There is a phrase that I have heard over the last few years, and every time I hear it my brow furrows, and my mouth gapes. I stand there dumbstruck and incredulous, not believing that someone in my field, who I respect, would say such a thing.
It goes like this:
What does this have to do with libraries?
My God, I think to myself. Do you really have so little imagination that you can’t envision how this could benefit our customers? Do you not see where we are going as a profession that this is something that we should be exploring?
What this phrase says to me, every time I hear it, is that this individual has a preconceived notion about what libraries should and should not do. Where she has drawn that line means that anything that crosses that line needs to be justified within the context of her preconceived notion.
This is the same sort of argument that people use when “working to rule.” The parameters have been set to a low standard, and only that standard is required. There is no need or desire to move beyond it, for to do so means you are doing more work then you need to do. You meet your requirements and you go home. The service is solely “at par,” nothing more, nothing less.
Maybe I’m just an overachiever by nature, but this smacks me too hard. When I hear the 8 deadly words I know that someone’s mind has closed off. That the ability to convince that person of this vision of the future is an uphill struggle. That the person is living in a vision of the institution that is in the past, and only getting further and further behind.
As part of the information profession we have a duty to stay on top of how innovation is changing the way people interact with information. How they access it is only a fraction of that. The bigger piece of the pie is how this change, changes us all. How does this shift change social structures. How does it change culture, and how can we adapt to this new environment.
The future isn’t about eBooks. It’s about how eBooks are created, distributed, and consumed. It’s about how this will change the entire paradigm of publishing, and what that in turn will mean for Mega Corporations who own everything we read. What would happen if the big six (now five, I guess, with Random Penguins) were to just crumble and a thousand little online distributors took their place? How would we cope with that? How is having access to 3D printers going to change the way we interact with mass produced goods? How is localized print on demand books going to affect book stores? How are albums that are being funded through Kickstarter and Indiegogo going to affect standard music distribution channels? What happens when cable companies dissolve and internet only services take off? What happens when smart phones and tablets are so cheap that everyone can have one for next to nothing? What about all of these contributions to free online resources like Project Gutenberg, Wikipedia, and the countless Open Source Software projects that people are working on every day.
This is a global paradigm shift we are living in.
It is touching every facet of our lives, and all of these things have implications not only in how libraries will operate, but what we will actually be in the 21st century. If you’re not thinking about how to work through these issues, and how that’s going to change our culture, you’re not going to stay ahead of the game. When your idea of the library is solely as a place where people read books, then you’ve already been left behind.
What we require going forward is a tremendous force of innovation, to overcome the inertia of “the way we’ve always done this.” I would highly recommend reading Brian Mathews article “Facing the Future” about how libraries can think more like start-ups. This isn’t just change for the sake of change. This adaptation for the sake of survival.