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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?

Philadelphia Library ClosingNo seriously. The Mayor of Philadelphia, Micheal Nutter, sees this as a healthy way to deal with the fact that Pennsylvania can not pass a budget.

This MSN article spells it out well. But I can not say it better than this editorial in Boing Boing . Indeed, what does this turn of events say about our society?

I understand that information is much more readily available online these days and I understand that there are technologies out there that can allow us to read without the paper book but this assumes one has the means to provide oneself with said technology. This really only hurts those who need the services most, which is a growing number as the unemployment picture remains bleak. I will never understand how society can blindly kick the needy (and usually silent) instead of feeling some discomfort themselves. How can the citizens of Philadelphia stomach this?

It is a shameful situation.


Breaking News! They have just passed the legislation to keep the libraries open. I am still annoyed that libraries were used as a political pawn.

Geek Capture

My MacBookPro desktop dictionary widget says a “geek” is “a person with an eccentric devotion to a particular interest”. Welcome to my people. Librarians are famous for having an eccentric devotion to their profession. Therefore it was not surprising to see OCLC harness the geekery with their new PR campaign Geek the Library that they have rolled out in Iowa and Georgia and have overarching plans for the rest of the country. One might think that my colleagues in libraryland would be absolutely tickled however the site has been met with mixed reviews from the library blogosphere. There is fear that declaring ones geekery in a subject cannot translate to library support both Jessamyn West and Sonoran Dragon make good points here and there is ongoing dialog on Library and Information Science News that echoes concern. Others are rather proud like Bobbi Newman who actually lives in one of the representative States.

My Impression of the Site

The first thing that hits you upon entering the site is it’s beauty, very slick. Libraries are unfortunately not able to present themselves with this kind of visual eloquence very often. However, next I found myself wondering what the purpose of the site was, it is shamefully not obvious and the top left hand button (the first place my eye went) does not take you to library information but a “what do you geek?” page that is fun but not about libraries. One has to be willing to click around a bit more to get to the reason the website is in existence. Personally it is this design flaw that irks me most and I would venture to guess that their analytics will tell them that is the first click on the site, was that intentional? If so how do they expect to get their PR message across? Are they making assumptions that people will click some more? It is my opinion that the purpose of the site should be gracefully smacking us in the face before we click on anything.

Popular Culture R Us

Am I too much of an NPR fan or is it not over the top to believe that being a “geek” has become a relatively acceptable term to be tagged with? It is this belief that makes me much less bothered with the idea of being a geek as the centerpoint of their campaign as some of my colleagues in libraryland. I can see how OCLC would think that people may aspire to be a geek on some level if they do not feel that way about themselves already (and let’s just get over using “geek” as a verb shall we, English lives, let’s let it grow).

Go with (insert diety of choice here) OCLC

I say good on you OCLC! This campaign is brand new and bound to have a few wrinkles that need to be ironed out. I think that libraries get far less PR than they need due to lack of funding (frequently caused by lack of PR, oh the vicious circle) and if OCLC has the ability, for whatever probably monetary reason, to pick up the ball and run with it I will not complain. In fact, I welcome this campaign to my poor practically bankrupt State of California. And for the record “I Geek Muay Thai Kickboxing!”