Three Questions with Jonathan Miller

Jonathan Miller is Director of Libraries at Williams College.

1. What must change in our field?

Whether we feel an imperative to change or not, change will come. I see no end to the rapid pace of change that has been a feature of my professional experience over the last 25 years. To bring this down to a much more concrete level, here at the Williams Libraries we are beginning to think more carefully about diversity and inclusion. We must change to reflect a changing campus where the students and faculty of Williams are far more diverse than they might have been in earlier decades. We must change not only in terms of the diversity of the library staff but also in terms of the inclusiveness of our organizations, collections, services, and facilities.

2. What should endure?

Libraries have always been about collecting, describing, organizing, preserving, and making accessible information for communities. These fundamental roles don’t change, but how we fulfill those roles does change as technology changes. For me, the most important part of that sentence is “for communities.” As we move deeper into this digital information ecosystem we are facing both challenges and opportunities when it comes to what and how we collect, describe, organize, preserve, and make accessible. How successful we are in addressing those challenges and seizing those opportunities depends on our understanding of the needs of the communities we serve and of which we are a part.

3. What are you or your colleagues geeking out on lately?

Two things: I am convinced that artificial intelligence and machine learning will profoundly impact librarianship over the next decade. As library professionals are we ready to embrace AI taking on core portions of our work in description and organization and in direct service to users? Most of us will be working in tandem as library professionals with AI’s as we are now working in tandem with computers. Beyond the impact on our own work lives, are we ready to accept that the proximate user of our services might not be a human, but an AI? Are we building digital libraries and services that are open to machine learning? My next reading in this area will be Joseph Aoun’s Robot-Proof. Secondly, I have been having some really interesting conversations with colleagues recently about whether librarians can use lessons learned from behavioral economics to organize information services that nudge users into positive information behaviors. Michael Lewis’ recent book The Undoing Project is great introduction to some of this work.