Notes from the Chair: Ready for the Unpredictable Future

When I was growing up, I had a science book with an illustration that fascinated me: a vision of Paris in the year 2000 from a century ago showing flying streetcars and aerial cafes. At the time, flight and electric trains were cutting-edge technology that fascinated the public in how they would lift the average person off terra firma. This seems a quaint steampunk fantasy to us today.

Credit: Mydelineatedlife.blogspot.com

It’s a reminder that it is natural to always be thinking about what the future might be, and that even with all the reaching, refining and adapting of those ideas, future visions don’t materialize in quite the ways we think they will.

I enjoy reading about futurists’ meetings in which scientists from various disciplines convene and form their predictions; one in particular said that in the future, journalists would have a small camera affixed to a contact lens, and narrate their observations in a hands-free, unfettered, real-time fashion. This didn’t mention anything about an editor, or a filter. Perhaps this gadget was obsolete before being invented, since now there is wide awareness of Twitter.

Now that there are many more observers, reporters and storytellers, it’s said that any every company is a media company — there’s much more information being produced than a person can make sense of. As journalists, we’ve participated in this, and know of the critical need for skills and tools to synthesize meaning from these random units of information. We may talk about the decline of manufacturing, but we’re just making different things — one being information, and lots of it.

The Special Libraries Association has had a ‘Future Ready’ theme which continues this year. Four areas have been identified in order to be future-ready:

  • 1: collaboration;
  • 2: an adaptable skill set;
  • 3: alignment with language and values;
  • 4: building a community.

Thinking specifically about our news library colleagues, they are some of the most adaptable professionals I know, since many perform numerous functions in their constantly evolving companies. Along the way we’ve developed skills that have us well-positioned for the kinds of changes applicable to other industries. We realized years ago that collaboration provides more opportunities, as well as learning and growth, which are also essential, as the workplace has become leaner and changes in technology more rapid.

Alignment is identifying the needs and goals — whether they are content goals or revenue goals — and seeing what’s emerging that might solve some of these problems. It is also awareness of language being used by managers, decision makers and industry leaders. Applying ideas to needs is true innovation.

Lastly, we have a great community of professionals. In a very demanding publishing environment we offer to help someone a world away either with their concerns or by providing an article. With our extensive network we know we can start a conversation or pick up a phone to ask a colleague how they would either approach an issue or make a recommendation. We renew ties at these kinds of face-to-face meetings, at annual and regional events or as one of our members remarked: ‘All year long, no one knows what you do. Then you come here, and everyone knows.’ It’s nice to be able to participate in that, as those who are attending this week’s SLA Annual Conference in Philadelphia.

Just like information, change is relentless. We may not yet have video cameras affixed to our eyeballs or be hurtling through space in our jetpacks, monorails and silver unitards, but as professional stewards of information, we’re ready for whatever the future may bring.

–Leigh Montgomery

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