4 Very Different Futures Are Imagined for Research Libraries
The first scenario, “Research Entrepreneurs,” lays out a future in which “individual researchers are the stars of the story.” Corporations and philanthropists directly support the best and brightest, who “produce insights that dazzle readers, leaders, and markets.” Creativity matters more than institutional or disciplinary affiliations; the best researchers write their own contracts. Research institutions “increasingly function to provide support services” rather than driving the research agenda.
Scenario No. 2, “Reuse and Recycle,” describes a gloomier 2030 world in which “disinvestment in the research enterprise has cut across society.” With fewer resources to support pathbreaking new work, research projects depend on reusing existing “knowledge resources” as well as “mass-market technology infrastructure.” Research is likely to be less ambitious and to be “cobbled together in ephemeral and often small-scale projects.” In this scenario, research institutions don’t bring much to the enterprise “beyond loose organizing capacities, matching services, low-level overhead, and symbolic capital.” The “crowd/cloud” approach is widespread, producing information that is “ubiquitous but low value.”
The third scenario, “Disciplines in Charge,” appeared to generate the most interest at the library association’s meeting. In this projection, “computational approaches to data analysis” rule the research world. Scholars in the humanities as well as the sciences “have been forced to align themselves around data stores and computation capacity that addresses large-scale research questions within their research field.” (Digital humanists might take issue with the choice of “forced” there.) Discipline-level “organizational structures”—not necessarily resembling the scholarly associations of today—set the research agenda and control who gets money and which researchers get to participate.
Scenario No. 4, “Global Followers,” describes a research climate much like what we know now, except that the Middle East and Asia take the lead in providing money and support for the research enterprise. Globe-spanning collaborations crop up around large-scale projects. Institutions as well as individual scholars will follow the lead of those parts of the world, which will also set the “cultural norms” that govern research. That eastward shift affects “conceptions of intellectual property, research on human subjects, individual privacy, etc.,” according to the scenario. “Researchers bend to the prevailing wind rather than imposing Western norms on the cultures that increasingly lead the enterprise.”
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