Welcome to the Electronic Outpost

Even before the mass popularity of book readers, libraries will experiment with a version of the digital library I’ve termed the Electronic Outpost. Traditional books require vast amounts of library staff time, with sorting and organizing often coupled with repairs and replacement. So it begs the question, what would a library without books look like?

Think of an Electronic Outpost as a type of library that is designed to inspire the mind, serve as a place for intellectual spontaneity, a safe haven for creative ideas, where visionary thinkers can go for solitude and support. Sometimes they will serve as the branch of an existing public library, other times as a specialty library in support of specific groups or organizations. Size, shape, and purpose will vary.

Some may fit well in shopping centers while others may be better suited to function as stand-alone buildings. A few may be very small, others quite large. Many will be planned with a homey, living room-like feel to them, while others will go with a more eclectic atmosphere to inspire industry-specific thoughts. Electronic Outposts will evolve over time around the core services most relevant to a particular user group.

As communities begin to experiment, the Electronic Outpost will evolve to serve a different role than that of a traditional branch library.

The emerging library-business relationship

Several major shifts are happening in business, and this will cause a change in the way business will be conducted in the future. Libraries need to pay close attention to these shifts because they signal new frontiers in both opportunity and constituency.

1.) Employment costs are rising. Because of overhead costs associated with hiring people, more and more businesses will work with teams gathered on a project-to-project contract basis.

2.) With the tools available on the Internet, far more power and control is being placed into the hands of the individual.

3.) Fewer businesses require people to physically move to accept a job. Consequently, shifting positions frequently is far less disruptive.

The trend I see is business moving toward a much more organic style of operation where available talent will form around specific projects, and once completed, will disband and form around the next opportunity.

Libraries and information services will become central to the Empire of One style of business and Business Colonies, which I discuss below, will begin to spring up around the country.

Empire of One

The traditional solo business is a one-person practice, most often a professional service well suited for lawyers, accountants and doctors. However, a new breed of solo business has emerged that allows people to leverage the power of the Internet and control a vast empire from their home office or wherever they happen to be. Across the world, thousands of people are giving birth to what I call an “Empire of One.”

An Empire of One business is a one-person operation (though, sometimes a married couple) with far-reaching spheres of influence. Typically the business out-sources everything – information products marketed and sold online, or products manufactured in China or India, sent to a distribution center in the US, with customers in the UK and Brazil. Manufacturing, marketing, bookkeeping, accounting, legal needs, and operations are all outsourced to other businesses around the world.

In addition to product based businesses, other Empire of One models will include coaching and consulting businesses, freelancers, Internet-based businesses, solo practitioners and much more.

Yes, much of this has been done before, but a person’s ability to leverage talent and products across country lines, and still maintain control of a vast and virtual empire is refreshingly new.
The Empire of One business model is one with great appeal to former corporate executives with global contacts and ability to manage far-flung operations remotely.

Over 80 percent of all new startups will be created by this kind of lifestyle entrepreneur – people who’ve gone into business to take more control over their own lives and to build a lifestyle that suits them. Health and happiness have replaced wealth as the new mantra of the mid-life professional. Fifty-seven percent of the work force now insists they will not take on the extra stress associated with greater responsibility even if it means more money.

Once economies improve, middle-age workers searching for meaning and significance in their lives will cause an exponential increase in this type of business in the years ahead.

Business colonies

Business will become more fluid with talent and projects converging for short periods of time. In the way the movie industry works, where a single movie project will attract camera people, script writers, lighting and sound people, actors, and makeup artists, the Empire of One will attract various skills for temporary assignment. Once the project is complete, team members will disband and form around other projects.

One-person operations involve numerous challenges that not all individuals are equipped to handle. As a support mechanism for their growing numbers, business colonies will begin to form around such diverse industrial sectors as photonics, nanotech, biotech, IT niches and many more.

Often times the colonies will form to support large corporate players in a specific industry. As an example, companies like Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo could easily spawn gamer colonies as a way to drive the development of new games for their consoles.

Over the next few years, experimental colonies will proliferate, testing a variety of operational and support systems. Individual members of the colonies will be drawn to the prospects of steady project flow. Project leads will be attracted to the available talent pools. And host cities will be most interested in generating jobs and employment for their constituencies.

Libraries are a natural partner for business colonies. The need for information services, research assistance, as well as meeting place and work space will form the foundational underpinnings for the library-business colony relationship.

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Tools of production

In his 2006 book The Long Tail, WIRED Magazine Editor Chris Anderson asserted, “When the tools of production are available to everyone, everyone becomes a producer.”

People are no longer satisfied with information flowing one way. They want to participate in it, add their own contributions, and claim a stake.

To accomplish this, libraries need to expand their technical offerings, make themselves tools of production. These tools will allow visitors to transition from readers to writers, from listeners to composers, from television watchers to television producers.

We are in the midst of a new age of experimentation for libraries. While funding may fall short, the outlook could not be brighter for a library full of the creative idea-people who will reshape commerce and business. Here are some examples of new library functions:

•Podcast Studios: Audio capture and audio editing stations will enable beginners to create podcasts and post them online.

•Video Studios: The video version of podcasting with video capture and video editing stations. These studios will create their own center of gravity, attracting a wide spectrum of creative people who hope to bring their ideas come to life.

•Virtual World Stations: With over 400 companies competing in the area of virtual worlds such as Second Life, these emerging alternate realities are where future business will be conducted.

•Gamer Stations: Even though elitists think of games as parasites sucking the life out of our children’s brains, much learning happens inside these games, and it is a cultural phenomenon that needs to be nurtured.

•Search Command Center: People who come to libraries are searching for information. Sometimes it’s an exploratory mission with only vague notions about what they are looking for, at other times patrons have a laser-like precision in their search for specific data points. But invariably they will need help, and the Search Command Center is intended to be a central feature for a visitor’s first-contact.

•Mini-Theater: With the huge amount of effort being directed toward video today, and kids as young as 5-years old as well as great-great grandparents learning how to shoot and edit videos, the missing piece is often a room large enough for a small group to view the final production. Mini-theaters will quickly become a social gathering center with demand growing to fill the available time slots.

•Cyber Cafe: Many of the visitors will be largely focused on finding an open terminal and getting onto the Internet. This is an opportunity. Libraries may want to adopt the look and feel of a casual, yet artsy, cyber-cafe. With this design, people will be looking for the perfect balance between privacy and inclusion, efficiency and randomness, and purpose and spontaneity. Coffee kiosks and food services, either operating as in-house library services or as adjacent businesses annexed to the library, can serve to complement the casual atmosphere.

•Daycare Facilities: Libraries tend to have a unique symbiotic relationship with daycare centers. Because of the strict rules governing daycare operations, pay-for-service daycares are best housed off premises with separate staff and management. However, by leveraging library resources and aligning them with the needs of the community, a daycare facility can provide a win-win service to fit the needs of many library users.

Aligning service with need is key. Supporters don’t hesitate to fund things they find important. How do you increase the relevancy of the library service offering? The ultimate “library of the future” for your community is a home of highly relevant informational experiences, where great ideas are born, and people find tools and facilities to act on their ideas.

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