Head in the Clouds

For the past 3-4 weeks I have been firmly rooted in detail and day-to-day issues that I haven’t allowed myself to look up and daydream. I am doing that today!

My oldest daughter has been talking about college a lot lately which is funny since she just finished Kindergarten. I don’t bring it up. She just wants to know what college is like and if she can bring her stuffed animals. It makes me wonder what life will be like for her and her sister when they finish high school. Lots of possibilities. Nothing is certain. It could be a mess. It could be wonderful. I’m looking forward to experiencing whatever may come with them.

One thing for certain is that technology will play a big role in their lives. What kind of devices will be making life easier for us? So many things will evolve and ‘simply’ appear in the next few years. It’s fun to imagine the possibilities. This is one of the advantages of my job. I get to learn about new(er) technologies and hopefully stay ahead of most people a little. The trick I’m still trying  figuring out which new technologies are worth learning more about. Which ones will be helpful to me and which will be helpful to my library. It’s kind of fun.

Links for the week:

This two part post by Joe Weinman on GigaOM fascinates me. He was a keynote speaker at the IEEE First Technology Time Machine Symposium in Hong Kong earlier this month. Just the name of that symposium makes me want to go.

In the two posts below he outlines some of the technologies that are probably going to be part of our lives in the near future, what they can do and what needs to be done to make them happen. In the first part he states that a company’s “new sensor chip has the power of the original Pentium chip but fits on the head of a pin.” This leaves me a little slack jawed at the possibilities. It makes things like this seem more likely. I enjoy living in the future now. Just wait till the ‘real’ future happens.

The post below is the introduction to a larger work that I have just begun to read. I hope I can read it this weekend…if the kids let me. The authors state that we are in the third era of the web: The Social Web. (First = the Web Browser. Second = the Search Engine) That’s about right. We are firmly in an era of social connectivity that has been enabled and reinforced by the web. This post focuses on Facebook and Google as leaders of the social web. They discuss how the social web is different and how it could evolve. It makes me wonder…what’s the next era of the web?

Friday Reads – Free Edition

What is the price of free? Really. Very few things are truly free. There is always a cost to be paid. Whether it is giving a company some personal information, or doing some extra work there is always a cost associated with free.

My library will be launching OverDrive in the next few weeks and this has gotten me thinking about the costs of ‘free’ in libraries. Libraries have generally been a place for free content. It’s one of our biggest draws for many people. But what is the cost of free to the person using the library?* Usually it’s time. The person who wants to read the latest bestseller usually has to wait for the book to be available. That wait can take some time. So if you are willing to be patient you can read that book for free. If you can’t wait you can buy the book immediately.

The same is true for OverDrive and eBooks. While waiting for a digital copy of anything runs counter to how we think it should work it is the trade off people make for it being free. For a long time I griped (mostly to myself) about the lunacy of making people wait for a digital copy of a book. “It’s bits for goodness sake! There is no limit to the amount of people who can use this right NOW! Why do they have to wait?” Well the answer is they don’t have to wait for it. They are free to purchase the book from any number of places. If they want the book for free they have to wait for it. It’s not perfect and I don’t particularly like it. But that’s the current price for free when it comes to eBooks and libraries.

Maybe this will shake things up? Maybe not. Hope so.

*Not mentioning taxation on purpose

This week’s links

This post by Seth Godin got a lot of people talking this week. (I think I’ll dedicate this week’s list to this post and some of the responses)While some of the things he says have made a few people angry and defensive I think his last paragraph is rather encouraging.

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.

A more defensive post in response to Godin.

Friday Reads – Rushed Edition

Not too much to report for this week. I’ve been thinking about other things. Family has been taking up most of my time and thoughts. Over the weekend I learned my grandmother has days left… To say that I’ve been incredibly sad doesn’t quite describe my feelings. I’m headed home to see her and be with my mother today so this has been a bit rushed…

I did get a good evaluation though. Thanks boss!

On to the readings for this week:

After reading some less than positive things about the public library this is most welcome. David Morris provides a quick history of the public library in the US then follows up with a rebuke of privatization efforts and the closing of libraries to ‘save money.’ He points to some interesting studies that highlight how the money invested in public libraries provides an economic stimulus to the community. I’ll have to try and read some of those. Looks interesting.

Om Malik gives us a very thoughtful post about the past, future and limits of technology. Are people the limiting factor of technology?

If the hue and cry over Apple’s location data collection methodologies is any indication, then are we the people becoming the limiting factor in the evolution of technology and its adoption? Will the idea of what computing can do and what it will be in the future be limited by our collective ability to grok these changes? I mean, things aren’t exactly getting less complicated.

Jeff Jarvis wrote a piece about the business rules and realities of news. I’m including the post here because I think they apply to libraries as well. They could probably apply to a variety of occupations. Some of my favorites:

    • Tradition is not a business model.
    • Virtue is not a business model.
    • You no longer control the market. You are a member of an ecosystem.

I’m beginning to like Francine Fialkoff. This post on the commonalities of librarians is thought provoking. She attended the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) conference in Philadelphia recently and believes the disparity between public and academic librarians is shrinking. One of the sessions she attended featured ‘next-gen’ librarians. They focused on a set of virtues that we could all use:

collegiality, playfulness, collaboration, flexibility, creativity, courage, and service-orientation, characteristics that must span the profession if we are to move our libraries ahead.

I also like the ‘rapid prototype model’ she mentions. It is essentially a philosophy that encourages:

incremental testing so that failure comes quickly in the process of change and at little cost.

Friday Reads – Challenges Editon

It’s been a challenging week. Both of my kids are sick and that means a serious lack of sleep. On top of that, my father-in-law and his wife visited us the first half of the week. That’s a good thing but there was no time to rest. But enough of the whining.

The real challenge for me this week was trying to stay positive professionally. I’m generally an optimistic guy who tries to see the good side of things. Lately I’ve been thinking about the future of libraries and it’s been depressing. I want libraries to succeed and thrive because I believe that we are the only institution of government that is truly open to everyone. We have the potential to assist every member of society regardless of age, gender or economics.

The thing that has gotten to me this week is the realization that our future is far from certain. I’m lucky to be in a county that values its libraries. Will that always be the case? How can I justify our existence to someone like this without sounding whiny and/or angry? What I need to do is work on my ‘elevator pitch‘ about the value of libraries. Maybe focus on:

  • how the library is more than books
  • we are about people
    • helping them improve
  • by helping individuals improve we are improving our communities

It’s a start. I’ll work on it.

The posts below have helped me this week. While I don’t think libraries are quaint I appreciate Cooley’s response. McGuire has given me a lot to think about and I’m still trying to sort out his post. I really like P.C. Sweeney and his optimism. Andy provides a funding option that I hadn’t really considered.

On to the reading:

The post isn’t nearly as good as the comments. There are lots of people defending libraries and getting mad at Mr. Cooley but his response is very interesting. The part that hit me the hardest was his take on the library brand. Here’s the entire quote:

Brand: Libraries, first and foremost, have a major brand issue. They span physical books, digital books, public search, proprietary search, research assistance, career counseling, literacy development, computer skills training, free internet access, movies, games, lectures, reading groups of various demos, community forums, book sales and more. Sliced another way they offer news, history, data, entertainment, elder services, children’s’ services, entertainment, training and more. Either way, it’s a broad offer best summed up as “making society better”. Unfortunately, like “saving the environment” you get more lip service than traction from consumers on that one. (re)Focus your brand as an industry and good things will happen.)

Short version: we’re doing too much to do anything well.

Hugh McGuire has written a great post at In the Library With the Lead Pipe (which is a very good site for library ideas, theory and philosophy) about what libraries are for. He raises many good points and questions but basically it boils down to this: our business model is changing and we need to change with it. The value of a library as place full of books for people to check out will decline and we should start focusing on the other things that make us important to our communities if we are going to be funded and relevant in the future. I think this quote is beautiful:

A world of ubiquitous free or near-free ebooks is coming, in 5 or 10 or 20 years. And when that happens, a library that defines itself as “a place where you can get free or near-free books” will no longer be an institution providing a service deemed important enough to be maintained by its community. But libraries have never been solely about free books. They are about something deeper, about information, about access to knowledge, about providing a public space where citizens can interact with each other, all within the context of an exchange of knowledge. Libraries are at the core of our understanding of civilization, and if we are to keep them healthy, we’ll have to make sure that they continue to answer deep needs in our society, rather than provide particular services because they’ve always done so.

I like this post and have been thinking about it most of the week. Sweeney also thinks libraries are changing but the core service of libraries doesn’t have to.

What I’m saying here in a round and about way, is that we need to continue what libraries have always been, and that is to be enablers to those who want to learn and provide the resources that enable our communities to learn. It’s not reference, its enabling our patrons to live more fulfilling lives. After all… By answering reference questions wasn’t that the real goal anyway?

Andy always writes thought provoking posts and this one isn’t any different. He proposes that libraries be open to the idea of corporate sponsorship. I’m not against this idea. I actually think it could work in some cases. Would it fly here? I doubt it.

Why I’m Optimistic


A few weeks ago I was asked by my boss to prepare a short presentation on change and libraries for the library’s staff development days in December. It’s been a great reason to read and really think about what I think libraries may be like in the not-too-distant-future.

At first I was a bit overwhelmed by all of the changes that are happening so quickly.Was it really just 2007 that the first Kindle came out? Now eBooks are about to really take off and librarians are trying to figure out this new format. The mobile web is still very young and we’re figuring it out too. Our budgets are flat, or shrinking. Library staff is working hard to serve the needs of more visitors while having less support. It could get very depressing very quickly. Really.

What does our future hold? I can only say ‘I don’t know.’ Luckily, I’ve been talking to some smart, creative people who have helped me make some sense of what is going on. I’ve come to a conclusion. I really do think libraries are going to be ok. It’s not going to be easy but I do think we will survive into the future.

I have two reasons to be optimistic:

  1. We’re smart
    • There are some very smart people in library land who are working hard to figure this stuff out and they are sharing their knowledge
  2. We adapt
    • We’ve been adapting for centuries.
      • From clay tablets to scrolls to books we’ve seen them all
      • The shift from paper to digital is another format change we will manage

Just because we are living through a very disruptive and fast changing time doesn’t mean we can’t handle it. Of course we can handle it. How? By focusing on what we do best: helping people with their information needs. Helping people connect with the information they need when they need it and providing a space for people to meet to connect with each other. As long as we remember that it is people who make the library I think we will be ok.

Will libraries look the same in 20 years? No. Will a lot of people be upset by the transformations we may undergo? Probably. Change is inevitable. We can either manage the change ourselves or wait and let someone else tell us how we will change. I don’t think we will like option number 2. So, I’m going to stay positive and work on helping my library manage change as smoothly as possible.

Pessimism doesn’t help either.