Daniel Rasmus (Microsoft, "antifuturist") spoke on Day 3 of the Computers in Libraries conference to discuss the future of libraries; basically, that we can't predict and should look very critically at the future and not just blindly follow trends. I agree.
One of the questions he asked that seemed most resonant was "What do we hire libraries for?" Do we use them as a safe place? Internet access? We're cheap and don't want to buy books? Need neutral ground for mediation, etc. My question is, "Who is "we"?
If "we" are the typical household in King County (Rasmus' home) we'd mos likely be white, well-educated, with an average household income of over $70k a year. Is that who I should be looking at when planning a library? Should we be looking at the patrons who "hire" us because they don't have Internet access and need to apply for jobs? Should we be looking at those who "hire" us because they can stay in the library without having to buy something? Is there some statistical median person that libraries should plan for?
As librarians, we like data. Maybe what we need to do is collect data on our communities (stakeholders, other buzzwords) and make sure that we know the people we serve. Maybe what we need to do is listen more; if you work a desk in a library people talk to you. They also talk around you; listen for what they're using the library for but also how their lives are changing. If we can stay aware of how the immediate world around us is changing we'll be that much more agile and able to survive and thrive in whatever the future turns out to be.