Notes: You might like the My Word's Worth column I wrote this week in which I pointed out that yes, there is such a thing as a free lunch, and the free lunches we've been accustomed to, such as magazines whose costs are subsidized by advertising, and free information from the government, are all seriously endangered. It's at http://marylaine.com/myword/free2.html.
Also, PubScience, which I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, fared better in the Senate than in the House according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, http://chronicle.com/free/2001/08/2001080901t.htm.
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GURU INTERVIEW: JOHN GUSCOTT
Marylaine Block interviews John Guscott, Editor, Library Futures Quarterly: Intelligence Reports for Library Strategists, http://libraryfutures.com/.
MB: Why did you create your magazine?
JG: The future of libraries is a really big issue. It's usually a hot topic at conferences and in off- and online publications. There's also coverage in
other disciplines about breakthroughs in technology, politics, culture and
the economy. Developments in these areas might affect the future of
libraries, directly or indirectly. I noticed that there was no
library publication collecting this information in one place, so with that
in mind, I began Library Futures Quarterly.
I envisioned a publication that would solve two problems.
First, most library administrators don't have time to fully investigate
breakthroughs and trends. Yet, to do a great job they need to know about
the factors that will make up the future. My newsletter would do the work
of gathering and interpreting the trends for them.
Second, library administrators would need to put this information to use. In each issue, we would provide action steps and futuring tools so the
reader can make better decisions on what to do with the information.
I think library administrators are currently under pressure from trustees, staff and patrons to be current, and always scanning for "the next big
things." Although planning is one of the most important tasks for a leader
to engage in, it often receives the lowest priority, if it's done at all. I
wanted to create a newsletter for administrators who are very busy
but still need to be informed about innovative and visionary futures for
libraries. It's my job to brief them on what's appearing on the horizon,
what are some of the possible scenarios that will affect them, and what
they should do about it. That way, the next time when someone asks them
"have you heard about ……," my readers can say "yes, and here's what we are
going to do about it." I think this will always be our mission.
Ideally, I wanted to create something that a subscriber could read an hour
before an important meeting with library planners and come out sounding
like a visionary. This would certainly help the administrator improve the
library's chances for success in the future, while increasing his or her
own value as a leader in the community.
I also thought there was a need for a newsletter from a practitioner's
point of view, since most library literature is written by academics or
people who haven't worked in a public library setting.
MB: What have you learned in doing it?
JG: A lot! Especially how much work goes into publishing - these ventures could
easily develop into a full time job! Writing can be enjoyable, but after a
long day of helping patrons, fixing computers or resolving staff problems,
sometimes the last thing I want to do is spend the evening and night
cranking out the contents of an issue. But in the end, when I have a
finished product in hand, or if I get a nice compliment, it makes all the
The whole undertaking has been a learning process. I've learned a lot about my subject matter -- the future of public libraries. Listening to what others think of this topic has been a fulfilling learning experience. I've also learned that a publisher has to make tough decisions on how to spend time and effort. It's easy to come up with hundreds of ideas, but you only have a limited amount of time and resources to pursue a handful of them. Learning how to carefully select and prioritize your opportunities is a learning process in and of itself!
MB: How has your magazine changed in response to its readers?
JG: I definitely have changed some of the things I do because of reader requests. Here are a few examples of how Library Futures Quarterly was changed to satisfy them:
My readers wanted to hear about new developments and radical possible
futures -- the kinds that aren't usually covered in traditional library
publications. To satisfy them, I've been increasing my coverage to
include as many unique approaches about the future of libraries as
possible. This includes visions and ideas that range from
utopian to dystopian and from unlikely to probable.
Readers wanted the information I was providing, but more frequently
than I could afford to publish. That's when I decided to start Library
Futures Express, a companion e-newsletter to Library Futures Quarterly. The e-newsletter gives updates to readers in between my regular publishing schedule. Library Futures Quarterly still contains the most "meat" by far, but Library Futures Express keeps them updated throughout the year.
Last summer, I envisioned Library Futures Quarterly would be an eight-page quarterly newsletter. Now the size of a typical issue has doubled, and I have an auxiliary e-newsletter that is published at least monthly. Who knows what the future holds for us next?
MB: Are you promoting an agenda for changing the profession or the culture of librarianship?
JG: Definitely, or I wouldn't bother doing this at all. My agenda is pretty simple: to show my readers what forces might affect their library and how
to systematically build a better, more sustainable future for their library.
As far as culture is concerned, I'd like to show librarians that we
shouldn't be at the mercy of the publishing and information technology
industries. For the past thirty years or so, most of the innovation in the
information business came from outside the field, to our potential
long-term detriment. Librarians can and should prepare for the long-term
favorable future now. Also, I want to change the belief that "the future"
must necessarily involve "bigger and better" technology. The best future of
a library can involve little or no technology at all; it's just a matter of
what you want to focus on. Finally, I hope that my readers use my
publication as an inspiration to try new things and actively take part in
imagining potential futures and than setting out to create them.
MB: This is essentially a one-man operation. You're not making much money doing this, and it gobbles up lots of your time. What makes it all worthwhile to you?
JG: It does take sometimes dozens of hours a week to research, interview, write and proof everything that goes out. A lot of the time is still learning-curve related, and I hope that as time goes on, I can
streamline a lot of the processes. What makes it all worthwhile? A couple
things come immediately to mind: Getting positive and constructive feedback
and the joy of communicating with others who also care deeply about the
future of libraries.
MB: John, I thank you -- for taking the time to answer my questions, but even more for providing a service I find immensely thought-provoking and valuable.
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COOL QUOTE AND CAUTIONARY TALE
Letter to the editor by Thomas M. Bodenberg. American Demographics, August 2001.
I must bring to your attention how data can be misused and give erroneous impressions. Case in point: the table on page 64 in the June 2001 issue, which is entitled "Sugar Daddies." True, West Concord, Mass. Has a high per capita income - one of the highest in the nation. It also has one of the highest number of single men in Massachusetts. Why? On the outskirts of West Concord is a medium-to-maximum security prison!
So, when one naively juxtaposes these data points, one can be led to assume that there are plenty of single, wealthy men there when that isn't the case. . . Think before arriving to conclusions indicated by data crunching.
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You are welcome to copy and distribute or e-mail any of my own articles for noncommercial purposes (but not those by my guest writers) as long as you retain this copyright statement:
Ex Libris: an E-Zine for Librarians and Other Information Junkies.
Copyright, Marylaine Block, 2000.
[Publishers may license the content for a reasonable fee.]