, interactive, ubiquitous agent or entity; it will be in a position to make sense of the “data soup.”
- The research library of 2033 advances education and research by brokering relationships inside and outside the library; the classroom is a tool where one uses the knowledge gained through internships, study abroad, engagement in global projects. The age-based education pipeline will no longer exist, as people will be grouped and advanced based on knowledge and experience gained.
- The research library of 2033 is the center of expertise in emerging and historic subjects and in cultural heritage; it curates information and data past and present; it may be both physical and virtual; it is a third space, distributed and transformative, and education cannot survive without it.
- The research library is a trusted institution that serves as a connector and broker of knowledge, a steward for physical and digital resources, a provider of virtual and physical spaces for collaboration.
- The research library is a preserver of knowledge and a convener of a virtual environment for learning and discovery.
- The research library is a sanctuary for freedom of expression—wherever you are.
- The role of the research library is creating a constantly evolving system where participants create, make, learn, do, and achieve progress.
- The research library is an augmented reality lens through which the community can assess, interpret, and contribute information available in the world.
By the end of the day, there was a general sense that together we are creating an emerging identity that represents the role of the research library, and we need to make sure that the character of this emerging identity is a good fit with the future needs of our communities.