03 October 2011

Where do we go from here?

I've seen quite a few things recently about the future of libraries...ok almost everything I see is about the future of libraries and how we're either in competition with Amazon, Google is going to kill libraries,  Amazon is destroying us, or some unknown alien race is going to show up and displace libraries and librarians with their galactic encyclopedia.  And all of this is interesting...but why do we keep worrying about who or what we're in competition with?  Yes there are a lot of different places that offer some of the same services that we do, but there's nothing that offers everything that we do.  We keep talking about how libraries aren't just the brick and mortar buildings, that we're the resources, we're the digital, and most importantly we're the people who can help our users find what they need.  That we're all of these different things that work together to become an integral part of the community.  That we know the people that come in our library by name.  That we know what resources they need.

Well can Amazon offer that?  Can Google offer it?  No they can't.  They can make recommendations via computer algorithms, but they can't be everything that a library can be.  They don't have people there to ask them how they're doing or how their pet is.  Or know their homework assignment because they talked to the professor or teacher last week.  These businesses, these companies, these aliens, these whatever can only do part of what we do.  We can do so much more.

Can we learn from these companies though? Sure.  1st lesson:  Apple, Amazon, Google and the others didn't get to where they were by coming out in public and wailing that the next company over was going to put them out of business.  They looked at the world around them and said "f'it.  we can do better than that" (not a direct quote by the way) and went out and made it better.  So what do we do?  We go out and make it better (which we have been doing.)  We've just got to start following the 2nd lesson which is...

2nd lesson:  Amazon, Apple, and Google didn't stand on the sidelines and mumble about how they did it better.  They shouted it from the rooftops and didn't let themselves be pushed out of the way.   So let's stop spending our energy on worrying how x is going to put us out of business and start focusing on learning from them and improving what they can offer.  So that we can better serve our community.  Our users.  Those people that we know by name (even if we sometimes wish we didn't.) 

3rd lesson:   Stop letting other people take credit for the things that we've done and show our users, show the people that fund us just how great we really are.  Talk to the press, tell them what we're doing, what we've done and how we've influenced the world. We've got to stop doing things the same way and go out there and promote ourselves. 

It's a new age and we're not going anywhere.  Let's show the world that.

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1 comment:

Bob Farwell said...

I certainly appreciation your exhortations. We also have to acknowledge that innovation and change are essential components of every library's future. One set of attitudes I encounter put me in mind of a passage from Robert Scheer's book With Enough Shovels, which is actually about the threat of nuclear war. Thomas K. Jones, Reagan's Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Development told Scheer that the U.S. could survive a nuclear war and quickly recover if enough people dug air raid holes, threw a couple of doors and three feet of dirt on top and hunkered down. A nice fantasy, but as nonsensical as thinking we can hunker down, wait for better times and everything will be as it was in the library profession.