Ever since I met the guys behind Voices for the Library at Barcamp Canterbury, I’ve been thinking about libraries. I walk by my local library twice daily and always struggle to actually spot people using it.
I have a simple conclusion. Libraries need to evolve.
Digital copies of texts are treated just the same as the physical paper copy – the number available on loan is limited, and those wishing to borrow / access the content must wait for it to become available. Is that sustainable? Piracy of music and film has come about in part due to there not being sufficiently easy and free access to content. Would books too become something that suffers.
What about Google Books and the blatant and deliberate move to scan books and ignore the copyright on each? And how do libraries expect to survive when Amazon is forever eating into their core activities?
A school librarian I spoke to raised concerns over pandering to the needs of the masses – why on earth does a library need to stock music CDs and movie titles on DVD? These are now so cheap to buy, rent or stream that it seems unnecessary for a library to commit time, money and resources to stocking them.
From this piece in the LA Times titled Librarian’s words are binding:
Libraries, my son says, “Organize, preserve, and provide access to the human record. I’m talking clay tablets, medieval manuscripts in unknown languages, and Nietzsche’s laundry list, not to mention ‘Meet the Fockers’ and tons of other popular and not-so-popular materials of all sorts. They are increasingly one of the last free spaces for people to meet and do homework, hang out and read, attend a free lecture or a reading, or look for a job, and to get assistance along the way.”
Some libraries have made moves into new business activities, such as launching coffee shops or shared workspace. Many co-locate with other public services. What will happen if / when those activities become top priority as they constitute the greatest amount of revenue generation?
I believe that libraries should be hiring and training librarians to become online content curators. Human filters who find quality information online and curate it. A good librarian is widely read and able to guide you to great resources. I’m suggesting they should be digesting online content and packaging related topics into volumes that we can archive.
Google, Facebook, Twitter et al – all provide us with a real-time stream of news and information. Vast quantities of data are created every second that gets forgotten a day later. The Library of Congress is archiving every tweet, so why can’t all libraries play their part globally in archiving the history we’re creating online?
How would this be implemented? With the bookshelf manifesto for guidance, I have some ideas:
- Local libraries could scour the web for data related to their immediate geographic proximity, i.e. generated in the area or written about the area.
- Information should be stored in a format that is open and accessible to other libraries, although perhaps not in a centralised repository, and that will stand the test of time.
- Free from censorship or influence.
- All information stored must be as it was created with attribution to its creator.
- Tagging each item of information with keywords would allow for related information to be easily accessed.
- No priority should be given to any specific topic and the library should have no set agenda. Librarians could become expert curators of topics or areas – just as you’d expect with journalists or historians.
What would this mean? In essence libraries become museums for the knowledge and information we publish online. The back office becomes the focus of library operations and there’s less concern about visitor numbers.
There is a lot that needs to be established and my biggest unanswered question is how would this be funded? I believe that curated content holds a huge amount of value that I don’t doubt private industry would wish to pay for, but would that compromise the freedom (both meanings) of the service?