First saw this chart here who said Helene Blowers used it her talk. Here's more information about above diagram but do note that libraries are listed to be extinct by 2019.
Innovation and imagination aren’t rooted in what is or what was, but takes flight in the what if…
What if in looking at the future of libraries, are we too emerged in our own realities and truths that we are really just looking at a dressed up version of the past?
What if Gutenberg hadn’t invented the printer?
Can you tell I’ve been listening to Seth Godin again? I had the privilege of speaking at the Westchester Library Association Conference and Seth happened to be the keynote. What a treat to see him again. The thing about Seth is that he really loves libraries but he’s seeing some writing on the wall that is telling him libraries are going to go the way of the music industry and he wants us to do something about it. I was very impressed that rather than give a talk about his latest book (Poke the Box) he took the time to think out an argument to help this audience of librarians see new path for libraries. It isn’t often we get a free consultation from a marketing guru.
So here’s his argument ...
- If you take a look at the use case of libraries our two most important functions are to provide a place to store books so they can be lent to those who can’t afford to buy them and to help people find information.
- As the price of eReaders such as the Kindle go down (they’ll probably will be free in a couple of years) and the cost of eBooks decreases (they will probably go down to 99 cents), the need for an institution to provide free books is going to decrease so much that it will make it difficult for libraries to make the case for funding from the government.
- While the need for academic research might continue to be valuable for industries, the information needs of the average person to resolve their problems can be achieved through online resources such as wikipedia. He pointed out that in his opinion the average student looking for information to complete a school assignment would so just fine. Online information resources are also timelier.
- He talked briefly about the Gutenberg Parenthesis. (We are leaving the structured, serial, permanent, authored, controlled era of text and returning to what came before the press: a time when communication and content cross, when process dominates product, when knowledge is distributed by people passing it around, when we remix it along the way, when we are more oral and aural.- Jeff Jarvis)
- If Gutenberg hadn’t invented the printing machine and communication evolved without text having to be confined within the restrictions of pages, margins and bindings, libraries might never have been invented.
- Even with the invention of the printing press, that stage is over and the entire economic engine that was developed to support the printed book is dead. Not books, not ideas, not writing, but the restrictions that print imposed on the world are dead. (I couldn’t help but think in terms of Prezzi verses PowerPoint.)
- Since information is not patient, time is of the essence. Libraries need to lay the groundwork for a use case that will make us valuable to the public. Keep in mind that all those 17 year old who use the Internet for research and buys books and don’t use the library today, will not see the need to pay their tax dollars for the library in 10 years.
- Seth thinks the future of libraries lies in our sweet spot - our ability to connect people and provide a place for that to happen face-to-face. If it were up to him, we’d cut our collections in half and hire the smartest techies out there and re-brand ourselves as the place where smart people come to get super smart. He encourages us to be the connectors between community members- linking people of like needs so that they can collaborate for new solutions. He mentioned the “co-working spaces” that are cropping up where people meet just to work round other people to avoid loneliness. And suggests that libraries encourage businesses to come and work at libraries all day.
I know many of you may feel we are already doing these things. We’ve been calling libraries community centers and offering tech support and classes, but I think Seth is calling for a new mindset. He isn’t asking us to improve what we are doing, he is suggesting that we need to change the core thinking of what we do, re-imagine the core purpose of why libraries exist. Revamp our perceptions from “people should” to “people are” by accepting that the changes in technology are changing the needs of people. It isn’t that we need to add a tech center, it’s that we need to change our mindset. Don’t be disappointed that people aren’t reading; embrace communication as a fluid process that encompasses all mediums- print, visual, auditory. People are free to use whatever medium they chooses to use to communicate the ideas. Don’t be worried that people aren’t using the “best” resources; understand that information needs are relevant to the solutions people are seeking. Don’t defend the need to remain the way we are because we must provide internet access or books to the poor, look beyond to see a world where connections are the commodities that people will need to succeed.
I was interested in the whole Gutenberg Parenthesis theory because it fits into what I am experiencing in my communication. There is such a freedom to be able to choose to communicate via Twitter, blogs, web pages, video, talks, printed books, eBooks, podcasts, etc. There are so many projects that were never possible with the restrictions of print. For me, this is an incredible era and listening to Seth has given me some ideas of how libraries can start positioning themselves to be of value in that future. He hopes the people in the library field don’t respond like those of the music industry who couldn’t envision a world where people could create and share music without them. I agree with Seth that we need to challenge ourselves to envision that world or the world will move on without us.
I get a little discouraged when I see the battles that are raging over preserving the old use case of libraries. I’m seeing brilliant people fighting to preserve virtual reference (or to be more precise virtual search), great thinkers worried that we won’t be able to stock enough eBooks and innovative leaders refusing to consider there is a need for more professions than just librarians in libraries such as marketers, teachers, techies, job consultants, business mangers, etc. To me, that thinking is just looking at the past and calling it the future. So listening to Seth and breaking out of that old thinking was refreshing.
Seth left us with this question, and I’ll leave it with you,
“Will they miss you if you’re gone in ten years?
Buffy Hamilton really lights up the room with her thoughts.
Great conversations are going on at Librarian By Day
Stephen Abrams chimes in too.