Top Technology Trends for Libraries and Information Professionals

Later this week I’m taking part in the Internet Librarian International (ILI) Conference in London. In addition to running a workshop and giving a talk on standards I’ll also be taking part in the closing panel session on Top Technology Trends for Libraries and Information Professionals.

What should I say, I wonder? Should I talk about the importance of social tools for resource discovery, using Twitter as an example of a tool whose success was unexpected. Or shall I try and quickly gain an understanding on Google Wave and talk about its potential relevance to information professionals.

But doesn’t this approach simply repeat the technological determinism which the postdigital advocates point out has continually failed to deliver on its promises.

Instead I’m intending to take today’s environment as the starting point and explore how technological developments promise to take us towards a better world – in the 1990s.

Today’s Networked Environment

How can we summarise today’s environment, which provides the starting point for a journey towards the past? Let’s mention a few examples.

Twitter: It might be appropriate for event aimed at the Library community to begin by talking about the success of Twitter, not only for providing community support but as a mechanism for resource sharing and resource discovery – yes, Twitter now seems to be a very effective tools for sharing links with one’s friends and colleagues.

Lightweight development: We now hear developers being critical of large-scale funding initiatives, preferring instead small amounts of funding to support rapid development work. The JISC’s recent Rapid Innovation Grants provided an example of a funding body recognising the benefits of such an approach.

Barcamps, Bathcamps, Hackfests, …: Proponents of light-weight development approaches also feel that meeting up with like-minded people, perhaps at weekends, can be a useful way of supporting one’s professional activities (and in the case of the recent Bathcamp, the weekend away also involved camping!)

Crowdsourcing: Examples such as the crowdsourcing of the digitisation of MP’s expenses claims, Galaxy Zoo, reCaptcha and other examples provide further illustrations of today’s networked environment, in which enthusiasts, who need not be developers, can achieve benefits which previously may not have been felt to be achievable without significant expenditure.

There is, of course, a political and social context to this technical environment – and, especially, for those working in the public sector, the context is the gloomy economic situation, an expectation that things will get even worse and a likely change of government in the near future.

Looking Forward to the 1990s

Let’s assume that, due to a malfunctioning (time) portal, we, like Benjamin Button, find ourselves being taken backwards in time, in our case towards the 1990s. How might the networked environment I have summarised above develop? Here are my predictions:

Twitter: The sceptics who argued that Twitter doesn’t have a sustainable business model will be proved correct. The Twitter service will die and, despite an attempt by Facebook to provide a simple type of service using its Status updates, the concept of ‘micro-blogging’ will disappear. The resulting productivity gains will be instrumental in helping the Twittering nations to move out of the global recession.

Lightweight development: The limitations of lightweight development approaches and simple (some say simplistic) formats such as RSS become apparent and, despite providing interesting exemplars, fail to provide an infrastructure for serious significant development work. ‘Enterprise development’ becomes the new ‘lightweight development’ and large-scale Content Management Systems become the popular with organisations facing pressures from their peers to deploy such technologies.

Barcamps, Bathcamps, Hackfests, …: The growth in large-scale enterprise development environment (accompanied by pressure from friends and families to achieve a more healthy work/life balance) brings to an end the culture of the amateur hacker and events such as barcamps, bathcamps and hackfests.

Crowdsourcing: The importance of the professional in the development of high quality networked services goes beyond the developer community. The failure of amateurs to provide the required levels of quality for digitisation, metadata standards, etc. results in an appreciation of the merits of the professional. Librarians and related information professionals become critical in the development of sustainable networked services.

Of course, as with many technological predictions, this vision of the 1990s is an optimistic one. Not only does the demise of social networks lead to an emphasis on real-world friends and relationships, but the political and economic environment will also see tremendous improvements – indeed I predict that in 10 years, or possibly 12 years time (say 1997), we will be very pleased with our political and economic situation and positive about the benefits that the future will bring.


This post was influenced by the post-digital session which Dave White facilitated and Rich Hall as part of the fringe (#falt09) activities around the ALT-C 2009 conference. In a blog post about the session Dave White felt that “After the fringe session I was even more convinced that the post-digital was a useful concept but that we hadn’t found the right way of expressing it yet.

John Maeda has described how “Recently I have had the sense that no matter what new digital territory may arise, we end up where we first began – back in an infinite loop. My instinctive response to this personal perception has been to proclaim a new effort to escape to the post digital . . . which I am certain lies in the past.

Can we gain a better appreciation of our perhaps naive expectations of the benefits of technological developments by, as John suggests, looking back into the past?

Twitter conversation from Topsy: [View]