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Notes from the Executive Director – January 2018

The end of one year and the beginning of the next always seem to spark a certain pensiveness for me. I look back at the year that’s just ending and think about our accomplishments and our “might have beens”. 2017 saw plenty of them. I have a grab-bag of topics that came up in the past year and seem likely to return in 2018.

Linked data. I wrote about linked data in May and nothing that’s happened in the last seven months changes my view that linked data will transform the way we librarians think about metadata and how we make our collections discoverable. But since I wrote that column, I’ve run into quite a number of people who wonder why we aren’t seeing more library materials in search engine results. Isn’t linked data working? It seems the inevitable counter-revolution is in full swing, and we have entered the Trough of Despair. I first encountered Gartner’s Hype Cycle quite a few  years ago and found that it accurately reflects reality more often than not. I really hope we don’t lose our way by becoming disillusioned because of the initial hype. We need to keep working at it to get to the Plateau of Productivity. The benefits to our users will be enormous. I’ll be keeping my eye on linked data and its continued deployment throughout 2018.

Blockchain. Is this the Next Big Thing that kicks-off the Hype Cycle? Maybe. Like linked data, blockchain is technology that could have a big impact on us and our users. Blockchain is the distributed database system that undergirds Bitcoin cryptocurrency transactions. Several months ago, I began to  wonder whether there was an application for blockchain in libraries as a way to securely store information about patrons and track the movement of items in and out of libraries. In effect, a new way to circulate materials. I kicked it around with one of the techie librarians here at MCLS. We thought “yes” but decided that neither of us knew enough to say for sure. Well, perhaps we weren’t completely off-base. In the December 4 issue of Library Hotline, I read about IMLS awarding a grant to San Jose State University iSchool to study the use of blockchains in libraries. SJSU has several events planned for 2018. A blog is up and running now. Here’s another potentially disruptive technology to watch in 2018.

Change management. Ever since MCLS began to use the community engagement framework from The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, I’ve been intrigued with its potential for managing significant organizational change in libraries. Lately, I’ve been hearing more about Appreciative Inquiry, which seems to be a change management tool that dovetails nicely with the Harwood model. Like the Harwood approach, Appreciative Inquiry starts the change process by looking at the positive and the aspirations that stakeholders have. The focus is moved from problem-solving, which can be an energy-sapping approach to change management. As libraries evolve to meet the rising expectations from their communities, positive approaches like Appreciative Inquiry and Harwood fit the bill for helping us design creative and exciting services.

Graying librarians. I think we’re going to hear a lot more about this again. In the early part of the century, there was a steady drumbeat of articles about the high average age of librarians and the impending wave of librarian vacancies. The wave didn’t materialize. Now it looks like it might have been just a bit late in arriving. I expect we’ll see more articles like this one in the next couple of years.

I have no doubt that 2018 will bring surprises. We need only look at the last 12 months to see one astonishment after another. It wasn’t all pretty, and brought a good deal of worry and concern. But we still open our libraries every day. We still meet our users’ needs. We still prepare for the future as best we can. May 2018 see us continuing down the path to better and more inspiring libraries in all our communities.