Thursday, May 19, 2011

Godin's take on the future of libraries

We Futurists have spent a little time this week discussing Seth Godin's recent blog post on the future of public libraries as well as some blog posts that were written in response. Much of the research we've done regarding how libraries will look in 2025 (and are already starting to look) are definitely in line with Godin's thinking. He places an emphasis on techno/information savvy librarians who look beyond traditional in-house resources and encourage a space for public use and creative thinking. Even the education I received emphasized the "Information" piece of the Master's of Library and Information Science. We were told that if you applied for library school solely because you love books (though many of us love books dearly), you're going to be disappointed. Navigating data and resources and educating users how to navigate for themselves is part of a reference librarian's workflow. If they're not interested in being educated, we still get them what they ask for, hopefully without giving them the stinkeye if they prefer to get a resource on their e-reader rather than a book.

As much as I found Godin's post reflective of what many futurist-types hope libraries will look like, it's obvious that the business sphere is where he is most comfortable. He wants libraries to be cutting edge, always evolving to meet the newest needs, and tech heavy-- like many great and trending businesses are. But library structures are very regimented. Depending on the chain of command, resources, and budget many libraries can't just turn into a a smooth-running idea center overnight. If the library were run like many businesses, I think half of the librarians and support staff would be fired because their positions don't fit into this model. And that's not what we want. How do we grapple with the idea of making a library like a successful business when libraries aren't rooted in the business world?

I would also like to point out, when I talk about running a library like a business, I'm not suggesting we charge for materials or require users to jump through hoops to use them. I'm not suggesting outsourcing purchasing power of books or slashing the hours of full-time employees. But I am talking about providing users with what they want when they want it (not what I think they want or what they should want). I'm also talking about changing services to meet their needs, even if that means changing these services every 3-5 years.

When reading these two posts back-to-back, it gives us Futurists a lot to think share your thoughts!

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