Two Writers and their thoughts about the Future of Libraries

People love to talk about the future of libraries. Here are two pretty different viewpoints:

1. MG Siegler and TechCrunch:

A couple days ago, TechCrunch published The End of the Library, written by MG Siegler. In it, Mr. Siegler says this:

  • “it’s hard not to imagine a future where the majority of libraries cease to exist — at least as we currently know them. Not only are they being rendered obsolete in a digital world, the economics make even less sense. One can easily envision libraries making their way to the forefront of any budget cut discussions.” – Sorta his main point.
  • But he also admits to this: “It’s hard for me to even remember the last time I was in a library. I was definitely in one this past summer in Europe — on a historical tour. Before that, I think it was when I was in college.”

Um. Dude. That’s like saying “I hate Macs! And I’ve never even used one!” At least go visit one before writing about them (I hear there’s a pretty fine library in San Francisco).

Unfortunately, articles like this make me wonder about the editorial integrity of TechCrunch. They apparently allow writers to publish opinion pieces with absolutely no experience about the topic, (which Mr. Siegler admits to). What about all those other articles on TechCrunch? Hmm…

2. Neil Gaiman, well-known writer:

Around the same time, Neil Gaiman wrote Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming in the Guardian. In his article, Neil says this about libraries:

“But libraries are about freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication. They are about education (which is not a process that finishes the day we leave school or university), about entertainment, about making safe spaces, and about access to information.

I worry that here in the 21st century people misunderstand what libraries are and the purpose of them. If you perceive a library as a shelf of books, it may seem antiquated or outdated in a world in which most, but not all, books in print exist digitally. But that is to miss the point fundamentally.

I think it has to do with nature of information. Information has value, and the right information has enormous value. For all of human history, we have lived in a time of information scarcity, and having the needed information was always important, and always worth something: when to plant crops, where to find things, maps and histories and stories – they were always good for a meal and company. Information was a valuable thing, and those who had it or could obtain it could charge for that service.”

So. Neil Gaiman speaks from experience. He’s been in and around libraries his whole life. MG Seigler admits to not remembering the last time he was in a library.

Who ya gonna believe?

photo of MG Siegler by TechCrunch

 

Greatest Hits from Pew Internet’s Library Research – from ALAMW13

One more set of sketchy notes from ALAMW13 – this time from Lee Rainie, director, Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project @lrainielibraries.pewinternet.org

Pew has done three phases of research on libraries:

  • econtent
  • library services
  • library user segmentation typology – essentially market research for libraries. Nice.

Phase 1: econtent

  • Ebooks are being read more. 16% in 2011, 23% in 2012. At the same time, reading of printed books is declining a bit – 72% in 2011, 67% in 2012.
  • 40% of Americans have either a tablet or an ebook reader. 31% have a tablet, 26% have an ebook reader
  • Readers of ebooks: currently under age 50, college educated, making 50k+, and love reading. They buy their ebooks.
  • Approximately 50% of American adults own smartphones.
  • Ebook borrowing – late 2012, a whopping 5% of Americans 16+ have borrowed ebooks from libraries in the last year.
  • Growing awareness of this service – 31% of the public
  • Yet, 57% don’t know whether this is a service they can use, including many library users.
  • Problems with borrowing process include:
    • not compatible with an ereader
    • there was a waiting list
  • Over 50% are open to library coaching/tech support with ebooks.

Phase 2: library services

  • Mega takeaway #1: people love their libraries even more for what they say about their communities than for how libraries meet personal needs
    • 91% say libraries are important to their communities
    • 6% say libraries are important to them and their families
    • People appreciate their librarians
  • Mega takeaway #2: libraries have rebranded themselves as tech hubs
    • 77% say free access to computers and the Internet is a very important service
  • Mega takeaway #3: the public wants everything equally, so library leadership will matter in setting priorities
    • African-Americans and Latinos are especially enthusiastic about library services.
  • Mega takeaway #4: the public invites you to be more Engard in knotty problems.
    • Things like involvement in iocal schools, literacy in the community, comfortable spaces, move most library services online, etc. cool.
    • Lib services online – 42% should definitely do, 34% should maybe do. Wow. That’s 76% of people wanting the library to do a whole lot more online. As in most library services. Think about that for a minute… Definitely a blog post here!
  • Mega takeaway #5: libraries have a PR problem / opportunity.
  • Mega takeaway #6 – target audiences for engagement outreach are not hard to ID
    • And there’s a large chunk of the population that simply doesn’t use the library or read books.

image by Elon University

Reinventing Spaces & Places – Internet Librarian 2012

This was the closing keynote, and had some really cool ideas on reinventing libraries.

Speakers – Erik Boekesteijn, Jaap Van De Geer, Paul Pival, and Jeff Wisniewski

Grand pronouncement: We cannot save libraries by doing more of what we have done before, because the outcome will be the same.

Simple observation – media consumption is very obviously shifting. So we need to shift, too.

Opening random thoughts (random because of me, the notetaker, anyway):

  • Jaap and Erik wanted to have the best library in the world. So they toured the US and collected best practices in libraries.
  • Libraries need a new business model. Don’t focus on books – focus on stories.
  • Showing pictures of a beautiful library … With no people in it. Versus a new Apple Store that is full of people.

Where to start?

Viewsy – tracks people’s cell phones to measure foot traffic in a building. More info from their website:

“We provide a way to digitise an analogue world, turning visitor foot traffic into measurable insights that can be analysed and acted upon. We do this by measuring anonymous phone data from each customer walking past and through your store, data which is then analysed and presented for you on an easy to use online dashboard.”

What are successful spaces doing?

  • Library of 100 Talents – the teens designed their own youth department. Looks like a really fun place
  • Creation spaces –  TFDL digital media commons as example
    • 12 Mac pros with full a/v editing suites
    • 4 soundproof editing suites
    • DJ mixing board
    • Etc.
  • Fountaindale Public Library – 7000 square foot of digital media creation studio
  • Westport CT Public Library’s maker space – Placed in the middle of the library, in the stacks

Learning outside the classroom

  • Providing spaces where students an share ideas in public locations – promotes peer learning
  • Can also serve as formal learning spaces
  • Collaborative spaces can be in wide open areas and should have multiple uses

Renting out spaces

  • Assen public library in the Netherlands
  • They have a television studio
  • They make their own programs, but also rent out the space to professionals to use

Keys to success:

  • Involve the community
  • DOK library as an example
  • UrbanMedia Space Arhus Denmark – another example

What do the users say?

Paul played a video of students talking about the library. They want to collaborate, and want to have quiet study spaces. Go figure.

But the point here? Actually go ask your patrons what they want the library to be, then try to build that.

We don’t know what the future holds….

So create/design with flexibility in mind.

  • Flexible libraries/spaces
  • Flexible teams
  • Flexible furniture
  • Flexible infrastructure (add more wifi than you possibly imagine you’d need)
  • Raised floors – so you can put data and networking in the floor.
    • Me – that’s huge, considering in some parts of my library we have to drill to install more wiring. And that’s pricey.
  • Agile walls (you can move them easily)
  • Flexible technology – iPads replace desktop computers at north shore public library
    • No mediation required – there are check out stations / kiosk that will dispense iPads…
  • Interactive walls and flexible content
  • Marketing your space

What if you don’t have any space?

  • Reclaim that space – kill the large reference desk
  • Get rid of things that aren’t used (ie., 75% of your collection, perhaps)
  • Share space (airport library in Amsterdam)
  • Crossover with museum

Bucharest Metro Digital Library – poster walls of books with QR Codes. Scan and immediately download the book. Nice.

New Presentation: Redesigning Public Services

Here’s my newest presentation, given today at INCOL (Inland Northwest Council of Libraries). It was a fun day – and I was able to hang out at Coeur d’Alene Public Library in Coeur d’Alene, ID.

Here’s the Slideshare version of the presentation!