Keynote Speaker: The Future of the Digital Library

Submmited by Jocelyne Andrews


The ABQLA conference got off to a rocking start with a thought-provoking and inspiring talk by Sarah Houghton, best known as the blogging Librarian in Black. We were very happy to welcome her as the newly-minted Director of the San Rafael Public Library. She opened with the hands-on (or rather, brains-on) suggestion to ask the following question: What are the top three things you would want libraries to be? And then: Start a discussion with your colleagues - her very valid point being the urgent need to reaffirm core values and goals, in our fast-paced environments which tend to have us reacting to circumstances and not acting from our basic principles.



What are these values? Sarah’s list, which set the tone for the rest of her session, included:

• complete and balanced collections and services
• free and equitable access without judgment
• information privacy and security (especially in light of recent legislation)
• help with research, particularly for more complex queries

Some of these suggestions were practical, she reminded us:

• remember our online-only users who will become an ever-larger proportion in future
• not to keep advertising books since everyone knows we have them (so true!)
• to check whether digital materials work on various devices
• and to, “Go mobile or go home”



In the remainder of her presentation, through a range of well-chosen examples that provided a great summary of current and near-future technological realities for libraries, Sarah explained how we can and should use our fundamental values to help people navigate their ever-more fragmented online (and often offline) lives.


Other examples were a window into the already-present future such as the inevitable ubiquity of touch screens (even as wall paint), 3D printing and viewing, and augmented reality, particularly as a pathway to material that only your library has.


In closing, Sarah suggested another excellent question that we should be asking ourselves and our users: What would make their lives easier? The answer to this could be anything from keeping up our still very important book collections to offering flexible “creation spaces” for our users who are rapidly moving from being information consumers to proud information creators. The key to all of this is to keep thinking flexibly, and to remember, as Sarah says, that we are “…all frakking awesome!