The origin of this work finds its roots just off of exit 50, southbound interstate 70, in a rural Holiday Inn. It was a late October afternoon – at an oddly remote conference center in Wilmington, Ohio. I was listening to a presentation from John Jung and Kathy Zadrozny, both from the University of Chicago, about the use of design fiction – specifically, the creation of believable near-future stories to explore the social, cultural and ethical aspects of technological change. The year was 2016 and this presentation made a deep and lasting impression on me.
Fast-forward to 2018, when I became co-chair of TEDSIG in July. Taking the interest group in a fresh direction was an intentional decision. Rather than continue to facilitate workshops and schedule learning opportunities that focused on the day-to-day tooling that enables library-specific technical work, I wanted to use this opportunity to reinvigorate our group by reflecting on first principles and foundations. Accepting that many of our existing library systems are reaching the limits of their effectiveness served as a premise to encourage us to consider alternative futures. However, to avoid a future that merely recapitulates both the positive and negative aspects of our present solutions, we needed to think critically about the design of our future.
TEDSIG 2020 invited John Jung to present an hour-long exploration of Speculative/Critical Design and Libraries. Speculative design attempts to open our minds to new ways of thinking and being, where traditional design attempts to solve problems. Speculative design holds promise for libraries as a way to problematize our present by exposing the pre-existing conditions of our current reality. Thomas Moynihan: “We perceive the world as anticipations of its future”. It is our capacity to envision the future that propels us forward.
Attendees of TEDSIG 2020 were invited to continue the exploration by participating in an 8-week speculative design and climate reading group co-facilitated by Renee Albrecht-Mallinger and John Jung. Beginning in September 2020, Design After the End of the World was hosted by the artist community space LATITUDE | Chicago. The outcome of this group’s work resulted in the call for proposals for a Speculative Library Futures web-based publication, of which the resulting contributions are included here.