CULC/CBUC is working collaboratively to develop library service scenarios and to work as a group at being well positioned to continue to delivery exemplary library service to the citizens they serve.

To that end the group has spent time looking at various components of what library service will look like in the future. One of the first steps was to develop baseline assumptions for planning. The following is what the group worked with in the Autumn of 2009 as baseline assumptions. This document is courtesy of Hamilton Public Library (Ken Roberts, CEO).

Assumptions About the Next Decade

When planning for the future, we all carry certain assumptions in our heads. Writing these assumptions allows for unspoken factors that influence decisions to be shared. Assumptions, in planning processes, are supposed to be the views of experts about external factors that are likely to affect an organization’s future. Assumptions should be few in number and large in scope so that it is possible to keep them in mind. Here are some of the key assumptions:

  1. Governments will find it harder to find funding for services that are not required.

    This is probably our safest assumption. It is being made by almost all analysts. In the library setting, it first appeared, strongly, in the 2005 OCLC report Perceptions of Libraries and Information Resources. The reasoning of analysts is simple. Baby boomers are getting older and health care costs will most certainly increase well above inflation. In addition, governments are expected to post significant deficits for at least the next five years and will have to repay their debts. Financial and demographic trends will create extreme pressures on municipal budgets.

  2. Many library buildings will require major renovations during the next 5 – 10 years.

    Proposed regulations for the Ontarians with Disabilities Act will make it hard for many small and older buildings to continue offering library services. We know that cities such as Hamilton must also invest more heavily in roads and sewers and sewage treatment. While it is possible that the Province of Ontario may give cities a longer timeframe before buildings must comply with new AODA regulations, we cannot count on this possibility.

    We are likely to see more emphasis being placed the development of multi-use facilities so that the support costs of accessible washrooms, etc, can be shared by a number of services.

  3. More people will use even more powerful mobile computers.

    This is a safe assumption. Blackberries and iPhone and other mobile devices such as netbooks are rapidly becoming more powerful and less expensive. Telecom companies are also beginning to offer broadband to mobile devices and to laptop computers, making urban areas extended WiFi zones through normal telecom service.

    It is uncertain what impact this assumption may have on public libraries. It is possible that demand for public access computing may decrease or that people may want to bring mobile computers into the library to use printing capabilities. HP has announced software to enable wireless printing from mobile devices.

  4. Computers will perform or control machines to perform more forms of work.

    Analysts feel this is a safe assumption and also comment that it is a necessity. As baby boomers retire, there will be fewer people working. Many analysts suggest that the only way fewer workers can produce enough income to support baby boomer retirees is through the use of computers and robotics.

  5. Electronic books will form a significant portion of our circulation by 2020.

    Amazon sold an estimated 500,000 Kindles in 2008. Reports indicate that sales have increased in 2009. There are strong indications that electronic readers are being purchased by people who love to read. Here is one such indicator – more people bought an electronic copy of Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol than purchased a print copy on its first day of publication.

    We also know that more and more universities are turning to electronic textbooks as a means of reducing costs for their students. For example, California is purchasing electronic math and science text books for all high school students and expects to save $350,000,000. These trends could see the creation of a generation of students who are even more comfortable with electronic formats and do not need to convert electronic text to print.

    Early indications suggest that many dedicated readers are likely to gravitate to electronic formats. There are several reasons. For example, it is easy to increase the size of print in electronic readers, making more books available to senior citizens and those with sight problems. Ebooks can also be “borrowed” from a library’s website, providing reading material for readers who find it difficult to travel to libraries.

    We assume that printed books will continue to be the prevalent format for fiction but that electronic formats will gain a strong and dedicated following. We assume that ereaders will be more demanding and will expect free access to anything ever published instantly.

    We will have to monitor this assumption closely since the trend is very new. There is a concern that, if ebooks are quickly accepted by more than 10 – 20% consumers, the price of print books may rise and accelerate the move to electronic formats.

  6. Downloadable video will form part of our service mix within 3 – 5 years.

    Several libraries are testing downloadable theatrical video. Downloadable video can only be used in communities where broadband is widely available. Hamilton has excellent bandwidth capabilities, amongst the best in North America.

  7. Public Library will become more involved in creating content and pointing to content created by the general public.

    This is probably the least secure of all assumptions but is still preached by many analysts. The issue is connected to the popularity of YouTube postings, blogs, flickr shared photos, articles and information produced by profit and not-for-profit companies, shared reviews, etc. At present, libraries rarely catalogue or point so such material but customers are increasingly searching for it.

  8. Issues of privacy and intellectual property will become more complex.

    Libraries collect and distribute copyright material. Electronic and new media make it much easier for copyright material to be copied, shared, modified, and edited. At present, new media sites try to avoid responsibility for the ways their customers use or modify copyright material. Copyright and CRTC regulations are attempting to redefine the ways such material can be shared, edited and modified. It is hard to anticipate the affect on public libraries but it is easy to assume there will be impacts.

  9. Current services, methods for proving services and the jobs required to provide services will change repeatedly during the next decade, requiring new leadership styles.

    An increasing number of business articles talk about leadership dilemmas related to constant change. A recent Harvard Business Review article (July–August, 2009) entitled Leadership in a (Permanent) Crisis is illustrative. It argues that change is now constant and that jobs in many organizations will change many times. It suggests that staff are understandably resistant to changes that might affect their sense of job security. It also suggests that, in knowledge-based organizations, change is difficult to accomplish without the willing input and enthusiasm of the very staff whose jobs will change. Leadership articles increasinglysuggest the need for new forms of employer/employee relationship, based less upon duties and responsibilities and more upon the value of skills and competencies that can be used in unanticipated ways.