Monday, April 19, 2010

For New Yorkers: Envisioning Year 2035

This is truly my own opinion and thinking, and not the opinion of the Regents Advisory Council on Libraries or any other person or organization.

We used to laugh a lot
But only because we thought
That everything good always would remain
Nothing's gonna change there's no need to complain
"Losing Hope" -- Jack Johnson

Today Bridget Quinn-Carey (Council chair), John Monihan, Jerry Nichols, Mary Muller and myself traveled to Albany for the Regents Advisory Council on Libraries annual meeting with the NYS Regents Cultural Education Committee. We were accompanied by Deputy Commissioner for Cultural Education Jeffrey Cannell and members of the State Library.  Regents in attendance included James Dawson (chair), Karen Brooks Hopkins, Joseph Bowman and Charles Bendit. Regent Bendit will be joining the Cultural Education Committee in July.  Regents Phillis and Tilles were absent.  (One was sick while the other was attending a different committee meeting.)

The Council's report pointed out what we all know -- libraries need funding and support.  Our message was received with compassion and with a splash of "cold water".

The 2010-2011 budget is already late.  If passed with the Governor's budget cuts, libraries will receive their fifth cut to state aid in two years.  That will bring state funding to libraries back to its 1998 level.

It is already anticipated that next year's budget (2011-2012) will be worse than this year's.  The economy is improving in certain areas, but other areas are lagging and that is impacting the government's revenues.

Libraries are not the only cultural education group that is suffering, but as librarians and library workers, we feel our pain the worst.

Questions emerged about pursuing other funding streams (e.g., private funding).  We reminded the Regents that libraries are pursuing a variety of funding sources.  We also know that alternate funding streams aren't available to all libraries, especially small rural libraries where there are few businesses that might support a library with donations, etc.

The most provocative question came from Regent Bendit who asked if we were to start from scratch, how would we envision "the library"?  After the meeting, Regent Bendit, Jeffrey Cannell and I continued that line of thinking and wondered what functions a library might have in 2035 --> 25 years from now. Bendit's thinking is that if we can envision what the goal is, then we can work toward it.  This is classic scenario planning where you create a vision of what you believe will occur (or want to occur) and then figure out the actions that will be needed before that.  The actions might be those that will help that future come into being or will ensure that you (and your organization) are well-position for that future.

As I drove back from Albany, my mind continued to think about 2035.  Yes, we all need to spend time thinking about what libraries will be in 25 years (or at some other point in the future), because it provides a goal that we then can work toward.  Let's remember that it was a long-term goal that got the U.S. to land on the moon in 1969.

We also know that established organizations have a hard time changing, especially if they ignore what the future might bring.  IBM couldn't react the PC developments in a nibble-enough fashion, which had a negative impact on the company.  Microsoft has become less flexible, leaving it unable to compete as effectively as it would like with Google.

With libraries -- as well as museums and archives -- we have established traditions, services, processes and target audiences.  We have buildings and other "inventory" that cannot be changed over night.  We also have a workforce that generally has the same vision for what a library is, as well as library science students in the pipeline who already have framed in their heads a fairly similar vision.  Moving toward 2035 also means that our library educators, library science programs and accreditation guidelines will need to change.

Yup...moving from here to 2035 isn't just saying here's what we need for next year; it's recognizing what steps we need to take each year so that our journal is complete in 25 years.

To help you begin to think about 2035, consider these questions:
  • What will be the demographics in our communities in 2035?
  • What will our environment be like in 25 years?
  • What will the economic forces be?
  • How will people access information, entertainment and news?
  • What will our education system look like?
  • How will students interact with learning material, teachers and classmates?
  • How will people interact with their cultural heritage?
The Regents Advisory Council on Libraries talked briefly after our meeting with the Regents on how we can begin our own envisioning process.  We know that we'll need to include many other people in that process, including other members of the cultural heritage community.  So stay tuned...or...better yet...think about 2035 and share your thoughts with us!  Feel free to leave a comment here or contact a member of the Council.

The lyrics at the top of this blog post played on my car CD player tonight.  What caught my ear was that thought that we always think things will be the same.

Image / CC BY 2.0

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