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Posted: March 23, 2012

The once and future library: Part 3

The coming of the cloud

Thomas Frey

(Editor's note: This is the last of a three-part series. Read Part 1 and Part 2.)

In June 2011, Steve Jobs made his final public appearance at a software developer’s conference to unveil iCloud; a service that many believe will become his greatest legacy.

As Jobs envisioned it, the entire universe of songs, books, movies, and a variety of other information products would reside in iCloud and could be “pulled down” whenever someone needed to access it.

People would initially purchase the product through iTunes, and Apple would keep a copy of it in iCloud. So each subsequent purchase by other Apple users would be a quick download directly from iCloud.

Whether or not the information universe develops in the cloud like Jobs has envisioned, libraries will each need to develop their own cloud strategy for the future.

As an example, at a recent library event I was speaking at, one librarian mentioned she had just ordered 50 Kindles and 50 Nooks for their library. At the time, she was dealing with the restrictions from publishers that only allowed them to load each digital book on 10 devices. So which devices get the content in the end?

Over time, it’s easy to imagine a library with 350 Kindles, 400 iPads, 250 Nooks, 150 Xooms, and a variety of other devices. Keeping track of which content is loaded on each device will become a logistical nightmare. However, having each piece of digital content loaded in the cloud and restricting it to 10 simultaneous downloads will be far more manageable.

The Value of the Community Archive

What was your community like in 1950, or for that matter in 1850 or even 1650? What role did your community play during the Civil War? How active was it during the Presidential elections of 1960? How did local people react to the bombing of Pearl Harbor?

We have access to plenty of history books that give us the “official story” of all the major events throughout history. But understanding the intersection of our city, our village, or our community with these earth-changing events has, for the most part, never been captured or preserved. In the future, this will become one of the most valuable functions provided by a community library.

Libraries have always had a mandate to archive the records of their service area, but it has rarely been pursued with more than passing enthusiasm. Archives of city council meetings and local history books made the cut, but few considered the library to be a good photo or video archive.

Over time, many of the newspapers, radio, and television stations will begin to disappear. As these businesses lose their viability, their storerooms of historical broadcast tapes and documents will need to be preserved. More specifically, every radio broadcast, newspaper, and television broadcast will need to be digitized and archived.

With the advent of iCloud and other similar services libraries will want to expand their hosting of original collections, and installing the equipment to digitize the information. The sale of this information to the outside world through an iTunes-like service could become a valuable income stream for libraries in the future.

Final Thoughts

Libraries, much like any living breathing organism, will have to adapt to the complex nature of the ever-changing world of information. As information becomes more sophisticated and complex, so will libraries.

Libraries are here to stay because they have a survival instinct. They have created a mutually dependent relationship with the communities they serve, and most importantly, they know how to adapt to the changing world around them.

I am always impressed with the creative things being done in libraries. As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” There are a lot of beautiful dreams taking place that will help form tomorrow’s libraries.

Thomas Frey is the executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker.  At the Institute, he has developed original research studies, enabling him to speak on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities. Tom continually pushes the envelope of understanding, creating fascinating images of the world to come.  His talks on futurist topics have captivated people ranging from high level of government officials to executives in Fortune 500 companies including NASA, IBM, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Unilever, GE, Blackmont Capital, Lucent Technologies, First Data, Boeing, Ford Motor Company, Qwest, Allied Signal, Hunter Douglas, Direct TV, Capital One, National Association of Federal Credit Unions, STAMATS, Bell Canada, American Chemical Society, Times of India, Leaders in Dubai, and many more. Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer.

Enjoy this article? Sign up to get ColoradoBiz Exclusives. The opinions expressed in this article are solely that of the author and do not represent ColoradoBiz magazine. Comments on articles will be removed if they include personal attacks.

Readers Respond

You've given this public librarian some food for thought, for sure. My one concern is the suggestion of charging for access. This, for the most part, is something that public libraries try not to do - people have already paid for the library, materials, and services with their tax dollars, and free access is an important principle for us. (And even a free-to-borrow, but pay-to-keep model for digital items gets messy when you throw copyright concerns in there.) I'm sure there is a workable solution here somewhere, though. As I said, good food for thought. By leems on 2012 03 26
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