I got to spend my day outside the library at a local library conference today. Minnesota has an awesome statewide resource sharing program called Minitex and every year they hold an interlibrary loan conference at the University of Minnesota. This is the fourth year I have gone and they are generally very good.

The University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus is spilt by the Mississippi River. On the “East Bank” are the vet school, the agriculture school, and a number of other life science programs that need space. This part of the campus bumps up against the state fair grounds and is not completely surrounded by houses. Which is good because they keep animals on this part of the campus. Right across the “street” from the continuing education center where the conference is held is the cow barn. We lucked out and didn’t get snow in the Twin Cities but the burbs to the south did. Still the day was cloudy and cool. Nonetheless when I got out of my car my first thought was “cows.” The conference has seen some very warm days too on which the cows have been outside the barn lowing and wafting their bovine fragrance into their surroundings. After the initial whiff, I don’t mind the smell of livestock really and I have such an urban life that it is kind of a treat. Yeah, I know, that sounds weird.

But the conference. Very good. We had four speakers. The Keynote speaker was Daniel Rasmus. He is not a futurist, he is a strategist which is very different. A futurist will tell you what the future is going to be, a strategist says the world is too messy and complex to predict the future but there are strategies for creating and planning for different future scenarios so whatever happens, the organization can be ready. In this case the organizations are libraries.

He gave a very interesting talk about strategizing, creating multi-branched narratives that consider complexities instead of seizing on one or two things and building a single, simple narrative. We like simple because it is easier to control, or have the illusion of control, but we need to learn to engage with uncertainties and to stop thinking about the future in a linear way.

The Minitex director spoke to us about her research for a book she is coediting for the American Library Association on the topic of consortia.

A couple librarians from Minitex/the University of Minnesota talked to us about ebooks and resource sharing. They are on a committee made up of librarians from the “Big Ten” universities (plus five others). Their committee is working to figure out ebook resource sharing, meaning borrowing ebooks through interlibrary loans. They are working on convincing publishers it is a good idea as well as the tech side of it — a system that makes ebooks lendable to patrons not belonging to the home library. It will probably be a few years yet before this begins to bear fruit, but it is good to know there are people working on it.

There was one more speaker, Matt Goldner from OCLC. He talked to us about libraries and the information landscape. He discussed cloud computing and how it fosters collaboration. He spoke about how library systems have evolved in a rather piecemeal kind of way and when libraries look at implementing new systems they tend to want the new one to do the same thing as the old one because that is what everyone is familiar with. He wanted to know if our systems were serving us or whether we were serving our systems?

All-in-all a good day that provided much to think about.