I’m sitting here at the Open Eye Cafe, a rather counter-culture sort of affair with used furniture, young men and women dress for summer, leaning intently toward their laptops, sipping very good coffee, a fairly happy song being played through speakers, simple guitar and unhappy female singer. I’m here for the Chapel Hill Blogger Meetup — but it must be the wrong night, or the wrong coffee shop, or it could be the wrong time of the year to expect anyone to arrive to talk about blogging when they can sit with their feet up on the back porch and enjoy a humid but not unpleasant breeze.
Ok! Enough! Let’s make proper use of my time and write my second shift for libraries and librarians — now that I’ve got your attention. My first shift stirred up quite a roundtable of conversation from some really important people. I’m humbled and also emboldened by the discussion, so we’ll blaze ahead. As you recall, I suggested that as information continues to change, becoming more and more critical to our endeavors and, at the same time, less finely defined by it’s containers (or lack there of), then its consideration becomes less based on its source and more on its value, in terms of the goals we are trying to achieve. Of course it isn’t so simple, and I suspect that the truth of it exists in the conversations that hang from yesterday’s post. Perhaps it is most simply stated that…
we will not as often consider the source first and then its value,
consider the value first and then the source within the context of the goal.
So that’s librarians and what librarians (and the rest of us) do. What about the library. It came up several times in the conversation, each time met with my urging for patience. If you go back an read the original post, I said that “Libraries, as we (traditionally) think of them, are soon to become obsolete.” The libraries that I visit and remember have been places where you go to find information. Sometimes it was a casual wondering through a topic of interest. Other times it is a purposeful search for the answer to a question. But it was a place to go to consume information.
We continue to use information with a vengeance, but we pay to have it flow into our homes through cable TV service, Internet, audio book services, online catalogs, online music services, satellite radio, blah blah blah. We want the information to come to us, from a global information grid. We don’t want to go to it, where it waits, at attention, on book shelves.
Certainly the library is far more than just a storage of content to most of us. As one of my commenters mentioned, students like libraries. They like to be there. But what might a library become, that is essential to prosperity, democracy, and life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, as book repositories were in the age of Gutenberg.
Those who have heard me speak or read my books know that I often make the distinction between the way that my generation thinks about information, and how our children use it. In talking about the long tail, I point to the thousands of people who are now generating income by producing content that is in some way valuable to other people. My own books are helping to pay for my children’s college. Not all of it. Out-of-state tuition is a monster. But the point is that today, as we continue to succeed in teaching our students to be skilled consumers of information (readers and learners), it is critical that we also do just as good a job of teaching them to be skilled producers of information.
Now, while I continue to maintain that every citizen of a thriving economic and democratic society should have convenient access to digital networked information, and that it is in the national interest to assure that this happens — It is another matter to provide for every home video and still cameras, micro-phones, scanners, sophisticated media editing software, etc.. I think that most people will need a place to go to produce compelling content. They will need access to equipment and materials, and they will need someone to support them in moving from being tool-builders to being refined communicators. Think “Kinkos” without the bill. Think of a community building place where people come for rich communication, not just to read. Think of a public work environment.
Certainly, many libraries are already doing these things with much celebrity. But I believe that in order to survive, which they absolutely must, librarians are going to have to expand the range of services that people identify with the library. Perhaps libraries should feature some local film festivals, talks from local authors and digital (and analog) artists, information architects, local musicians and composers, video game clubs — all geared toward demistifying the process and making anyone an information artisan.
Image citation (The image above is a mashup of two pictures I found on flickr’s creative commons archive)
Kork, Zachary. “Minneapolis Public Library: Central Library.” Zachary Korb’s Photostream. 2 July 2006. 28 Jul 2006 <http://flickr.com/photos/zkorb/180202370/in/photostream/>.
Midiman, “Recording.” Midiman’s Photostream. 6 Dec 2005. 28 Jul 2006 <http://flickr.com/photos/midiman/70866693/>.