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Saturday, January 09, 2010

Seth Godin speaks about the future of libraries

Interesting post by Seth today .... thoughts?

"What should libraries do to become relevant in the digital age?

They can't survive as community-funded repositories for books that individuals don't want to own (or for reference books we can't afford to own.) More librarians are telling me (unhappily) that the number one thing they deliver to their patrons is free DVD rentals. That's not a long-term strategy, nor is it particularly an uplifting use of our tax dollars.

Here's my proposal: train people to take intellectual initiative.

Once again, the net turns things upside down. The information is free now. No need to pool tax money to buy reference books. What we need to spend the money on are leaders, sherpas and teachers who will push everyone from kids to seniors to get very aggressive in finding and using information and in connecting with and leading others."


Keri said...

Besides computers, DVDs, and books, our patrons are most interested in:
- computer classes
- ESL classes
- job searching classes
- citizenship classes
- cultural/recreational programming

I don't think the demand for materials is going to decrease as tremendously as he's predicting (or at least not as quickly) but the demand for services seems to be increasing just as libraries are cutting their staff due to budget cuts.

Luc Jodoin said...

I think the «guru» is disconnecting...

The library is and will be The space for the tribu, a community center.

Montréal, Québec

~Kathy Dempsey said...

I disagree with Seth on this one, and I commented on his blog post with my reasons. There are lots of other good comments there that are worth reading too.

Richard H said...

Seth is more right than wrong. Libraries have never been specifically about the books or whatever collections as a format, they have always been about connecting people with information. Managing 'things' is the easy part of library work while doing the services such as helping find the rare nugget of information a person wants or needs is the tough part. Its all about skills transfer. So, sticking my neck out, I'd have to say he isn't as off base as others think.

Nancy Dowd said...

Richard I love your thinking and thank you for being so brave to voice it. I'm still gathering my thoughts on Seth and will be posting soon. I am struck by the type of responses I'm reading. Will expand on thought.

~Kathy Dempsey said...

This post by Seth has been gaining more & more attention. Toby Greenwalt has now written about it on Huffington Post and it's been called #godingate

Weigh in here! Was Seth right or wrong??

He thinks librarians should be intellectual leaders & train better to use info better. Uhhhh... haven't we been doing that for years already?!?

Anonymous said...

I think Seth's post gives us a useful insight into perceptions about libraries, whether we think he is right or wrong in what he says. I agree with your comments on his post Kathy! Our challenge is to communicate the value we can offer, whether it's through providing collective access to resources, or being intellectual leaders. The thing is, this challenge has been around for a few years now. My dream for the next decade is that librarians can get together and really work on this collectively.

Anonymous said...

The user is not broken, Kathy. How many librarians know statistics? Use govt. data sets? GIS? Bibliometrics? I would argue - not enough. Adding value to information is going to be what makes or breaks libraries. Doing instruction sessions on databases or explaining the difference between a journal and a magazine just doesn't cut it anymore.

~Kathy Dempsey said...

Anon, I agree that the old database training & other mundane activities don't cut it anymore (tho some people do need that). And I don't think the user is broken -- just usually misinformed.

As for how many libs use govt datasets, bibliometrics, and other high-level stuff, my answer is: as many as need to. Not all can; those who can are probably working in specialized libraries where those skillsets are most necessary. But if you went into any good public library and told someone you really needed things like that, I believe you could get it. Probably not from the first person you talk to, but he or she should be able to find someone (even if it's at another location) that could serve you. There are a thousand specialized info sources, and nobody can know them all.

Since you're anon, I don't know if you're part of the field or part of the public. But I do know that the public sometimes gets bad impressions about "librarians" from employees who aren't. Paraprofessionals, student workers, and volunteers who aren't versed in all the resources could seem pretty "simple" to someone who wants high-level help. And not every degreed lib gives the same level of service (blame human nature).

If you've had a bad experience with librarians, you wouldn't be alone, but most professionals do their darndest to help, even if it means admitting "I'm not too good with that, but let me try to find a colleague who is." Your mileage may vary.