forecasting next generation libraries – scenario planning

I’m participating in the online course-ference Forecasting Next Generation Libraries. We are already in week four but I wanted to back up and share what I learned in week one during a lecture by Joshua Morrill. He talked about the Four Futures Framework and how it can be applied to scenario planning for libraries. Here are my notes from his presentation.

“The library is a disrupted organization inside an institution – the university – that is being reconfigured.” ~ Jim Michalko, OCLC Research

~ why our attempts to predict the future often fail
systems are complex
we are bad at predicting the long-range future because we get fixated on one specific element or goal and miss the bigger picture

~what is scenario planning
“The task is not so much to see what no one has yet seen, but to think about what nobody has yet thought about that which everyone sees.” ~ Schopenhauer

Scenario planning is a tool for strategy, building stories and ideas around a framework to prompt an ongoing conversation. It’s about what could happen, not what will happen.┬áThere are two building blocks for scenario planning: funding climate and adaptability.

~scenarios for library future
This is about growth and reinvention. Funding is favorable and the environment (staff) is agile and innovative. Partnerships keep this library moving forward. The risk is that chasing after new technologies and partnerships do not always pan out.

great expectations
This scenario is about missed opportunities. Morrill described it as “swirling discontent.” The library is doing well financially but is slow to change because of inflexibility, whether internally or externally. Because of this, the campus community support may be starting to erode. The library may be receiving favorable reviews from the community but there has been a decrease in use of services. Lack of innovation may be caused by a lack of leadership or historically focusing on policy and staff preferences over the users’ needs. Complaints about not meeting student or faculty needs go largely ignored. While there is a good change this library can get out of its rut and become more utopian, it does risk having the bottom drop out as perceived value decreases.

origin of species
This is about innovation under stress. Financially, this library may be experiencing cuts or flat budgets but adaptability and promise are strong. There is vision, resolve and creativity within the library staff. The library is beginning to seek valuable partners on campus to help move them forward and maintain the campus perception that it’s a valuable resource. The staff are willing to change they way they have thought about work flow, space, and policies.

To me, Origin of Species is similar to Great Expectations but chooses a more positive perspective. I can see an Origin of Species library that doesn’t make changes quickly enough becoming a Great Expectations. If change is slow, the adaptability of staff will weaken.

Inferno is about stagnation and decline. Morrill calls it a “self feeding firestorm.” Fortunately, most libraries have enough of either finances or adaptability to keep them in less troublesome waters.

Weeks two and three of the course-ference were robust panel discussions about changes in student culture and higher education. Week four moved away from the university to look specifically at the future of libraries. In the coming weeks we’ll be discussing changes in technology and the future of publishing.