Speculative Design & Libraries

As Co-Chair of the Technical, Electronic, and Digital Services Interest Group (TEDSIG) - a community within the Academic Library Association of Ohio (ALAO) - my professional experiences have circumvented the shared set of historical struggles that define the group’s identity.

TEDSIG was founded in 1993 as the Technical Services Interest Group (TSIG). The interest group’s name and scope was changed in June 2007 to Technical, Electronic, and Digital Services Interest Group (TEDSIG) to better reflect the evolving status of the group’s constituents in traditional and emerging technologies. By the time that I began working at Columbus State Community College in 2008, it was evidently clear that the traditional role of technical service librarians was on the decline. As a new professional with a bias towards the use of technology in day-to-day library practices, I couldn’t understand why - or how - the technological aspects of the profession were… on the way out?

One of the main co-chair responsibilities is to organize an annual event for members of the TEDSIG community. It’s an opportunity to contribute to both the growth, and the future direction, of the group. Pondering the overwhelming emptiness of ‘what to do’ with this tabla rasa, I explored the confusion of my early experiences of technical work in libraries. It wasn’t that technological work in libraries was on the way out, it was that a specific way of conducting that technical work was on the way out. As I’m joining the ranks of the mid-career professionals, this gave me pause. As members of Ohio’s TEDSIG community, are we actively designing a future for the next generation of library professionals to step into?

To help us explore the design implications of our current and potential library futures, John Jung was invited to speak at TEDSIG 2020.

photo of John Jung

John Jung is Design Consultant at johnjung.us and Programmer/Analyst at The University of Chicago. John is interested in the different ways that research and design might intersect. He has recently spoken on Speculative Design & Strategy at the Symposium on the Future of Libraries in Seattle, Washington, as well as having lead the provocatively-titled reading group “Design After the End of the World” in his hometown of Chicago. He has a degree in art from Governors State University and a degree in design methods from the IIT Institute of Design.

Speculative and Critical Design and Libraries

Thomas Moynihan once noted: “We perceive the world as anticipations of its future”. If nothing else, this statement gives us pause. Just enough of a delay to remove us from immediacy. Allowing us to bring our set of expectations and assumptions to the foreground and reflect upon how these projections of a near-term reality guide our decision-making in the present. As many of our existing library systems are reaching the limits of their effectiveness, the struggle is real. To avoid a future that merely recapitulates - both the positive and negative aspects of - our present solutions, we need to think critically about the design of our future. But maybe more so, we need a toolkit to problematize our present. To shake loose our assumptions, and provide just enough distance to consider alternatives.

That’s where Speculative Design is useful. Where traditional design attempts to solve problems, speculative design attempts to open our minds to new ways of thinking and being. If it is our capacity to envision the future that propels us forward, speculative design has promise as a way to allow us to problematize our present, so as not to repeat our past, by exposing the pre-existing conditions of our current reality.

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Derek C. Zoladz
Library Systems Analyst

Focusing on cultural heritage institutions: discovery applications, data (and metadata) wrangling, web development, process automation, and system integration.