Karen Schneider had sent out a call for comment on trends that would impact our world in the coming years, this was my response.
The private sector: More than ever libraries, especially public and academic, are in competition with the private sector. We compete for time, attention and money, and are increasingly out manned, out funded and out PR'd. We compete with the obvious, things like Google, Questia and Amazon, and the maybe not so obvious, like BookCrossing, Blogs, and Orkut. People have an endless number of options for education, information and entertainment now.
Google scanning project: A technology project from the private sector that I think will have a lasting effect on most libraries. Google in general is increasingly encroaching into domains we've been masters of for as long as libraries have been the central repository for printed knowledge. Not just google, but search engines in general need to be watched. Now we have things like desktop search, picasa and all that other stuff, information is being stored digitally, and organized in very usable ways by people outside of libraries.
The Next Generation of Search Engines (& Datamining) : The next generation of search engines are going after meaning and semantics, things that only us librarians used to talk about. Check out Kozoru. The next generation sounds mighty "librarianish." Datamining is something to think about as well. We now regularly hear about terabytes of data being organized, indexed and searched automatically.
Vendors of Electronic resources: Will our users demand we provide access to everything electronically in the future? Will libraries be nothing more than banks of workstations that allow easy access to an array of databases? If so, this puts our vendors in the driver's seat more than ever before. We rely on them to provide access to collections that were exclusively print just a decade earlier.
Epaper and Ebooks: A usable epaper & ebook could really swing that trend into high gear. This one has proven exceedingly difficult to predict, but a few new products in the pipeline look promising. Give them a year or two and I think vendors will have something usable on the market. What if we can store most of our collections on a server and allow people to "check out" what they want into one device. Most libraries are in the book business, a usable, affordable ebook might just change that.
DRM and security: DRM could erode, or eliminate fair use. As a matter of fact, nothing looks to erode our rights more than Digital Rights Management software. Using open source software is about the only defense we have against over zealous applications.
Wireless: Wifi as a way to connect, and RFID as a way to track books. The world of the future is cordless and battery powered.
Copyright, Fair Use, CIPA, Filtering, eRate and so on: Legal issues have a huge impact on technology. The law hasn't been on our side in years, and the future doesn't look bright. This is probably true only if you believe libraries are supposed to be open and available to all. Speaking of fair use, what are the chances it's legislated out of existence in the next couple decades?
Politics and Budgets: Two things that can kill off anything we want to do. Maybe overall govt. spending and taxes can fit in here too. It's one thing working against all libraries, and I think this is the biggest threat to libraries. With no money, libraries will cease to exist. Marketing and education are more important than ever for the success, or survival of libraries. Why do we need libraries, we have Google, right?
Open Access: Still a new movement, but one we should all be watching. I'm still not sure it'll be any larger in 5 years, but it could be the wave of the future. Bundled in this issue are smaller pieces including, OpenURL, open archives, LOCKSS, and many other projects that allow access to knowledge previously put behind a well. These are probably not exactly all the same thing, but rather somewhat related projects that have similar goals in mind.
Open source in libraries: Another relatively new trend, but one I would hope will be embraced in libraries sooner than later. Open source software is a hard concept to really understand. It really doesn't make sense that making your code available helps to make it more secure and useful. This is a concept that is probably even harder for the decision makers to grasp and understand why they should put money and time into.
The coming "born digital" generation: What will they demand from us? Will they even care about libraries? They are the ones that will drive the trends that will ultimately decide our fate. The coming generation may look at libraries in an entirely new way, are you ready? I'm not even sure this is a valid distinction to make, are the kids who have never known a world with no 'net really that different from those of us who've been around for a few years? Maybe. These darn kids today, why, when I was their age we didn't have Google, we had to use Webcrawler, and we liked it!