The Future of Libraries in a Post Covid World — thoughts from Gene Tan Part 1

IFLA Public Library and the Literacy and Reading Sections came together for an inspiring mid-term webinar program Reflecting Back and Thinking Forward.

The program looked at how public libraries worldwide responded to COVID and how the lessons learnt will impact the future. If you missed the program you can view each of the different panels on the IFLA Public Library Section You Tube channel.

One of our wonderful presenters was Mr Gene Tan, Assistant Chief Executive from the National Library Board of Singapore. He mentioned some very innovative ideas for the future and has since sent a presentation regarding these ideas to share with you all. This is the first of two blog posts regarding his presentation which is published with his permission.

What is happening to drive change in our communities?

Some of the challenges that we face include the fact that public libraries have lost the monopoly on free access to information services. Google is the new free information provider. Search engines replace trusted librarians as a first stop shop for answers. Content aggregators like Netflix with low subscription costs also challenges the library’s role as a distributor of content to the masses. In the CISCO “Customer Experience in 2020” report 77% of digital natives expect a personalized digital experience.

This necessitates libraries to rethink how library resources are delivered and presented to library members. Libraries are also actively lending a helping hand to segments of our community. Help for the unemployed, special programs for the vulnerable, loaning equipment and wi-fi to the home for students to be able to study, are services tbat are expanding during the Covid pandemic as inequality within our society increased.

Based on the 2018 IFLA trends report and Trends Shaping Education 2019 OECD report there is also another urgent challenge facing communities. Digital literacy is of primary importance due to the proliferation of disinformation. Community members need to have the skills to determine accredited information and also to manage their personal business as more and more services are moved online. As online surveillance permeates every part of our online experience there is also a real need to equip people with good data protection skills.

Gene asked us all to consider what kind of Platform Business are libraries in.

Could Libraries become a “Netflix” Learning Superstore that adapts the virtuous cycle of Amazon to be a Force For Good for All?

Libraries do have a large, loyal user base within our communities. How can we best leverage this as an asset as well as improving our services to communities? It is also essential for libraries to encourage our community members to expand their horizons and deepen their knowledge. Especially in the era of ever narrowing echo-chambers that Social Media giants like Facebook and YouTube provide. Libraries have always been in the “See Also” business, encouraging curiosity and expanding our personal worlds. Learning also happens at every stage of our lives and libraries can play an essential role in helping our communities learn skills when they need it.

Curating learning pathways through our content is something that would definitely benefit our communties as sometimes having so much choice can be paralysing for our users. We can host experts and personalities to encourage a broadening of knowledge and spark learning pathways. The All Learning Superstore from our library content and our shared library content that could be hosted nationally.

Gene certainly inspired a lot of thinking with the audience and I love the question he posed “What kind of Platform Business are we In”. I hope some of these ideas inspire your thinking too.

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Jane Cowell

Jane Cowell

Librarian, interested in libraries, digital disruption, startups, Australian politics