Earlier this week I had the pleasure of catching up with Judy O’Connell @heyjudeonline, @Seanfish and a non twittering colleague. Judy was one of the keynote speakers at the recent SLANZA conference held in Auckland. The topic of libraries and the 21st century came up and it has left me wondering, what and where are libraries going.
In our world where we have been experiencing for the last 10 or more years a shift from information scarcity to information abundance how does a library fit in?
When I was a child and a student at university, the library was the key resource for information. To research, write papers and clarify material, to gain access to the latest journals and papers, I went to the library. This is no longer the case….
Again if I look back to my education the medium was text. I could not go to my library (local, school or university) and access videos, DVD and non text based media. All that was available to me was text. Again this is no longer the case.
The medium of text was also limited to paper. It could have been then in a number of variations, shiny, glossy matt etc, but it was still paper based. eBooks? William Gibson had not even coined the term “cyberspace” until I was in my last year of school. (1984 Neuromancer) I remember at school when we got our first computer (it was a compu-colour computer) and then our first suite of computers (which were used for applied maths) Commodore 64′s . These were not networked, the internet as we know it (Tim Berners-Lee World Wide Web was available in 1990) was unavailable. Again this is not the case….
If I wander down to my local library, have things changed substancially? Well, they no longer stamp the card in the book and shift it to box on the librarian’s desk, they have a computer that does that…. electronically. The medium is predominantly text based, but I can withdraw AV materials and access the internet. The surroundings are nicer and the emphasis on absolute silence is removed. In fact, my local library even has a small performance area that is used predominantly for the younger children to have the book readings.
But fundamentally have things changed? No
They are more fun, but they are still paper based. The stock in trade – books – are out of date before they hit the shelves as the rate at which information grows exceeds the speed at which publishing houses can edit, update and print books. You can withdraw AV materials, but would struggle to be able to play them in the facility, and if you can pay them the access to these playback resources is limited. The internet is available but are ebooks? Can you access and download digital media from the library at home, at work or on the move? (I know in some cases you can but is it universal? could you connect to YOUR local library and do this?)
eSchoolnews reported on the 1st of July this year that all Korean textbooks will be digital by 2015 – http://www.eschoolnews.com/2011/07/01/all-korean-textbooks-to-go-digital-by-2015/ – could libraries cope with this? Could our ownership and lending model that libraries are based around manage this concept? How do you return an ebook? How do you issue it at the counter? Who owns an ebook issued from the library?
Information is multi modal, it can be text, audio, video, or mixed. It can be synchronous or asynchronous, static or dynamic. How does a library handle this? I don’t mean in the traditional mode of issuing. I refer to access in an instant, to all users, within and outside of the physical space to approipriate secondary information sources. To be able to call upon the video materials and watch them in a manner that is timely and appropriate, and to have these available ; to be able to audio, text or video conference with primary information sources; to access in the prefered digital or traditional medium the wealth of material available and to then be able to take it with you.
There is much that will have to change, if the institution of the library is to survive much longer. Not the least being the paradigm we have of ownership.