Monday, May 16, 2011

Seth Godin on the Future of Libraries

Richard Russell sent me this on Facebook and asked me what I thought. Rather than just a quick Facebook oneliner, here is a bit more of a response.

First, so many people read Godin's stuff that it is nice when he talks about libraries. He is also a bit of an iconoclast so it is good for us to be challenged by someone from outside the profession.

That being said, the post is disappointing. There is nothing new here that librarians don't already know. It is a shame that Godin takes a very traditional view of libraries and tells us that we are behind the times. Spend some more times in libraries and with librarians Seth and see what is going on. I would contend that you can find many of the attributes of your vision of libraries,

"The next library is a place, still. A place where people come together to do co-working and coordinate and invent projects worth working on together. Aided by a librarian who understands the Mesh, a librarian who can bring domain knowledge and people knowledge and access to information to bear."

in many places around the world. As Godin states, "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."

Too true, but if you actually spent time in libraries or with librarians you would soon find we have them already. But as Gibson said, "the future is here, it is just not widely distributed yet."

Iconoclasts get to say "do this one thing and nothing else! Stop doing what you have been doing up to now!" But professionals, and librarians in particular, don't. We have to serve everyone in our community, and honor the past and the future. This means we have to guard dead (and very much alive) paper and we have to find ways to get ebooks (and information in a myriad of other formats) into the hands of our users at no direct cost to them (beyond their taxes and tuition) and we have to do a lot more than just 'warehouse' it. Unlike Godin, we cannot throw the baby out with the bathwater.

One more thing. Godin states "Post-Gutenberg, books are finally abundant, hardly scarce, hardly expensive, hardly worth warehousing. Post-Gutenberg, the scarce resource is knowledge and insight, not access to data." Yet on his own blog he is providing links to his own books for sale. Ironically, at least one is a rehash of various blog posts. So he is actually swimming against what he thinks is an inevitable tide (the demise of paper based books.) He is obviously free to do so. If you and I  are dumb enough to buy  what is available for free -- all power to him. In fact at least 647 libraries, including Rollins, purchased a copy of this book (I wonder who requested that one!)

But is does seem a little rich to then lecture us on the demise of paper. Maybe he will donate the royalties from those 647 copies to a forward thinking library.

1 comment:

Stephen said...

Yes - librarians already know this. Of course, Seth Godin's audience is not librarians and it's nice to have someone speak to them about librarians futures that they listen to.
Reading the post from the real audience perspective instead of from the isolated librarian bubble gives me a different view.