10 Reasons to Believe Discontinuous Change


Charles Handy wrote 20 years ago; “… the changes are different this time: they are discontinuous and not part of a pattern”. He asserted that,

It is the combination of a changing technology and economics, in particular of information technology … and the economics associated … which causes this discontinuity. Between them they will make the world a different place. Information technology links the processing power of the computer with the microwaves, the satellites, the fiberoptic cables of telecommunications. It is a technology that is leaping rather than creeping into the future. … These … technologies are developing so fast that their outputs are unpredictable, but some of the more likely developments in the next ten to twenty years could change parts of our lives in a dramatic fashion.

[Handy, C. (1990). THE Age OF UNREASON. Harvard Business School Press, Boston, MA.]

Impressive foresight! And, time has given us the perspective to recognize that Handy was 100% Correct! But, while some may say these technology and societal changes we saw in 2010 are incremental, they are ONLY incremental to those few insiders who are developing the change agents.

I want to repeat that. These technology and societal changes challenging librarians TODAY are NOT incremental to anyone (except maybe those few insiders who are developing the change agents, and maybe not even to them). These drastic changes are DISCONTINUOUS CHANGES – and must be dealt with accordingly!

10 Reasons to Believe Discontinuous Change

1.) At a time when libraries are still debating the use or efficacy of eBook readers –

• January 28th, MSNBC reports Kindle books now outsell paperbacks Jeff Bezos stated: “Kindle books have now overtaken paperback books as the most popular format on Amazon.com.” This comes six months after Amazon announced Kindle book sales had overtaken hardcover sales and had predicted Kindle books reaching this milestone in the second quarter of this year, so it’s ahead of schedule.”

2.) At a time when libraries are still grappling with understanding the value or application of digital collections, let alone actively developing them –

• December 18th, 2010 the “Larry King Live” program topic was The War Against Cancer, during which guest Michael Milken explained that cancer research is progressing at an exponential rate because of the massive quantities of data available to researchers. “Computers are a million times faster than they were 10 to 15 years ago. We have the computing capacity now to deal with numbers that we are dealing with number of cells, one trillion calculations a second. So we can test every single thing today. What we only could have dreamed of doing when I started working on cancer research more than 30 years ago, we can do today in an hour or an afternoon. It is a totally different world today.” [Emphasis added.]

• January 26th, 2011 ReadWriteWeb published The Battle Against Info-Overload: Is Relevance or Popularity the Best Filter? Nick Halstead is the founder of Twitter-tracking service Tweetmeme and data mining startup DataSift. “We used to think of relevance as matching a query with a result, in most part via search engines performing keyword searches. And popularity was based on single metrics (such as Pagerank [by Google]) that were based on global behavior. What is evolving is the next evolution of both, and both are being changed by the social graph. Relevance is defined now by an understanding of a person’s likes and dislikes – Facebook and Twitter both have immense data on behavioral patterns around what you like. And content is now understood and categorized semantically. So relevance in the future will be determined by how your likes match content.”

3.) At a time when libraries are just beginning to address remote reference transactions –

• June 14th, 2010 New York Times reported, “For the last three years, I.B.M. scientists have been developing what they expect will be the world’s most advanced “question answering” machine, able to understand a question posed in everyday human elocution — “natural language,” as computer scientists call it — and respond with a precise, factual answer. In other words, it must do more than what search engines like Google and Bing do, which is merely point to a document where you might find the answer. It has to pluck out the correct answer itself.”

• December 16th, 2010 NPR published Google Book Tool Tracks Cultural Change With Words on December 16 that reported “Perhaps the biggest collection of words ever assembled has just gone online: 500 billion of them”. Called Culturomics.org, Google’s search tool provides interesting results in terms of word usage over centuries. “The Google Labs N-gram Viewer is the first tool of its kind, capable of precisely and rapidly quantifying cultural trends based on massive quantities of data.”

• Reference should reflect the changing ways users seek and interact with information. QR codes and location services like foursquare can create direct links to reference desks and librarians to facilitate those 21st Century reference transactions.

4.) At a time when libraries are perpetuating 20th Century library services in brick & mortar facilities –

• September 15, 2010, CNN reports FCC heralds a new era of ‘super Wi-Fi’ opening up the “white spaces” in the broadcast spectrum. “It’s “SUPER Wi-Fi! [as FCC] … Chairman Julius Genachowski is calling a new class of bigger-faster-better internet connections. …The spectrum allows signals to travel further, to go through walls, to [transfer] more information — so it’s very robust,” he said in an interview with CNN.com. “Super Wi-Fi has extraordinary potential. What’s as exciting is we have a new platform for innovation and we can’t anticipate what will happen next.” [Emphasis added.]

5.) At a time when librarians are still trying to understand what 21st Century skills they will need to provide relevant library services in the future –

• Look closely at what elementary school kids are being taught, based on the Partnership for 21st Century Skills model regarding ICT (Information, Communications and Technology).
INFORMATION LITERACY
Access and Evaluate Information
•Access information efficiently (time) and effectively (sources)
•Evaluate information critically and competently
Use and Manage Information
•Use information accurately and creatively for the issue or problem at hand
•Manage the flow of information from a wide variety of sources
•Apply a fundamental understanding of the ethical/legal issues surrounding the access and use of information

6.) At a time when libraries are still perpetuating 20th Century library services for “Digital Fugitive” patrons at the expense of neglecting Millennial customers –

• December 15, 2010 FoxNews.com reported Smartphones Going Into Battle, Army Says “What we’re doing is fundamentally changing how soldiers access knowledge, information, training content and operational data.”

• Geosocial Networking is an evolving realm for Millennials. Geosocial networking is a type of social networking in which geographic services and capabilities such as geocoding and geotagging are used to enable additional social dynamics. User-submitted location data can allow social networks to connect and coordinate users with local people or events that match their interests.

7.) At a time when public libraries are struggling to establish an identity in their own community –

• Nov 22, 2010 New Kendall will be library, community center “the new Belle Sherman Kendall Library and Community Center in West Houston. The new $10.8 million building , … represents a new day … for Houston libraries. [The] Mayor … in his remarks, calling Monday a “great day” for the city of Houston. Besides housing a library and a community center, the building will be the first three-story building in the Houston system, and the first to have a drive-up window.

• January 31st, 2011 Could Public Libraries Become The Next Coworking Locations? “When I look at the library locations in Austin, many of the locations are closed at least one day a week. The day that the library is closed, it is sitting there empty – why not allow the location to be used for a meetup or seminar on that day? The library would generate revenue for use of the building (and would include staff person(s) as needed). Many of the libraries I’ve been in have plenty of empty space that can be used for coworking.”

8.) At a time when schools of library and information science should be graduating librarians with 21st Century skills and mindsets –

• January 27th, 2009 ALA’s Office for Accreditation, with approval of the Council of the American Library Association, published its 2008 Standards for Accreditation of Master’s Programs in Library and Information Studies. This is their most current “standards” for accreditation of MLS programs.

Prospective students, employers recruiting professional staff, and the general public concerned about the quality of library and information services have the right to know whether a given program of education is of good standing. By identifying those programs meeting recognized standards, the Committee offers a means of quality control in the professional staffing of library and information services.

I.2 Mission, Goals, and Objectives [of an accredited program will contain]
Program objectives are stated in terms of student learning outcomes to be achieved and reflect
I.2.1 the essential character of the field of library and information studies; that is, recordable information and knowledge, and the services and technologies to facilitate their management and use, encompassing information and knowledge creation, communication, identification, selection, acquisition, organization and description, storage and retrieval, preservation, analysis, interpretation, evaluation, synthesis, dissemination, and management.

The Standards are indicative, not prescriptive, with the intent to foster excellence through the development of criteria for evaluating educational effectiveness. Pg. 4 [Emphasis added.]

But they are not alone –

• January 18, 2011 New Book Lays Failure to Learn on Colleges’ Doorsteps. “A book released today makes a damning indictment of the American higher-education system: For many students, it says, four years of undergraduate classes make little difference in their ability to synthesize knowledge and put complex ideas on paper.”

9.) At a time when libraries need a new appeal to funding decision-makers to support citizens’ needs for library services –

• October 17th, 2010 the 21st Century Library “message” of the American Library Association was “READ”. ALA admits that “Why do we need libraries when all the information in the world is on the internet?” It’s a tiresome question that American librarians are still being asked despite all our efforts to explain that libraries are needed now more than ever. It is especially exasperating when the question is being asked by an agency that is funding the library.”

• January 25th, 2011 respected authors like Philip Pullman (The Golden Compass) are publishing defenses of our free libraries (Leave the libraries alone. You don’t understand their value.) in 20th Century terms. “The blame for our current situation goes further back and higher up …. To find the true origin you’d have to go on a long journey back in time, and you might do worse than to make your first stop in Chicago, the home of the famous Chicago School of Economics, which argued for the unfettered freedom of the market and as little government as possible. … I still remember the first library ticket I ever had. It must have been about 1957. My mother took me to the public library …”

10.) At a time when libraries are poised on the brink of a new society being shaped by expanding technology, trying to develop a vision for their future –

•June 30, 2008 Library Journal reported that “It was billed as just a beginning of a look at the future of libraries, but panelists at an American Library Association (ALA) annual conference session in Anaheim, CA, Saturday sure had a lot to say about how libraries and librarians need to move forward now.” [Emphasis added.]

• ALA’s Conclusion, from “Libraries Connect Communities: Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study 2009–2010”, “Data from the 2009-2010 Study describe a mixed landscape and paradoxical environment. Libraries have expanded technology resources, particularly around workforce development and e-government, to meet rising demand, but many are hampered by outmoded buildings and funding reductions that threaten every aspect of service, including available staff and hours open. Public libraries need sustained support for their services to ensure that the safety net they provide to millions in the United States remains in place.”

These are just 10 of MANY reasons to believe that the technology and societal changes faced by any 21st Century Library are NOT INCREMENTAL. They are unquestionably DISCONTINUOUS and drastic changes that require discontinuous thinking by the unreasonable man and woman librarian.

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