divendres, 9 de març de 2012

The future of the library

What is a public library for?

First, how we got here:

Before Gutenberg, a book cost about as much as a small house. As a result,
only kings and bishops could afford to own a book of their own.

This naturally led to the creation of shared books, of libraries where
scholars (everyone else was too busy not starving) could come to read
books that they didn't have to own. The library as warehouse for books
worth sharing.

Only after that did we invent the librarian.

The librarian isn't a clerk who happens to work at a library. A librarian is a
data hound, a guide, a sherpa and a teacher. The librarian is the interface
between reams of data and the untrained but motivated user.

After Gutenberg, books  got a lot cheaper. More individuals built their own
collections. At the same time, though, the number of titles exploded, and
the demand for libraries did as well. We definitely needed a warehouse to
store all this bounty, and more than ever we needed a librarian to help us
find what we needed. The library is a house for the librarian.

Industrialists (particularly Andrew Carnegie) funded the modern American
library. The idea was that in a pre-electronic media age, the working man
needed to be both entertained and slightly educated. Work all day and
become a more civilized member of society by reading at night.

And your kids? Your kids need a place with shared encyclopedias and
plenty of fun books, hopefully inculcating a lifelong love of reading,
because reading makes all of us more thoughtful, better informed and
more productive members of a civil society.

Which was all great, until now.

Want to watch a movie? Netflix is a better librarian, with a better library,
than any library in the country. The Netflix librarian knows about every
movie, knows what you've seen and what you're likely to want to see. If
the goal is to connect viewers with movies, Netflix wins.

This goes further than a mere sideline that most librarians resented
anyway. Wikipedia and the huge databanks of information have basically
eliminated the library as the best resource for anyone doing amateur

research (grade school, middle school, even undergrad). Is there any doubt
that online resources will get better and cheaper as the years go by? Kids
don't shlep to the library to use an out of date encyclopedia to do a report
on FDR. You might want them to, but they won't unless coerced.

They need a librarian more than ever (to figure out creative ways to find
and use data). They need a library not at all.

When kids go to the mall instead of the library, it's not that the mall won,
it's that the library lost.

And then we need to consider the rise of the Kindle. An ebook costs about
$1.60 in 1962 dollars. A thousand ebooks can fit on one device, easily. Easy
to store, easy to sort, easy to hand to your neighbor. Five years from now,
readers will be as expensive as Gillette razors, and ebooks will cost less
than the blades.

Librarians that are arguing and lobbying for clever ebook lending solutions
are completely missing the point. They are defending library as warehouse
as opposed to fighting for the future, which is librarian as producer,
concierge, connector, teacher and impresario.

Post-Gutenberg, books are finally abundant, hardly scarce, hardly
expensive, hardly worth warehousing. Post-Gutenberg, the scarce resource
is knowledge and insight, not access to data.

The library is no longer a warehouse for dead books. Just in time for the
information economy, the library ought to be the local nerve center for
information. (Please don't say I'm anti-book! I think through my actions and
career choices, I've demonstrated my pro-book chops. I'm not saying I want
paper to go away, I'm merely describing what's inevitably occurring). We
all love the vision of the underprivileged kid bootstrapping himself out of
poverty with books, but now (most of the time), the insight and leverage
is going to come from being fast and smart with online resources, not from
hiding in the stacks.

The next library is a place, still. A place where people come together to do
co-working and coordinate and invent projects worth working on together.
Aided by a librarian who understands the Mesh, a librarian who can bring
domain knowledge and people knowledge and access to information to

The next library is a house for the librarian with the guts to invite kids in
to teach them how to get better grades while doing less grunt work. And
to teach them how to use a soldering iron or take apart something with

no user serviceable parts inside. And even to challenge them to teach
classes on their passions, merely because it's fun. This librarian takes
responsibility/blame for any kid who manages to graduate from school
without being a first-rate data shark.

The next library is filled with so many web terminals there's always at least
one empty. And the people who run this library don't view the combination
of access to data and connections to peers as a sidelight--it's the entire

Wouldn't you want to live and work and pay taxes in a town that had a
library like that? The vibe of the best Brooklyn coffee shop combined with
a passionate raconteur of information? There are one thousand things that
could be done in a place like this, all built around one mission: take the
world of data, combine it with the people in this community and create

We need librarians more than we ever did. What we don't need are
mere clerks who guard dead paper. Librarians are too important to be a
dwindling voice in our culture. For the right librarian, this is the chance of
a lifetime.