Our Battle For Hearts and Minds

I just finished up "Empires Of Light" and one section really stuck in my mind. As electric lighting was catching on in the late 1800s there was a rather large group of people who said there would always be a place for gas/oil lighting because it was vastly superior to electric. It wasn't as dangerous, and they thought it to be better in other ways as well. For years the 2 different types of lighting were used in tandem, though eventually one system became the clear winner. I don't think I need to explain how that story ended. There was no small number of people who where certain they had the best way to do something. They had a different view on things, and they didn't see how the new way would be better, cheaper or easier for most people. They also thought their way of doing things was more stable and easier to use, and even more sophisticated.

Though people were certain they had the better system, they had ideas that turned out to be shortsighted, and enough people disagreed with them to eventually remove their option completely, whether they wanted it that way or not. Another example that occurs to me as being similar is the Mac Vs. PC crusades of the 80s and 90s. While that battle is still being fought, we do have a clear winner, at least for the time being. The battle has opened a new front in the Land O' Linux as well. But here again, a system many people knew to be superior, lost huge market share.

I don't know that my examples are perfect, but I think they illustrate situations in history that I can at least draw some parallels to make my point. There are assumptions I hear all the time that I am beginning to question, and I think you should as well:
There will always be a place for the printed word.
There will always be a place for libraries.

It's easy for us (librarians and our patrons) to see a place for libraries in the future, we spend our time in libraries, when we're not in them, we're thinking about, we probably dream about libraries as well. Most of our patrons probably agree with us when we say we'll always be around. But what about everyone else? What about the people who don't know what we have to offer, those who don't know what we do, and they just don't care. What about the people who think libraries are just buildings full of liberal propaganda? What about the next generation of users, those born digital? I don't think the latest Pew & The Internet Life study scared enough of us. Let me give you just one sentence that should scare you:
Students think the web is a library.
If the web is a library, why do we need a building full of books? Why do we need librarians? That's an easy question for us to answer, but I don't think it is for much of the population, and that should scare us. In my mind the most pressing problems we face are not censorship, the PATRIOT Act or Filters, but rather the growing gap between what we offer, and what people think we offer. Just think about the reaction to the Google books announcement.

Front page stories everywhere telling us about a revolutionary and exciting new development in the world of printed books. Suddenly we can search a few pages of books for sale. Through services like eBrary we've been offering not just partial searches of what essentially amounts to a book catalog, we offer the entire book. When your library started offering this service did it make it to the NY Times? Did it even get a mention in your local paper? Why can't I do this with my library's OPAC?

Something equally as scary was the article from Tacoma Washington where in a 2002 survey by Elway Research Inc, libraries ranked last of eight core services three times.
When surveyors asked what services the city should emphasize most over the next two years, respondents named library services last. When surveyors asked what services the city should emphasize in the long run, respondents named libraries last. When surveyors asked, “If you had to choose, what services would you say are the lowest priority?� respondents listed libraries lowest.

Where are our vendors in this land of missed opportunities? OCLC might be an exception to a group of vendors that have done next to nothing to promote what they do for our users, but other than that, do any vendors do any marketing to end users? We are bombarded by booths at conferences, magazine and web ads, and phone calls, but we already know what they have to offer. We should not be the customers, our patrons should be. Like drug companies pushing their prescriptions wares to the general public, our vendors should be on our side pushing them selves to the general public, pushing them into our offices begging for a prescription for what ails them. Out patrons should be coming into the library in the same way they go to their Doctors office, begging for something they saw on TV.

Imagine putting the adverting and marketing departments of all our vendors to work FOR us, instead of them working ON us.

I am truly afraid that if we don't start to market ourselves to people who think we are useless we will witness the death of the public library in our lifetimes. We increasingly find ourselves marginalized by a product [The Web] we can see is currently inferior. Unfortunately, I'm not sure that matters. Ease of use & price will always trump powerful more useful results, it's a sad fact, and one that we need to work with our vendors to over come very soon.

Maybe I'm wrong here, and I really hope that I am, but if I'm even half right, we're going to have a long hard battle for the hearts and minds of the next generation of library users. Unless we're going to be thinking of Blockbuster as our main competitor in the coming decades, we need to start marketing ourselves as better than anything available on the web. We need to tell people our print and web collections are up to date, and our electronic resources can't be found elsewhere. It's a message that is just not getting through.

Comments

First, have we ever been anywhere other then at the bottom of any list?

I think we've done a poor job of creating a vocabulary involving what we do. If Eskimos have dozens of words for snow shoudn't we have an equally diverse vocabulary for knowledge?

Will the book completely die out?

Yes: I think babies being born today could easily grow up reading everything in an electronic format and be the first generation to be paper free. Mind that's 'could' not 'will'. They're being raised by people who still read half online, half print. Technically books will never be dead, simply in another form. And also keep in mind we live in a very technologically advanced society. There is still a huge portion of the world that has very little access to even printed materials.

No: Porn is nice, sex is better. Awful analogy I know but humans have five senses and the environment we are in very much affects our ability to learn. A computer-based enironment is simply not conducive to learning for pleasure.

Yes? No? Either way it shouldn't matter. A small child goes to the library for activities and reading programs. Students from grade school to college go to libraries for guidance with research and to study in peace and quiet. Adults go to the library for popular materials, local information, research guidance, and a place to do work in peace and quiet. All those things require books, none require it to be on printed paper, all require a building called a library.

For another look at librarians as profession...

Blake said: "Like drug companies pushing their prescriptions wares to the general public, our vendors should be on our side pushing themselves to the general public, pushing them into our offices begging for a prescription for what ails them."

Uh uh Blake, I wouldn't compare these two very different issues.

I think what the drug companies are doing is WRONG and WASTEFUL. It is not allowed (I don't think) in any other country on earth (advertising prescription meds to end users, when they cannot purchase them without an intermediary (the doctor) party. It's driven the cost of prescriptions & health care higher even than it needs to be. Alert and up-to-date physicians know what drugs to prescribe to their patients, and they don't need to be nagged by Mr. of Mrs. X for drug A, B or C. It creates a HUGE amount of money for the drug companies, and it's a huge WASTE of time and energy for doctors and the patients under their care. Over the counter drugs is a different matter; they can and should advertise to the public.

What's available and/or new @ THE LIBRARY (books,AV, technologies, services, equipment, etc.)is a different matter all together, and yes, I agree that both vendors, libraries and supporting agencies and associations do everything they can to spread the word.

So basically, leave the prescription drug makers out of the equation, and I'll agree with you!

I support better marketing, more pride in an important profession, better leadership by your professional organizations. That said, I'm stunned at how much less I use a library now than I did 2 years ago. I'm talking once or twice a month instead of two or three times a week.

Reasons. 1) I moved and am no longer within walking distance. But I am still only 2 miles from either the main library or a branch. 2) No foolin'. It's the internet. I'm an information junky. This morning my husband said, "Did Pat Foley win that judgeship?" I didn't go to the library, or even call. I googled.

My sister, who is a church musician not a librarian, became literally addicted to research when she was a Sunday School superintendent and began checking the thousands of sites out there to help her. Libraries would have been useless for this, no matter how large or how convenient.

The internet has something libraries can't provide--once you are researching a topic, and find it, you also have immediate access via e-mail to others who are just as interested, and you're off and running. Not even the best librarian with the finest interpersonal skills can match it. 3) Blogs are putting a lot of research and opinion at our fingertips that were never available before. I've never read anything as well-written and organized as Belmont Club for current events, and now that regular writers like Virginia Postrel, Victor Davis Hanson and others also blog in addition to regular columns, we're too impatient to wait for a weekly magazine let alone a new edition of a book.

So a child born in 2004? Libraries? They may read about them in a history book--on-line.

Though people were certain they had the better system, they had ideas that turned out to be shortsighted, and enough people disagreed with them to eventually remove their option completely, whether they wanted it that way or not.

It's always been that way. New ideas don't take root because they are better, but because the old guard eventually dies off.

Let me give you just one sentence that should scare you: Students think the web is a library.

I think of it that way myself. It's just more interactive than most libraries.

If the web is a library, why do we need a building full of books? Why do we need librarians?

For the same reason that you need local libraries even though you have the Library Of Congress, and we need librarians for the same reason there are so many plaints about the quality of search queries and search results. Most people don't have even clue one about where or how to start looking up stuff in hard copy or at Google. It's part of the Crisis of the Librarian:

The greatest crisis facing us is not Russia, not the Atom bomb, not corruption in government, not encroaching hunger, nor the morals of the young. It is a crisis in the organization and accessibility of human knowledge. We own an enormous "encyclopedia" -- which isn't even arranged alphabetically. Our "file cards" are spilled on the floor, nor were they ever in order. The answers we want may be buried somewhere in the heap, but it might take a lifetime to locate two already known
facts, place them side by side, and derive a third fact, the one we urgently need.

Call it the crisis of the Librarian. --Robert Anson Heinlein, Introduction to The Worlds of ~, pg 23

And this was twenty plus years before the advent of the Internet. Mind you, this is rather out of context since Heinlein was complaining about a lack of multidisciplinary thinking in the fields of science and politics.

In my mind the most pressing problems we face are not censorship, the PATRIOT Act or Filters, but rather the growing gap between what we offer, and what people think we offer.

There is just no way you can project the secondary fallout of a new technology. Nobody could possibly have figured the impact of the auttymobil on the sexual revolution. As Heinlein wrote:

The most difficult speculation for a science fiction writer to undertake is to imagine correctly the secondary implications of a new factor. Many people correctly anticipated the coming of the horseless carriage; some were bold enough to predict that everyone would use them and the horse would virtually disappear. But I know of no writer, fiction or non-fiction, who saw ahead of time the vast change in the courting and mating habits of Americans which would result
primarily from the automobile -- a change which the diaphragm and the oral contraceptive merely confirmed. --Robert Anson Heinlein, Where To?, reprinted in updated form in Expanded Universe, pg 326

Fortunately, you are asking about primary effects, and as Heinlein implies those are easier to foresee. One thing I see at the moment is a trend toward dumbing down. Not as part of some political correctness movement, per se, but simply due to the factors I mention above. As with any social trend, this isn't going to happen overnight, but it is going to affect communications and education to a fairly wide degree because it will accelerate. It already is accelerating, but the rate of change
is too slow at the moment. You can see a precursor to this trend in the popular misusage of words (e.g.: using "may" [permission] in place of "might" [possibility]) and the recent degradation of grammar by communications enterprises (books and newspapers) from dropping the final comma in a series. The citing of using "track" vice "tract" in one of the commentaries is another example. I can write that off as an honest typographical error by the author, but the editor should have caught it.

Anyway, as we fail to teach good search habits to this generation, the sloppy habits that will develop as a result will be passed on to the next generation.

As a latent function, this should produce an equalizing effect between the haves and the have nots. I can see how better quality education systems will suffer more from this than the low quality education systems. While the poorer systems will not make any appreciable gain, the better systems will take an appreciable loss.

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