Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Librarian in Black Speaks about the Future of Libraries!

Tuesday night at the San Francisco Public Library, Sarah Houghton-Jan, known in the blogosphere as the "Librarian in Black," (her blog is here)gave a lecture titled, "The Future of Libraries- What's Next for Civilization's Great Educational Equalizer?" Awesome title. Compelling. I was required to go for my Davies Forum Digital Literacy Class, and I am glad, because now I feel enlightened.

The theme of the LIB's (Librarian in Black's) talk was that many things, including the digital world, have weakened libraries. Libraries aren't used to having to deal with change. Now constantly they are having to play catch up with the digital world, as they have lost their place in culture as an "institutional repository," and they are having to "redefine their cultural role."

Going into the evening I was curious what she would talk about because I don't use the public library (well I didn't before the talk) and upon my entrance into the building for the first time yesterday I thought it kind of a crusty place. it turns out I held many stereotypical, popular ideas of what libraries are about and reasons for why I don't use them.

For example, libraries aren't up on digital technology. Often, scary negative signs like "ABSOLUTELY NO DOWNLOADING" prohibit potential world changers from embracing the world- through all that the internet has to offer -because the computers can't handle the load.

The stock at the library isn't the same as People do not go to libraries for stuff. Because, let's face it: there is large chance you won't get the specific stuff you want at the library (I did a brief browse of the DVDs yesterday and the A section totaled 15-20). LIB gave a stat: 8/10 times that we want a book or music or a movie, we buy it. As a Librarian, she said, this was so sad to her!

The large reason for this is funding. Libraries don't have money. Where are they supposed to get it? Grants only do so much.

But there are things libraries can do without tons of money too. For one, their public face is important, and perhaps there are simple steps that can be done to enhance it that don't include a high priced PR person. For example, common ways of running libraries include negative signage strategies like the one mentioned above. There's also a lot that libraries could do to self-promote in the way of social networking sites, like Facebook, and through other online outlets like podcasts, videocasts, and 2nd Life. Different ways of marketing should definitely be explored, LIB emphasized.

Libraries face many challenges, and LIB's talk proved that librarians aren't crotchety old ladies with buns who don't know what's up. She thinks the keys to their future success include: creative marketing; getting rid of the old fashioned ideas that, "we do it the right way," and instead welcoming social organizations of data and social knowledge; making libraries clean, inviting, relaxing places; and embracing change!

According to LIB, their game plan now includes: making the library the peoples' third place (after home and work); combining virtual and physical environments for one space; and focusing on the question "what can we provide that nobody else can?"

I am interested and excited to follow and be part of the development and future of libraries after this talk.


david silver said...

wow, you managed to sum up the whole talk - very impressive! and, as always, nice writing.

Ivan Chew said...

This statement of yours - "their public face is important" - probably sums up why libraries & librarians need to be digitally literate.

But from what I've confirmed from this trip to the US, I'd say libraries on the whole are pretty used to dealing with change. If not, you wouldn't have card catalogues and providing DVDs and bookdrops and offering services online. But because libraries in the US is so disparate, there are extremes of those who are very wired and forward-looking to those who are pretty much lagging, sometimes due to lack of funding. (oh, and sorry I forgot your name that evening! I remembered you were the first to blog about my session though, if that's any consolation, heh)

Sarah Houghton-Jan said...

I am so glad that you found my talk helpful - and what a nice summary of, well, pretty much my entire philosophy of libraries :)