Category Archives: FutureSpec

January 23, 2013, 2:50 pm

ITERATE OR DIE: Reflecting on Blockbuster & Atari

I’ve been thinking a lot about the downfall of Blockbuster and Atari. Both companies are in the news because of financial collapse. Can you believe that Blockbuster was once a $6 billion company? And Atari had the jump on everyone with regards to consoles and games. I spent countless hours playing Pitfall! and never beat it. Today I don’t even own a game console– everything I play is on my phone or iPad.


Articles about why they fell apart all point to failure to innovate despite knowing that change was necessary. This quote sums it up:


 “Blockbuster continued to see itself as a provider of movie and game rentals rather than a distributor of entertainment. By locking itself into this narrow view, they ignored the innovations happening around them and believed that people wanted to come into the store and talk to their staff, get recommendations, and make their…

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October 4, 2012, 12:51 pm

Our strategy: be regenerative

I was deeply involved in writing a strategic plan this summer. Actually—technically—it was a response to Virginia Tech’s long-range plan, but still– it is a vision for the future of our library. Many people contributed to this effort and we knocked it out in 90 days.


We spent time envisioning higher education in the near future and then imagining roles that libraries would need to fulfill. I prefer this to the more traditional (continuous) department-centered approach based on “making what we currently do a little better”— our effort was an attempt to design an aspirational vision.


We thought of future libraries abstractly as…


  • a platform for student success and faculty innovation in a global context.
  • a hub for strategic partnerships.
  • a regenerating entity that adapts to changing user needs and expectations.


More on those ideas:


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June 27, 2012, 3:19 pm

MOOC Fluency – some advice for future librarians

I’m glad that UVa reinstated their president. Seems like the only logical action after the backlash. I keep waiting for “the real reason” to surface because it’s hard for me to believe that the whole thing can be boiled down to MOOCs. Really? I guess it comes down to inventing the future vs. sustaining (current) excellence. But I do want to point out that this is exactly the type of thing I was referring to in my startup paper. There is growing pressure on higher education to change—and we, as librarians, will have to adapt to that.


Regardless of how you feel about UVa’s Board of Visitors – that type of thinking (ie: working with less funding) will continue around the country. Facing an uncertain future, we need to be ready for such seismic disruptions.


I do want to take a minute though to comment on MOOCs because I haven’t done so yet. I mentioned…

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April 4, 2012, 1:19 pm

Think Like a Start-Up: a White Paper

This project has been in the works for a long time. I think that the initial seed was planted during my time at Georgia Tech. It simmered while I was out in California. And it crystalized as soon as I arrived in Blacksburg. I thought this document would be a one-pager that I could finish over a weekend, but it grew into something much more involved.


I’ve been fascinated with startup culture for a long time and as I considered all the changes happening in academic libraries (and higher ed) the parallels were quite stunning. No, we’re not developing new products to bring to market, and no, we’re not striving for an IPO payday, but we are being required to rethink/rebuild/repurpose what a library is and what it does. The next twenty years are going to be an interestingly chaotic time for the history of our institutions.


Here’s a snippet that frames the paper:

The me…

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April 3, 2012, 2:38 pm

The (Social) Reader’s Dilemma: Content + Container = Context

“Content, not containers!” This has been a library theme for a while now: unbundling the meat from the sandwich. It’s about the text and/or images, not necessary the printed vessel.  As scholarly material migrates to digital platforms, the focus is on the content, not the boundaries of “journals” or “books.”


I could go along with that, for the most part, until yesterday. Here’s what happened.


There has been a lot of talk around the office lately about The Fourth Paradigm. Even our school newspaper is in on this thread, reporting about the emerging “third pillar of science.


Yesterday I downloaded The Fourth Paradigm: Data-Intensive Scientific Discovery, which is a free PDF. Thanks Microsoft. I’m reading it on my iPad via my Kindle app and everything is fine, right? No! It’s not a Kindle book. It doesn’t allow me take notes, share…

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March 12, 2012, 3:46 pm

Google Docs Will Free Librarians (to Engage Students More Directly in the Natural Writing Environment)

I had a vivid dream last night. I typically forget all my dreams, but this one stood out. In this world no one spoke directly to each other. Everyone was a ventriloquist and used dummies or puppets to communicate. I walked through restaurants, grocery stores, malls and a few other common locations– and everyone had their avatar on their hand. Perhaps it’s a metaphor for iPhones and digital devices and social media and how they are disconnecting traditional social interactions  – but that seems too obvious. I think the larger message is centered on the need to evolve with mainstream communication preferences and practices.


In the dream I didn’t have a dummy/puppet/avatar and hence everyone I tried to interact with just ignored me. This is likely a confluence of several things. I’ve been thinking a lot about the future of libraries, the future of information, the future of…

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March 6, 2012, 6:58 pm

My Evolving Feelings With E-Books or Content Begets More Content (or: I Want My Content to Be a Social Butterfly)

[I started this post during lunch with the intent of writing 600 concise words about my recent ebook experience, but that grew to double the length and became a stream-of-conscious vision statement about how I want to use digital content. In short: you’ve been warned!]

I’m a big fan of print. As much as I love the web I’m still very print oriented in my personal reading life. But that might be changing…


I’ve been enjoying Where Good Ideas Come From — it’s page after page of epiphanies. As I was reading it I kept taking notes or bending pages… and I then realized it would be so much easier to highlight and annotate content in a digital format. So I purchased a digital version of the book. (The book is that good! I mean come on– his chapter on Adjacent Possible is all about the kernel of library science and discovery.)


Anyway, in my case…

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February 10, 2012, 6:59 pm

Someday [soon] you’ll help patrons with tactile scholarship: Visualization & 3D Printing

Software. I’ve been hearing a lot about visualization lately. Obviously it’s been around a awhile, but it’s gathering new interest from more popular audiences. As these tools/techniques become more readily available and easier to use, visualization will likely become a prominent communications outlet. I will not only read an article but also be able to manipulate the adjoining data. Aspiring librarians should invest in developing visualization and visual literacy skills. This is a logical extension of multimedia and new media and it applies to both scholarly and popular contexts. Here’s an app to get you started.

Research libraries have long been building infrastructure to support data management and the UC has even recently launched a data plan generation tool. It seems to next step is the development of an open-source, user-friendly, discipline scalable visualization tool. …

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January 11, 2012, 2:51 pm

The Rise of the Learner Experience Librarian

I’m excited to finally be collaborating with Char Booth. We’ve been seeking a project for several years now and finally found one in the form of an invited paper and co-presentation at CARL 2012.

This is our venture:

Understanding the Learner Experience: Threshold Concepts and Curriculum Mapping
In order to improve library instruction, we need to develop a richer understanding of the holistic learning and teaching experience of our institutions. Threshold concepts are core ideas in a particular area or discipline that, once understood, transform perceptions of that subject. Curriculum mapping is a method of visualizing insight into the courses, requirements, and progressions a learner negotiates as they pass through a particular department or degree. When understood and applied in tandem, these strategies provide a powerful means of developing actionable insight into the learner…

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December 7, 2011, 5:23 pm

Are Academic Libraries Too Big To Fail? (What if the answer is no?)

Over Thanksgiving a conversation thread opened along the lines of “are some Universities too big to fail?” With budgets what they are and the doom and gloom prospects looking ahead, combined with a seemingly growing public distrust of higher education—it’s likely we’ll see some schools close, merge, downsize, or even implode over the next few decades.


Leaving that aside—what about libraries? In the ARL world you hear conversations about branch libraries closing or merging all the time—it’s largely economics. But what about academic libraries in general? Specifically the concept of the central/main unified library? Is the library too big (valuable) of an organization to fail? I’m looking at the next 30 years and have to consider what happens when/if budgets are not only cut to the bone, but even to the point where we might have to lose a few bones and some…

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