Notes of a Binge Thinker

Thoughts from NTLP's Executive Director

What is the Future of the Book in Libraries?

Happy New Year!

I hope everyone is having a wonderful start to 2011.  As we moved into the new year, I thought about the focus of my column. What subject can I highlight that will be beneficial to the libraries I serve on a daily basis?  With my column last year, I focused on the new roles libraries will take on in the next decade.  Out of all the subjects I covered, the one that seemed to cause the most passion was: What role will books play as we move forward?

I pondered this question as I read about the millions of ebook readers sold over the holidays.  As you have most doubt read, Amazon and Barnes and Noble’s ebook readers are their all time best sellers.  Each company has respectively sold more ebook readers than any other product.  A remarkable development for a device that many felt had come and gone with the turn of the century.

I actually have been interested in the ebook phenomenon for quite awhile now.  I even held a workshop about what a library would need to do to provide an ebook reader to every citizen.  At this workshop, we went over the basics of the ebook business and looked over some of the readers.  We, then, spent an hour in the afternoon going over all that a library would have to do to provide an ebook reader to every citizen and make the entire library’s content available to the citizens through the ebook reader.  My intention was to generate an ebook on ebooks from the feedback I received from the workshop.

I have started the book on numerous occasions, but every time I would finish a page, something would change in the ebook industry to nullify what I had just written.  I grew tired of trying to keep the ebook on ebooks current.  It didn’t take a leap for me to realize that the material might be better suited as a segment of my monthly column.

So, without further ado, there seems to be two aspects I wanted to concentrate on in 2011.  First, what will the role of books be in the library in the year 2020?  Second, focus on some of the issues libraries are facing when it comes to ebooks and ebook readers.

Library of the Future Guideposts!

You’re traveling through another dimension — a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That’s a signpost up ahead: your next stop: the Twilight Zone! (one of the three introductions for the television show Twilight Zone)

As I do with most everything here at NTLP, I went to my consultants and asked them what they thought about books in libraries in 2020.   Specifically, I asked them to brainstorm on some guideposts (or signposts as the quote above mentions) libraries could use as guide in the next decade as books are deemphasized as a service.

My questions sparked a major discussion between my staff.  It was a pleasure to watch these intelligent individuals passionately discuss a topic.  I could fill a book (or ebook) on what was discussed.  In the end, we decided on the following guideposts.

The Library of the Future increases the overall value of its community by:

Guidepost 1:  facilitating access to education as a service to the public.

Guidepost 2:  staying aware of current interests within the community, finding information relevant to those interests, and making that information publicly available.

Guidepost 3:  ensuring easy public access to information in all its forms.

Guidepost 4:  encouraging civic participation through public information campaigns that explain matters of public policy, informing public decisions, and maintaining awareness of public services (including its own services).

Guidepost 5:  maintaining its standing of public trust by operating as an independent “third voice” in its operations as well as its communications, and meeting on neutral ground.

I encourage you to embrace these guideposts:

  • In your long range planning.
  • In your discussions about the library with friends and family.
  • In your discussions about the library with your decision makers.

Eat them, breathe them and live them.  Libraries are going to change.  It is just a matter of how and we hope these guideposts will help guide you in your efforts.  In the coming months, I will focus on one guidepost a month and attempt to find a library abiding by the rule.   I also continue this conversation with my staff and convey some of the benchmarks that libraries could be following in the next decade as they approach each of these guideposts.

An Ebook Reader for Every Citizen

I have recently began to utilize Scenario Planning, where you build four possible futures based on key factors and then plan strategy around the possible futures developing.  It is an interesting technique for long range planning and one I would like to employ as I explore ebooks in my columns.  My first scenario is described below.  What would happen if a key decision maker like a mayor decided that each citizen deserved to get an ebook reader?

Here is the scenario itself.

“I promise to carry out all of my campaign promises, the least of which includes providing every citizen digital knowledge.  I will do this by providing an ebook reader so they can access the breadth of information found in our world class library.”

Alan Worth, Director of the Anytown Public Library, read the quote taped on his computer monitor for the hundredth time.  It had been four months since the elections and he had dreaded the day when he knew he would be called to the Mayor’s office to discuss the town leader’s pet project.   Alan had received the call last week from the city secretary inviting him to attend lunch with the Mayor, Bill Smith, at his favorite downtown hole-in-the-wall.

The quote itself came from the city newspaper in an article that appeared the day after the election.  Many since had questioned the Mayor’s sincerity about the project, but Alan had taken it seriously and had mentally prepared himself for the meeting.  Libraries had changed a lot since Alan started working as a librarian 20 years earlier.  With the rise of ebooks and digital information, Alan knew it was only matter of time before he would be facing possibility of providing ebooks to his patrons.  He just never thought it would be on the scale that the Mayor’s campaign promise had taken on.

His library board had asked Alan the week after the election if it was possible to do what the Mayor wanted.  Alan spoke frankly at the time.

“I simply don’t know at this point.  I know that we face some legal hurdles to get over before we can safely offer all content in an electronic format, but it depends how risky you want to get.  We also have the possibility of offering some, but not all of our printed material in digital format.  We might have to reach a compromise of some sort.  As far as cost and logistics, this would have to be researched by my staff and a plan put together. ”

The board seemed happy with his response and told him to be cooperative with the Mayor’s office.

The time had finally arrived. Alan stood up from his desk to make his way to a lunch date that he had been dreading for weeks.  He took a deep breath before leaving his office.

“I know we can find anything on the Internet and I don’t see why we need the library to house dusty old books any longer when you can just download it to an ereader device.”  Andy listened to Bill Smith tell him over their salads.  He grimaced at the stereotypical accusations.  “We can use the current library budget to get everything online and make my project a reality.”

“Mayor, I know you think everything can be found on the Internet, but this is simply not true.  We have to pay a subscription to access certain data that is not publicly available.  Even with the free data, not all of it is factually correct; you have to evaluate the data for its credibility.”  Andy told him in response.  “And ebook readers are really not set up for accessing the Internet.  All they really do is allow you to read ebooks.”

“How about the Ipad thingie?  I saw on TV that you can do other things with it.”  The mayor commented absently as he finished the last of the salad.

“This is true, Mayor.  My IT staff tell me that tablet PCs will eventually replace the dedicated ebook readers.  However, these are so much more expensive, about $400 more.  Do you really want to buy an ereader for every citizen?”  Alan responded, disappointed that the Mayor completely ignored his comment about the validity of the Internet.

“This is what I promised and this is what I want to do.  Alan, we have known each other for  quite awhile now.  You are smart and resourceful.  You will figure out a way to make it happen.” Bill said looking Andy in the eyes.  Bill reached out and grasped the library director’s arm in a supportive gesture.  “Don’t make a liar out of me.”

The food arrived and Bill smiled at Andy again.  “Let’s eat!  I am sure you will figure something out.”
Andy just sighed and started eating his food.  It was going to be an interesting year.

I will explore the strategy to handle this scenario next month

Read the rest of my column here.


Written by amwlkaw

January 19, 2011 at 1:34 pm

Posted in Misc

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