What could libraries look like in 30 years?

I’m slightly drunk and blogging. Dangerous, I know. We had our last lecture for The Digital Information Environment tonight, and then we went to the pub.

The lecture was on¬†digital disruption, and how technology will change our worklives in the future. There’s been a rather enjoyable dynamic in these subject, where the lecturer is excited about the possibilities of new technology, and I played the curmudgeonly sceptic.

It’s a fun role, and a useful one, but it misrepresents my position. I am excited by technology; I plan to build my career around Making Things Better With IT.

On train home, I was reading Twitter, and saw this tweet:

It felt like synchronicity. What would I love the world to be like in 30 years? What would I like libraries to be like? I replied:

You know. Basic lefty idealist stuff.

And then, because I was drunk, I started playing a game: What could libraries look like in 30 years?

Libraries could look like Facebook:

  • a place to share and comment
  • you go there because your friends are there

Libraries could look like forests:

  • green and renewable
  • a place of rest and contemplation
  • always growing, always changing

Libraries could look like hospitals:

  • general services and specialist services
  • 24 hour emergency assistance
  • you come out better than when you went in

Libraries could look like churches:

  • the heart of the community
  • a place to feed our need to be part of something bigger than ourselves
  • the first libraries were temples

That’s as far as I got. I was drunk, and the train ride is short. But Brie Code had replied to me. She said:

In class, we had been discussing the digital readiness¬†gap¬†– the gap between those who are confident and skilled at using IT, and those who aren’t. We’d talked very broadly about whether libraries might have a role in closing that gap (my hero Jessamyn West has¬†a few things to say about that).

That discussion¬†combined with Brie’s tweet to give me an idea: PLAYTIME FOR GROWN-UPS. A one hour session once a month at the local library where adults can come and just play with gadgets, to overcome their fear and their reluctance and get comfortable with the tech.

This is something you could run for staff as professional development, as a way of staying on top of technological change.

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Libraries without Buildings

I had coffee with Ben Conyers last week. He’s the Manager of Service Delivery and Design at the¬†State Library of Victoria.

The State Library is about to undergo a massive redevelopment project called Vision 2020. The goal is to make the layout of the library more welcoming, easier to understand, and to accommodate the many different ways patrons use the library.

It’s an ambitious project. Ben was part of the team that came up with the new design. They won an international Good Design award in 2015 for their efforts.

The Library without a Building

Vision 2020 is an impressive achievement. But over coffee, Ben told me something else that he was thinking about: what would the library look like if it didn’t have a building?

That idea has been circling around my brain ever since.

I’ve previously come up with a working definition of a library as a¬†location where a community can engage with information.

But what if it wasn’t a location?

What if the library came out to the community, instead of the community coming in to the library?

Google is a research tool that comes out to the community. Netflix is a video library that comes out to the community. What would a library that came out to the community look like? Trove?

It’s a thought-provoking question.

I don’t have the knowledge or experience to answer it. Not yet. That’s why I’m studying Information Management. But¬†it’s a question to add to my list.

The Ideas Box

Three days later: someone on Twitter links to an article called Library of the future: 8 technologies we would love to see. Number 6 is a mobile library centre like the Ideas Box from Bibliothèques Sans Frontières.

The Ideas Box is a portable library, education and entertainment centre. Its contents are customisable, but they can include 250 books, 50 e-readers, a projector and HD screen for movies, an internet uplink, and a complete local copy of the Khan Academy and Wikipedia for offline access. It also includes chairs, cushions, mats and tables. It can be set up within 20 minutes. And all of this fits onto two shipping pallets in brightly coloured cases designed by Philippe Starck.

It was originally developed for refugee camps. Bibliothèques Sans Frontières plan to expand them out to remote Indigenous Australian communities, and American college campuses.

It’s a general purpose design for a library that goes out into the community.

I could imagine a library creating several boxes with different themes: a History Box, an Indigenous Culture Box, and Science and Technology Box, that could be booked to visit schools, festivals and existing community centres.

Or perhaps some of the designs could be reworked into a modern update of the mobile library.


I’m pretty excited about the Ideas Box. So much so I need to step back and ask some hard questions. There a long history of NGOs developing flashy ideas to save the world, and then those projects quietly dying in the field (see: Stop Trying to Save the World).

Some questions to ask when evaluating a product like this are:

  • How much does each box cost?
  • How much maintenance do they require? How much maintenance can be done in-field, and how much requires the boxes be returned to base?
  • Do people actually use them? Are there any statistics?
  • In what ways do the boxes empower the client community, and in what ways (if any)¬†do¬†they make the¬†community dependent on external parties such as NGOs or suppliers?
  • Are there other solutions already in place? Would we be better off supporting them instead of reinventing the wheel?

I don’t have the answers to these questions yet. I only found out Ideas Boxes existed a couple of hours ago.

There is a section on the Ideas Box website on their impact. Google Scholar returns a few more articles, but I need to do some more research.

Fortunately, the Ideas Box is a perfect technology for me to discuss in one of my university assignments. ūüôā

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The Balancing Act

I found out tonight that an assignment I thought was due in two weeks is actually due in one.

I feel like a real uni student now.

Fortunately, I’ve been plugging away steadily at this assignment, so finishing it will be more dignified trot than panicked sprint.

A sensible student would probably be spending these spare minutes I have now working on the assignment rather than blogging. But I wanted to reflect on why I messed up the due dates, and how I can improve on that in the future.

The first question is easy: I’m juggling a lot of balls at the moment, and I took my eye off one of them.

The second question is harder. I made a calendar for uni. I just hadn’t checked it recently. I’d literally been too busy working on assignments to refresh my memory of when they were due.

The easy answer here is maybe I need to put a reminder in my phone every Sunday night to check my calendars and plan my work for the next few weeks. That’s not overly burdensome.

I’ll try it and see.

One of the goals I’ve set myself for the year is¬†balance work, study, health, relationships and creativity. And as I explained to my psychologist, that’s not a static balance like rock balancing. It’s an active process like surfing. The situation is fluid. You need to focus on your destination, while being¬†flexible about how you get there.

And that’s where I ran out of surfing metaphors¬†because I am a nerd.

Actually, I suspect that balancing all those aspects of my life is going to be less like surfing and more like spreadsheeting. I just need to schedule at least some time for everything, and accept that it will never quite be enough.

We chip away at things, one step at at a time, and eventually the mountain is climbed.

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OCLC and speeding trains

Second week of my Information Management course, and I feel like I’m laying down train tracks while the train races up behind me.

I’ve been sick the last week and half, so I missed the first lecture and tutorial of my Information Discovery subject. Thank god for recorded lectures and online subject notes.

I’m still a bit under the weather, but I made it to class tonight. Which is good–this subject is bit like being in front of one of those tennis ball machines set on maximum rate of fire. Tonight was mostly a list of search tools, from Trove to Google Arts & Culture.

Somewhere in that spray WorldCat was mentioned, and the cooperative behind it, OCLC.

I hadn’t heard of OCLC before, and now I think I want to work for them.

WorldCat is a worldwide catalogue of library collections. Libraries share their catalogues with WorldCat, and users can then search the collections of libraries in their community and thousands more around the world.

OCLC is the Open Computer Library Center. In their own words: OCLC is a global library cooperative that provides shared technology services, original research and community programs for its membership and the library community at large. 

This matches perfectly with my career goal: to explore how can we use IT to improve access to library collections and services?

Some of their products include:

  • OCLC WorldShare Management Services¬†– a cloud based library services platform
  • WorldCat Local¬†– a web-scale discovery solution
  • CONTENTdm¬†– helps to make digital collections available on the Web
  • VDX¬†– a document delivery and interlending management system

They also have a Research site, which I’ll read in all that ample spare time I have these days.

First article on the list: The Library in the Life of the User: Engaging with People Where They Live and Learn. and its supplement Integrating the Library in the Life of the User: An Annotated Bibliography of Practical Ideas.

You know. On top of my assigned reading for class.


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Zines, libraries & privacy issues

Some interesting discussion about zines and contextual privacy: a zinemaker might be happy to share their full name in the context of a limited run zine, but less happy to have it on a publically searchable internet catalogue.


Zines are usually devoted to specialized and often unconventional subject matter. They are often a vehicle for radical voices. They could be a political zine, a feminist zine, an LGBT zine and so on. They are ephemeral in nature, and often have very small print-runs.

The idea of privacy and trackless searching/use is often a very important principle for infoshops

Not all zine makers want their names listed on the internet

There’s a risk that easy availability of information about zine makers, and those who are interested in their zines could be used to flag people up to the authorities.

There‚Äôs a need for searching and using the library with a degree of privacy and untraceability (‚Äúrather than give the government fodder to harass them‚ÄĚ (Hedtke, 2007 p41)

There are a number of examples of people talking of setting up separate public and private catalogues in order to…

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Old Trams and Unexpected Libraries

One of my “one day when I’m rich” ideas is to buy an old tram and convert it into a library.

The least likely part of this is, apparently, not me becoming rich, it’s buying an old tram. Because the old trams are heritage listed, and the internet is full of people who’d love to get their hands on one and complaining loudly that they can’t.

I can’t summarise the situation better than the user 547M did on the railpage.com.au forums:

Unused W class trams are kept at Newport Workshops.

They are under an order from the National Trust and have been gathering dust and bird guano for many years in East Block, I believe.  The fleet stored there is often raided for spare parts to keep the existing fleet in operation Рmost of the bodies are age-damaged on frames which would probably not be allowed on any system.

They’ve been heritage-listed en masse and prevented from going outside Victoria. So no trams to Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide or Perth museums. Bylands, Bendigo and Ballarat have all the Ws they want.

It is not known if they are available for purchase; about 8 years ago the asking price was around $5600 Рwhere Z class trams have been  (or currently available for purchase) around the $8000 mark Рhowever, these are not any reliable benchmark figures.  At this point in time, basically, the W class trams are trapped for all eternity in Newport Workshops until another place to store them is found.

Australian Train Movers had the contract for disposal of the superseded Z class retired trams. See http://www.a-tm.com.au/saletram.html

A full list of stored trams (168) is available on Vicsig

There’s a Herald-Sun article about the old W-class trams being left to rot at the Newport station.

If you’re a tram fan like me, then the Melbourne Tram Museum is a much happier place and well worth a visit. I highly recommend it – it’s like entering a¬†cross between Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries and the TARDIS. Even just the smell – old leather, wood, iron – is amazing.

Anyway, libraries…

Here’s a fun list of libraries in unusual locations, including the Leo¬†Tolstoy express between Moscow and Helsinki, and in a tank/bookmobile¬†Weapon of Mass Instruction by Argentinian artist Raul Lemesoff.

Maybe I can buy a train carriage instead…

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What is a library, the 5 Laws of the Library, and being behind in my studies before I’ve even started…

It’s the first week of my Information Management degree. And I’ve been so sick I had to miss classes.

So I’m behind¬†already. Yay?

Fortunately, RMIT films every lecture, and makes all the course material available online. So I watched the lecture for LIBR1085 Information Discovery this morning, and now I just need to do the tute assignment and read through the first assignment and…


One thing I still need to get my head around is how I’m going to take notes from lectures.

I’m not taking notes just so I can regurgitate facts in an exam. I’m taking notes so I can understand the concepts, so I can¬†apply them professionally, so I can be good at being a librarian.

Which means¬†my note taking during lectures should be about flagging important concepts to remember later. And then “later” should be writing up those concepts, with a short summary, some reflections on why it’s important, and some ideas of how it applies in a professional context.

I’m not sure if this blog is the best place to do this, or the website we’ve set up as part of The Digital Information Environment subject.

Some other things I need to do:

  • set up a separate RMIT account on my laptop, so I can keep my study files and webpages separate from my personal ones.
  • work out how much time I need to spend on each subject outside of official class time, and block that time out
  • also: block out some time for additional reading. And start using a “read later” app like Pocket or Instapaper to organise this.


I’ve been mulling over a snappy definition of what is a library for some time. The best answer I’ve come up with is:

A location where a community can engage with information.

It’s a bit vague. And I’ve italicised some of those terms because they really need their own explanations. Maybe that’s a later post.

But I mention it because this week’s lectures included a slide about the different types of Information Agencies, and had this description of libraries on it:

Library: A collection of published items acquired through purchase or donation for the community served by the library. The items are organised according to a system such as the Dewey Decimal System and available for use. They are usually not unique and are therefore replaceable. Published items could be in any format.

I like that ‘available for use’ bit. One of the things I struggled in my definition was distinguishing between libraries and universities, until I settled on a university where you create and pass on¬†information, whereas a library is where you can engage with¬†it. Which is how I interpret ‘available for use’.

Which segues nicely into this week’s Cool Concept I Learnt in Class:


These laws were proposed by Siyali Ramamrita Ranganathan in 1931. They are:

  1. Books are for use.
  2. Every reader his / her book.
  3. Every book its reader.
  4. Save the time of the reader.
  5. The library is a growing organism.

Wikipedia has an excellent expansion on what each of these laws mean, but here’s my quick thoughts:

  1. Books are for use.
    Preservation and protection are important only in that they preserve a work for long-term use.
  2. Every reader his / her book.
    Libraries are for their communities, and should meet their community’s needs.
  3. Every book its reader.
    Popularity is not the same as need: a book with only a small readership can still be vital
  4. Save the time of the reader.
    Help readers find what they want quickly by organising and contextualising your collection
  5. The library is a growing organism.
    Libraries, grow, change, and adapt to server their communities.

Incidentally, Wikipedia tell my that S. R. Ranganathan ‘is considered to be the father of library science, documentation, and information science in India and is widely known throughout the rest of the world for his fundamental thinking in the field. His birthday is observed every year as the National Library Day in India.’

How beautiful is that?

Okay. Enough blather. Things to do…


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