Thinking About the Future of Libraries
I’ve gone to a couple of library conferences while I was away from you dear reader and I find that talk about the future of libraries is on the rise again. But, then again, aren’t people involved in libraries ALWAYS concerned about their future? Radio was going to kill books. Video Tapes were going to kill books. The Internet was going to kill books and now e-books are going to kill paper books. And therefore no libraries? Apparently the use for a library is in the eye of the beholder. Is it a place to check out books? A place to cull research? A place for community gatherings? A place to play video games? A place with free Internet access? I say yes, and then some.
Where is the Marketing?
I think the future is in the essence of the library as a “free” entity (I know our tax dollars pay for the public ones and tuition helps pay for the academic…you know what I meant). There are no favorites in the library, you can have whatever you want and take part in all kinds of activities, for free. It is true that when many people hear the word “library” they think of a quiet shushy place for paper books and that is really where the problem lies. The fact is librarians have worked very hard to create new spaces that work into the communities need for items and activities that normally cost money. Who else does that for you these days? Seriously. The issue here is the lack of marketing acumin on the part of the librarians. I think that advocacy and marketing are two of the most important and least understood skills a librarian can have.
Reading From the Screen
Here is the thing with the e-books. I was gifted a Kindle. So now I have one. I find I prefer the e-ink technology to the back lit color jobs for long stints of reading. But I digress, it is now easy for me to get a book at the click of a button. That’s even easier than dragging myself all the way to the public library. Problem, I have to pay for every book, averaging $9.99 a pop (even when a paperback copy is going for $5 or less). Problem, Amazon doesn’t have everything I want (e.g. Ray Bradbury is not having anything to do with e-books). Problem, I have to remember to plug it in from time to time (granted that is about once every two weeks but it is an issue and that sucker takes a good many hours to charge). Problem, it is not compatible with the free library software so I can’t borrow any of their books. Overarching problem, my Kindle costs $189 not every age needs to be responsible for that kind of equipment and not every household can afford to get one for every member of the family. Without paper books do we have to pick and choose who in our family get the opportunity to read? Until e-book readers become throw away technology that has easy (let’s focus on the word easy) access to free material, I just don’t see it killing the paper book.
So where does this leave libraries? The users needs are definitely shifting, or rather, expanding. And I think it is simply that. We need to be in touch with our patron (or those that we would like to be our patrons) and give them what they need for free. We need to let them know that these services exist. They need access to a number of things both technological and personal we should build from there. Am I missing something?