What About the Recent Past? Presenting at #citymash; and What About the Future? continued: Further Visions of Tomorrow… Today!

This a blog about a talk which was about a talk that I did at a Library Unconference.

citymashHow it Started

Sometime early this year, April, I think, an event called CityMash, a Libraries and Technology Unconference, was announced for 13th June.  As part of this announcement there was a call for speakers.  I began to think hypothetically about things I could talk about and even suggested an idea in conversation with Kathryn Drumm, one of the event’s organisers.  The idea was to look at predictions people in the past have made about the future of books and to then get those present to make their own predictions.

At this point, though, it really was just hypothetical, something that would be fun if I was able to do such things.

Realising I might be able to pull it off

Three things happened which made me think that, maybe, actually I could do it.

Firstly, I started doing more presentations.  These were something that I had avoided all my life – in GCSE English Language I opted to do some “acting” rather than a five minute talk; while at University I kept quiet throughout an entire module in which everyone was meant to do a seminar presentation and somehow got away without doing one.

Presentations had entered my life, however, via the Staff Development Group last year and by the time I was thinking about doing this talk, I had given a presentation in the Information and Management policy module on my Library Science course and done one for a job interview, plus I was lined up to present at the Staff Development Day.  Suddenly, doing a presentation seemed less daunting.  The only issue was having something to talk about beyond a bare outline.

Then, in April we received an Inter-Library Loan request for an article titled, The Victorian Walkman from King’s College London.  I read it and thought, “Oooh, my, that’s interesting!”  For the article was all about reactions to the invention of the phonogram and how late Victorians thought it would mark the end of the print book…

Initially though, I thought, having missed my final LAPIS (Libraries and Publishing in an Information Society) lecture, that I could use this to write an interesting alternative blog.  Which I did, but never published.

Finally, Dominic Allington-Smith published an interesting blog about his dissertation which inspired me to go for it.  And gave me something extra to steal from- I-mean reference.  His dissertation was to look at Paul Otlet, HG Wells and Vannevar Bush’s views from the first half of the 20th century as to the future of information.

With these things occurring and making me feel more confident, I emailed the organisers with my pitch and, because they are a bit mad, they accepted it.  Then my name appeared on the website as a speaker and there was no going back.

Planning it

My pitch had been to give a talk on Past Views on the Future of Books and Libraries before turning over to the audience to work in groups and come up with their own suggestions – I additionally promised to write it up for the #citylis blog for anyone who couldn’t make it.

My planning turned out to be a bit haphazard in some respects.  However, following up on references in Dom’s blog and undertaking a literature search, I found further articles to help flesh out the details beyond what I already had.  Plus, I was able to re-write the blog I mentioned earlier in order to create the first part of my talk.  In the research I found some extra people to talk about too including Evan Goldberg who worked on machines to make microfilm quickly findable.  It did still, mostly come together the night before as I finished typing up my notes and threw together some slides.

Doing it

The day itself was a bit scary.  I forgot some of the articles I was using as prompts and had to go into the office to print them out, freaking Chris the security man out a little.
I went to a couple of talks in the morning but didn’t totally take them in, worrying as I was about doing it.  In a way I wasn’t too worried, mind.  I was clashing with a 3D printer and a systems librarian in a Star Trek uniform so wasn’t really expecting an audience as these seemed more exciting, still, my wife was so I knew I would have one audience member at least.

Then at lunchtime, one of the guest lecturers from one of my modules told me he was coming to my talk and the freaking out began again!!  This was increased when Lyn Robinson, my dissertation supervisor, also said she would be there.

It was fine, though, in the end.  I had about 15 people or so there (including some who had initially apologised and said they weren’t going to come) and the interactive bit went better than I thought – I was going to go round and help people along but they got on with it so well I felt it would be fine to leave them to it.

Feelings and Happenings Since

Overall I found the experience extremely fulfilling and would recommend participation in future events like this.  The activity section in particular was amazing – it was incredible to set people off and watch them enthusiastically undertaking the “work” I had set them.

Since then I have written the talk up into a blog, including the results of the practical session.  The idea of this is that in the future we will all be able to look back and see what came true.  Will Amazon collapse and cause information meltdown?  Will there be ingestible books?

Additionally, due to the talk I have become involved in the Fun Palace happening at Clapham Library on Oct 3rd (please do come along, if you can!).  There I will be working with Ernesto Priego to help young people in the area create their own fanzines.

How it Continued

At the Staff Development Group Symposium on the 16th September, I gave this blog as a talk and got those present to repeat the practical exercise, allowing me to add to my collection of drawings and musings about the future of books.

Again, I got lots of amazing ideas…

A Mind Map of the Future
A Mind Map of the Future

One group looked at different areas of Library Services and considered the future in each case.  They looked at websites (will they be changed by touchscreens (and 3D touchscreens), with mice becoming a thing of the past?), resources (will e-paper take over completely with print consigned to the past and, if so, will e-paper become more tactile to ease the transition?), copyright (will it be cracked down on or binned? – wondering, too, about a possible dystopian society of strict controls and underground book pirates), space (something they felt would always be needed so long as we are in bodies and not The Matrix but suggested library space may be given over for study rather than physical resources and wondered how libraries would be catered for in deep space travel) and fetishisation of print (connecting again with resources, here the group wondered if books would ultimately become collectible items; that books would be judged by their covers).

Future Books and Future Chips
Future Books and Future Chips
Hand Microchips, Robots and a Sensory Library
Hand Microchips, Robots and a Sensory Library

Two groups looked at wearable and embedded technologies, producing pictures of microchips embedded both in items (a bracelet) and humans (separately in a hand, that would connect to a sensory library, and a head, with Game of Thrones loaded up).  These groups also made predictions concerning robots and experimental books, including reading holograms.

The Future that is already beginning...
The Future that is already beginning…

Finally, the last group made less grand, but probably more realistic, predictions – of ebooks becoming more interactive, libraries becoming community hubs and electronic and print continuing to co-exist.  All things that are just starting to happen more.

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