I'm Down On The Future Of Public Libraries
The Marathon County Situation got me thinking all is not well in libraryland. Here's 4 other random posts that did the same.
My 4 Year Old Told Me To “Google It”
Can you connect This Story By Mat Siltala to libraries?
He turned to me and said: “Why don’t you just Google it Dad, because you use it to find everything else”. I guess he does hear me (more then I realize) say stuff like “find it on Google”, or “look it up on Google” with everyday interactions with my wife, friends or clients! It was so funny, cute and genuine that I was speechless.
Cowboy Junkies Paradox
Can you connect This Story By Seth Godin to libraries?
Marketers of all stripes face the same challenge. Your current customers want nothing but the old stuff, but the new customers don't know you exist, so they can't speak up.
Cat teeth: search trumps experience
Can you connect This Story By Stephen Baker to libraries?
Search is replacing the knowledge we gain from experience: the tactile, slightly risky, scratched fingers variety. We can learn more facts this way, but do they mean as much to us?
"The Expectation Economy"
I know you can connect This Post By George Needham over at OCLC:
One of the hardest changes for librarians to face seems to be that people have choices today. When we had a semi-monopoly on required readings, encyclopedias, back issue magazines, and 16mm films, we could pretty much make and enforce any rules we wanted. Those days are gone forever.
Search is replacing the knowledge we gain from experience: the tactile, slightly risky, scratched fingers variety. That search is being done via the web, without any assistance, and without any payment by the searcher.
Seeing this post reminded me I had started to write about 2 recent experiences I had that help reinforce my pessimism about the future of libraries. If you haven't read my old posts on this here's a quick summary: I fear libraries, especially public libraries, are doomed because enough people have enough different reasons to think they're useless now. Enough people won't use them, think of them, or support them when the time comes and this will spell big trouble for our profession in the future. I'm not predicting this, but rather admitting my fears.
So my latest experience from real life. Every Sunday night everyone in my family heads over to my father in law's house for dinner. There's anywhere between 10 and 25 people there every Sunday night. So last week my father in law needed a phone number. In a room full of 8 adults not a single person thought to open the phone book that was 3 feet away. Everyone though of Google. Everyone recommended I go get my laptop and look up a number on The Google. My laptop was on the other side of the house, and turned off, it would have taken me at least 5 minutes, if not longer, to find the number. The phone book would've take me about 45 seconds. Even after I pointed this out someone still said "it's just easier" to look it up on the internet. It didn't matter it would've been more work, what mattered was someone thought the internet was easier than a book.
I took away a few things from all of this doom and gloom.
1. People think of the web first now. These are not stupid people. They are well educated, upper middle class folk who are interested in world events. They even read books. But when faced with a question that involves any kind of information seeking behavior, none of them will think about a library. When they want a book they think of Amazon or Borders first. Soon, they will think of their ebook reader first.
2. People think The Web is easier, even if it's not. They all think it's easier to do things on The Web. Even it takes 3 times as long, it still seems easier. It doesn't matter what is actually easier, people will always do what they think is easier. Getting in the car and driving to the library for anything is more work that sitting down in the den and typing a few words into a search engine.
3. How people think influence what they do with their time and money. If they think libraries are more work than all the other options they have, then we are. If they think what libraries have on the shelves is old and dusty books, then that's what we have. And if they think librarians are useless, well then we are.
More and more smart people no longer think of the library. People with money (The people that pay taxes and vote) don't need the library for books. More and more people don't see any advantage to having libraries any more. People have more choices than ever when it comes to all the services we provide in the library, if we are seen as the worst choice, then we're in trouble.
So what is the solution?