Seth Godin Misses the Point on Libraries, Again.

I was curious to read what Godin had to say about libraries this time. Last time he wrote about them it was pretty clear he didn’t “get it” and many librarians responded with posts of their own (you’re not allowed to comment on Godin’s blog)

Before I get too far into this I want to point out I also find it interesting that Godin brings up Kindle several times in this post. Let’s not forget he has a dog in that fight, he has partnered with Amazon to create his Domino Project.

Now for his new post The Future of the Library

I was happy to see this:

The librarian isn’t a clerk who happens to work at a library. A librarian is a data hound, a guide, a sherpa and a teacher. The librarian is the interface between reams of data and the untrained but motivated user.

Though I still don’t care for the use of “sherpa”. But we are so much more than this too, we are trainers, teachers, mediators and more.

This is nice too, though he is an author so I’d expect him to be in favor of reading.

because reading makes all of us more thoughtful, better informed and more productive members of a civil society.

Then he goes on to say:

If the goal is to connect viewers with movies, Netflix wins.

This goes further than a mere sideline that most librarians resented anyway.

Ok sure I’ll grant you he’s right that Netflix is great. But I also happen to know that circulation stats for movies at libraries is increasing, not decreasing, so yeah Netflix is great if you can pay for it. But its not driving libraries out of the movie lending business. Then there is the last half of that statement “most librarians resented anyway” really? Which librarians? I have to wonder if Mr. Godin knows any librarians personally. Because, yes there are some who still resent movies, just like there are some who resent ebooks, but they are a minority, not “most”.

Godin then addresses access to information:

Wikipedia and the huge databanks of information have basically eliminated the library as the best resource for anyone doing amateur research (grade school, middle school, even undergrad). Is there any doubt that online resources will get better and cheaper as the years go by? Kids don’t schlep to the library to use an out of date encyclopedia to do a report on FDR.

He’s right, they don’t schlep to the library to use an out-of-date encyclopedia. They schlep to the library to use a current, up-to-date online one, and databases to write that report on FDR. Online encyclopedias and databases that the library pays for. The price of those databases is going up, not down. So information isn’t getting cheaper. Wikipedia might be free, but (most) teachers don’t allow students to use Wikipedia. Even if they did I certainly hope that Mr. Godin isn’t suggesting that research end at Wikipedia. I’m not sure about that ease of use thing either. It seems that if we, librarians, spend a lot of time providing instruction on how to use something it’s probably not easy.

The post next looks at cost:

And then we need to consider the rise of the Kindle. An ebook costs about $1.60 in 1962 dollars. A thousand ebooks can fit on one device, easily. Easy to store, easy to sort, easy to hand to your neighbor. Five years from now, readers will be as expensive as Gillette razors, and ebooks will cost less than the blades.

In this case I don’t necessarily disagree with him, I think the prices will continue to drop. The problem is that regardless of how low they go some people can’t afford to buy books. That’s where the library comes in. See we’re not just a warehouse of books. We provide access and the equal opportunity to access the information stored in those books to everyone regardless of socio-economic status. Especially when he goes on to say (emphasis added by me)

Librarians that are arguing and lobbying for clever ebook lending solutions are completely missing the point. They are defending library as warehouse as opposed to fighting for the future, which is librarian as producer, concierge, connector, teacher and impresario.

No Mr. Godin you are missing the point, again. We ARE fighting for the future of the librarian as a producer, concierge, connector, teach and impresario, but we know to do that we need books. We need the information contained in those books, so we DO need “clever ebook lending solutions”. Information is not free, it costs. One of the many roles of the public library is to ensure that all people have access to that information.

Overall, I think he does a much better job in his new post. But honestly I wish he’d just stop writing about libraries. Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s a great writer, I think I own all of his books, but I think he should stick with what he knows, and clearly that’s not libraries.

I hope Seth Godin sees this post and takes the time to read it. If he does this is my personal message to him:

Mr. Godin, I would be delighted to talk with you about the current state of libraries and, more importantly, the future of libraries, please email or call me (bobbi@librarianbyday.net). If nothing else I can connect you with others who can provide better and more accurate information on current library usage and the future of libraries.

I’d also like to suggest some reading for you.

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68 comments for “Seth Godin Misses the Point on Libraries, Again.

  1. Barbara H
    May 16, 2011 at 8:46 am

    Let’s hope Godin does keep writing about his view of libraries. Keep the debate out there. Plus, it is so important to hear from those “outside the beltway” the people who “don’t get it” who don’t see the value of libraries. Often Godin makes his sweeping anaylysis too simple. Books and literacy for everyday people didn’t just happen because Gutenberg did his magic with the printing press. It took centuries and a lot of book burning and people burning before people had books, the ability to read, and public libraries that were for them. There was an enormous political and cultural struggle to bring books to the masses. and libraries and librarians were part of that struggle. Example: people were persecuted and died to translate and publish the Bible into the vernacular, to bring it to the people so they could make up their own minds. And the fight goes on to keep libraries relevant and available to all who wish to participate. It is a long, honorable and courageous struggle. Let’s add librarian as warrior.

    • Barbara H
      May 16, 2011 at 11:00 am

      I REALLY did mean “public”! Honest.

    • May 17, 2011 at 11:26 am

      As someone who is interested in libraries, formerly as a state library communication’s specialist and now as a President of the Board of Trustees of a public library, I find these discussions interesting.

      As I see it, the real issue is that the political forces that often pay for the library are not engaged in the process. To them, a library is a liability or line item in their municipal budget, just like the city park, school, police or fire department. To the citizens who use the library, it is a FREE resource that they often do not equate with their taxes, and if they are asked, for the most part would rather pay for police and fire protection or roads.

      This idea that only those who can’t or won’t buy what they want to read or view (movies,etc.) is what the library has become. Most politicians in my experience, do not go to, or use, a library. A library is for students, the bored elderly, the homeless, the disenfranchised.

      Our local library does get lots of use, but when it had to cut back hours, no one complained. The populous that seem to use it, just said, oh well, everyone has to cut back. And, if they were asked to pay more in taxes to keep it open longer, they would say NO NO NO! As long as it is perceived as free they will keep using it. But unfortunately I feel that there are so many other choices of “entertainment”, especially for those with money, (and I am not talking wealthy) the library is an extra, not a necessity.

      Librarians have not done a good job, (and granted they have no time to) of showing the hundreds who DO NOT use the library of its importance and significance. And for the argument that it is a great equalizer, I’m not sure that the American public much cares for that argument anymore.

      • May 17, 2011 at 12:35 pm

        Excellent observations, David. Whether we like it or not, the reality is that librarians must pay attention to taxpayers, voters and public officials as well as serve the library’s patrons. Libraries’ survival depends on public funding and, therefore, political support. Political support comes from relationships. How many library directors are on a first-name basis with the city, county and state officials who allocate public monies among equally deserving public services? What do libraries provide to the voting constituents of those officials that the constituents say they cannot live without?

      • Susana B.
        June 22, 2011 at 5:45 pm

        “A library is for students, the bored elderly, the homeless, the disenfranchised.”
        I believe that if library management would take this role at heart instead of running after what is happening in the outside world -and losing the battle-, their role would be so strong that they will never be “unnecessary,” as clearly politicians and other stakeholders like Godin define them. There are millions of people in these categories David mentioned in our country -unfortunately so- that aren’t in the library outreach who need libraries but they don’t even know it. Why? Because outreach is the job nobody wants -it is not paid and recognized as a professional role, the moneys are soft and they run out before you get started, and overall it takes extra effort to the already busy library staff. These days, libraries need to be run as a business, and management is not prepared for it nor is the staff that has to wear many hats. I would dare to say that libraries are still the only organization that runs within one profession: librarians. Even non-profit organizations try to have boards that are as diverse as possible in terms of professions so that they can have a clear improvement in all business areas. And as many of my library clients have said, “We can’t be all for everybody.”

  2. May 16, 2011 at 8:51 am

    Did you see this post:
    http://themwordblog.blogspot.com/2011/05/godin-guttenberg-and-going-forward.html

    I’m trying to decide if I’m fired up enough to write my own post on my rarely updated blog. I’m glad you wrote this.

  3. May 16, 2011 at 8:58 am

    Is it possible that you are both right?

    Godin is right that there is an amazing gap in the current world of information for someone to fill, and librarians are great candidates for that role.

    You are right when you point to the current threat to another role of librarians, the role of access guarantor.

    There isn’t, necessarily, a conflict in those roles and perhaps, the librarian as impresario, producer etc, can better delver the latter.

    Eoin

    • May 16, 2011 at 12:25 pm

      Oh I think we are both right. There is a lot in his post I agree with. But those parts we, librarians, have been saying for years. Its not new or exciting. I feel more frustrated than anything that Godin keeps writing about the future of libraries without doing any sort of research. He’s just spouting off (for lack of a better term) and when that thinking-out-loud format contains errors or misdirection it does more harm than good. People get excited because its Seth Godin and he’s talking about libraries and because he’s saying what we’ve been saying for years. But there is some real inaccuracies in that post and that’s a problem. Especially the ebooks part, and given his involvement in the Domino Project I don’t consider him an unbiased speaker on the future of ebooks. He is also of a socio-economic stats that thinks that paying $1.69 for an ebook means it as good as free, except there are a great many people who can’t afford that cost and that is part of the role libraries have played. And that is part of where my problem lies he’s saying that libraries who are worried about an ebook model are missing the point. We’re not get the point, we know that regardless of how low the cost of ebooks or ereaders drop there is a significant portion of the population that wont be able to afford them. I’m not claiming that libraries are only about content we’re about both.

      • May 16, 2011 at 2:00 pm

        Bobbi, you’re right in saying too many people cannot afford to access ebooks, and that will be so for perhaps many years. But librarians need to be careful not to hang our role in society on that one need. If libraries become — or are seen as being — just a resource for the poor, then we will not be a resource for all people of all backgrounds. In that case, there will be no clear need for as many libraries and librarians as we have today.

        • May 16, 2011 at 2:20 pm

          I think you’re right on that account. I agree with a lot of what Godin says, and I don’t think we are solely about books or content or about being a resource for the poor. Those are just pieces of the larger picture, one piece of the pie. It bothers me to see someone like Godin who doesn’t really seem to know anything about libraries say “Librarians that are arguing and lobbying for clever ebook lending solutions are completely missing the point. They are defending library as warehouse as opposed to fighting for the future, which is librarian as producer, concierge, connector, teacher and impresario.” We aren’t missing the point, we’re seeing the big picture or the whole picture if you will.

  4. May 16, 2011 at 9:04 am

    Really disturbed by the responses from librarians to Godins post. It is OUR job to fix libraries. His view is a valuable contribution to thinking about libraries. It is not Godins task to understand the whole of libraries or everything about libraries. He looks at libraries from one of many angles and his insight is valuable as ONE of many insights. Why not look at the essence of his post instead of going “librarian” on the text and point out mistakes in his idea of what libraries is today?

    What is the most important factor in the future of libraries? Librarians or content?

    • May 16, 2011 at 10:07 am

      I completely agree with you Thomas. Godin is right, the library is all about librarians. While I am no fan of DRM and hate the fact that libraries have been squeezed out of the ebooks discussion, in my opinion too many librarians have a very myopic viewpoint on this issue and are missing the key, number one issue we need to be working on right now: librarians using our expertise to organize and deliver information to people whenever they want it, wherever they want it, on their device of choice.

    • May 17, 2011 at 7:35 am

      Because the “essence” of his post is nothing new or remarkable and the other parts are factually inaccurate. Someone like Godin with a following and a platform has a responsibility to do some research or fact checking before spouting off.

  5. May 16, 2011 at 9:48 am

    Does Godin get it wrong again? Are you getting it right? I guess it depends on how far out we are talking about the future of books and our profession. In the short term (next five years?) I’d say you are correct that we need to work with publishers to have more sensible policies for how e-books are acquired, accessed and distributed – and the rights we have to long-term or even perpetual access to the content (particularly important for research libraries). In the long term (10 years out) I think Godin is getting it right because he sees a time when both the devices and the content will be so cheap and ubiquitous that the role of libraries as a source of books (and periodicals) will be greatly diminished. And when we’re no longer about content – what are we then? I have to say I’d prefer to see more non-libraries taking Godin’s perspective on our potentially bright future than this terrible one http://gizmo.do/lbg0jV

  6. May 16, 2011 at 9:52 am

    Nice, clearly articulated response. Thank you for speaking up for the library community. If we don’t do it for ourselves, then we are left with non-librarians who think they have all the information to evaluate our services.

  7. May 16, 2011 at 10:16 am

    Maybe going meta here, but I’m a little disturbed by some of the reaction of librarians to Bobbi’s reaction to Seth’s piece. A few points:

    1. If you read it through – scroll up! – it was pretty even and a lot of it was positive and agreeing. “happy” “nice” “he’s right that” “he’s right” “does a much better job with his new post” etc. Harsh? No. I’ve seen harsher debates between librarians talking about tea.

    2. Correcting that which is wrong, being passed off as fact, is not ‘defensive’ as a few people have tweeted. It’s correcting. Let it pass unchecked? Bad information professional.

    3. You can’t say “It is good that Seth is encouraging debate” and in the same tweet say “Bobbi’s post was harsh” or wrong words to that effect. You want debate, you have people who disagree. Also, librarians of all people, slapping down with the pseudo-censorship “you shouldn’t write that”? Creepy…

  8. Bill Pardue
    May 16, 2011 at 11:11 am

    I concur that there are some factual issues with Godin’s post, but he’s basically in line with what a lot of librarians are saying in conferences: we’ve missed the boat on e-content, it’s going to be difficult/impossible to bring it back to shore (or to swim out to it) and that we need to redefine ourselves in terms of value-added services to our users. Each of those points bears a lot of discussion. What’s most frustrating is that Godin, who is read by so many people, doesn’t give any way to post comments on his blog. He raises the issue to the world, and we end up arguing it in the library blogosphere, our own twitter feeds, etc. This could be a magnificent opportunity for proactive librarians to make the case that we *are* being creative about services, etc. But we’re all preaching to the choir here. How do we get Seth’s readers to know that he’s not the only one thinking about this?

  9. May 16, 2011 at 12:41 pm

    I do not totally disagree with Godin in this article. He makes interesting points about what librarians actually do. I like what he said about libraries being information centers and librarians “raconteurs of information” but he really does need to converse with some actual libraries before writing so erroneously about them.

    • May 16, 2011 at 2:55 pm

      I don’t totally disagree with him either. I just don’t think that the parts I agree with are new or useful, especially when combined with inaccurate information.

  10. lukethelibrarian
    May 16, 2011 at 1:33 pm

    Although Godin’s blog doesn’t allow comments, he republishes those posts to his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/sethgodin and does allow comments there. As of right now, the post you reference has 22 comments.

  11. May 16, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    What I can’t tell from your post is this: does your vision for the future of libraries depend on books remaining the primary medium for information transfer? The biggest mistake that librarians can make is to mistake the container for the goods contained. Godin isn’t talking about the library of today, he’s talking about the future. I’m afraid that if too many in our profession refuse to consider a vision for libraries that isn’t a warehouse of books, the mistaken view that libraries are irrelevant will become generally accepted.

    Your points about the *present* of libraries continuing to be about the circulation of physical items and serving those disadvantaged by the digital divide are well taken. But if you are asking us to believe that in the future, it will be more important to oversee the circulation of physical items than it will be to curate and filter flows of digitial information, I can’t get on board with that.

    Of course, the future is not today. To end services abruptly before we know what will be replacing them would be completely irresponsible. This is why, I think, Godin calls this the library of the future. To implement it right now would be chronologically inappropriate. However, to insist that libraries must now and for all time be equated with physical collections is to tie libraries to technology and communication media that are losing market-share. I like your view for the present, but in order to remain relevant, libraries will have to change with the times.

    • May 16, 2011 at 2:57 pm

      Nicholas – No it does not. I don’t disagree with Godin’s statements about decreasing ereader & ebook cost. I do disagree with his implication that information is free and freely available and that cost will cease to be an issue.

  12. Chadwick Seagraves
    May 16, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    Way to go Bobbi. Well done!

  13. Brian
    May 16, 2011 at 4:32 pm

    Godin says, “Post-Gutenberg, the scarce resource is knowledge and insight, not access to data.” There are still realms were access to data is scarce (or expensive) – out of print, rare books, law (with meaningful commentary/editorship), scholarly works, science/medicine, art/photography and archival materials get to be digitized and cataloged. It’s a fallacy to think it’s on the internet, even yet. Netflix has a sad, overhyped collection. Wikipedia is still not an ideal resource for adult learners, IMHO. Yes, we need a librarian and we continued to need a library to house all formats of information until the information on the internet is accessible by all and provides superlative information in all realms of knowledge.

    • May 16, 2011 at 4:42 pm

      Brian, I suspect that only another librarian would agree with the statement “we continued to need a library to house all formats of information until the information on the internet is accessible by all and provides superlative information in all realms of knowledge.” I don’t believe you would find much agreement among taxpayers, their elected representatives or even many college administrators. Poll your non-librarian friends of any age: What percentage of them has walked into a library in the last 30 days?

    • Yogsoggoth
      May 17, 2011 at 5:50 pm

      Most libraries, public at least, don’t have large collections of rare, out of print, or scholarly texts. Most public libraries house popular collections comprised of best sellers and big box office films. As sad as Netflix’s over-hyped collection may be, it would, without a doubt, crush any public library’s. Fact.

      I would like very much to visit the library you mention – the one with the rare books, law commentary, and archival materials – but I doubt it exists. Most libraries have woefully inadequate collections because they do not have the space or funding to get much beyond the basics. Your hypothetical library is much like Plato’s Atlantis – a beautiful utopia that only exists in a fairy tale.

      I took biology in college and was fascinated with the lectures on evolution. The take away from those lectures was that adaptable organisms survive, while those that refuse to change become extinxt. Librarians can argue all they want that people don’t “get it”, but if we are that point that we are defending ourselves, we have already lost. We can not convince the public that our service is better than the Internet any more than we can convince them that the 1,000 DVDs in the library are better than the 100,000+ DVDs on Netflix. To attempt to do so is a waste of time and energy.

      It is up to us to redefine the library in a way that makes us relevant to our communities. If we can’t do that, we deserve to go the way of the Dodo.

      • Barbara H
        May 18, 2011 at 12:34 pm

        Yes, good points. But it is not just up to we “the librarians” to redefine. Much better if it is our communities redefining what they need the library to be. Maybe they do not need it to be anything. BTW, Netflix has a growing and quite nice collection of classic B&W films from the 1930s and 1940s, my two favorite film decades, and these can not be found anywhere else, certainly not at the library. And all for just $10 a month which is a bargain for my fixed income.

  14. Cyd Melcher
    May 17, 2011 at 7:32 am

    This is a miniscule point and I understand that, but while “sherpa” has kind of an “everyday” colloquial definition of “someone who carries stuff”, in some circles it means a *very* trusted and knowledgeable adviser or emissary. (Which as you probably know is more in keeping with what REAL sherpas do which is get you where you want or need to go and back again alive.)

  15. Debra Newton-Carter
    May 17, 2011 at 9:33 am

    As an historian and genealogical researcher, I get frustrated with the average library patron’s lack of awareness, interest or support for preservation of local history archives within local and county libraries. While Godin said nothing about local history rooms, or at least this author did not quote Godin on the subject, this is an area which is, in my opinion, most neglected in terms of funding and support among the librarian community. The need of the general masses is weighed heavier than of the true academic or researcher/writer, and that is where the lending of movies, music, and even e-books comes into play. Just as the present-day NARA fellowship adjudicators do not understand the prime value of primary documentation and argue that secondary sources provide more weight to a matter, so do many librarians in administrative positions. The fact is that secondary source materials are the product of someone else’s thought and not always based in truth. . .the source is only as good as the author’s ability for critical thinking.

    As a patron, I have enjoyed the local history librarian as a mentor, and as a conductor to the past. They open wide the doors to understanding who we are today by examining who we were.

    • Barbara H
      May 18, 2011 at 12:38 pm

      Excellent comment. I am with you on that. However, a lot of libraries/librarians don’t support their own local history, let along the patrons.

  16. May 17, 2011 at 9:41 am

    Thanks for some good analysis Bobbi! I agree with Godin that librarians need to focus away from physical to digital resources, but as you say, we’ve been saying that for years.

    If we ignore physical books we risk disenfranchising some of the most vulnerable sections of society – the poor, as you say, but also the elderly, who can’t engage with e-readers no matter how much training we provide, non-English speakers who struggle to get online, the list goes on.

    And since when did Wikipedia become a valid resource for students? Yes, as part of general research, but not as a reliable source in itself!

    I’ve blogged a bit more here: http://librarianoftomorrow.wordpress.com/2011/05/17/articles-seth-godin-the-future-of-the-library/

    • Debra Newton-Carter
      May 18, 2011 at 6:07 am

      It depends on which digital resources. Those which simply mirror paper publications are not as useful unless they are obscure, of limited quantity, or hard to find. Such is the case with library subscriptions to Ancestry.com Library Edition, New England Ancestors, and other such genealogical sites which may prove cost prohibitive for the mainstream public interested in family history. . . or in some cases, researchers who find themselves short on cash when their subscriptions come due and must find a temporary connection.

      • May 18, 2011 at 4:23 pm

        Good point – in an ideal world every library would have unlimited budgets to subscribe, but in reality we’re all working with serious budget cuts and need to really analyse which digital media will add value and be useful to most patrons.

  17. Lynn H.
    May 17, 2011 at 10:54 am

    I agree Godin is a bit too flippant about the equity of access issue, and the reductive way he talks about dead print drives me a little crazy (if you’re literate and have a light source you’ll always be able to use a book, independent of charged batteries or compatible file formats — print can’t be beat for archival purposes). However, being in the midst of planning for a major renovation and selling said-renovation to a tough governing structure, I *really* appreaciated this:

    “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.”

    and this:

    “The next library is filled with so many web terminals there’s always at least one empty. And the people who run this library don’t view the combination of access to data and connections to peers as a sidelight–it’s the entire point.”

  18. Jan
    May 17, 2011 at 11:36 am

    I’m not a librarian, but I have spent hundreds of hours in libraries, reading, researching, studying, talking to librarians. I have also spent hundreds of hours online, reading, researching, studying. The personal interaction between a librarian and a patron adds so much to the research experience. They have led me to books and documents I never would have found by myself. They have made libraries a beautiful, exciting place. The soft lighting, the smell of the books, the feel of a book in my hands, cannot be replaced by any computer. And no computer can match the personal attention of a librarian. When I was growing up Miss Bray at the Forest Park Library in Springfield, MA was a joyful, loving woman who welcomed children and spoke to us on our level. She never talked down to us, but she didn’t live in intelligentsiaville either. Dozens of people learned to love books, libraries and learning because of that one librarian, and I’m sure there are thousands more like her. Now my grandchildren look forward to our visits to the library. They are comfortably at-home there, with attentive librarians who welcome them when they walk in and are available to help when they want to find something. Patrons who can’t afford their own computer have to sign up and wait their turn to use a computer for 30-minutes because the library can’t afford enough. The librarians are always busy, helping with research and looking up resources, teaching people how to use the catalogs. They spend time with each person, leading them to the resources they need and checking back periodically to make sure the research is going well, as well as providing advice on writing papers. No ebook library, no matter how extensive or creative or cheap, can begin to replace the public library. An ebook will never have the same character a book has, or become a friend the way a book can. We, the public, need to work with our librarians to keep libraries alive and thriving. We need you, the librarians, to teach us how to do that.

  19. Yogsoggoth
    May 17, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    “He’s right, they don’t schlep to the library to use an out-of-date encyclopedia. They schlep to the library to use a current, up-to-date online one, and databases to write that report on FDR. Online encyclopedias and databases that the library pays for. The price of those databases is going up, not down.So information isn’t getting cheaper. ”

    I actually laughed coffee out my nose when I read this. Kids don’t use databases in the library for papers anymore. Sorry, it just doesn’t happen. And these databases are becoming more expensive, not because they are such great tools, but because the database providers are trying to make up for lost revenues by raising fees on their few remaining customers as they sink into the La Brea tar pits of economic history. Why is this happening? Because, contrary to your blog, information really is cheap. Dirt cheap. So cheap that no one is willing to pay for it anymore, just ask the New York Times.

  20. May 17, 2011 at 7:21 pm

    I’m not a librarian, so I may have a different take, but I really saw Godin’s post as friendly to the many librarians who understand how things are changing and who want their institutions to remain relevant amid that change. The paragraph that stuck with me is this one:

    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.

    I think there are many industries struggling with change. Calls to action like that from Godin may be a little hard to swallow, but they’re ultimately designed to support those who don’t want to remain complacent. With that in mind, i think the library community should be applauding Godin instead of poking holes in his argument.

    • Lisa E
      May 25, 2011 at 10:35 pm

      Well, I AM a librarian, and have been for 20 years. And I agree with you…and with Seth Godin…”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.”

      We cannot, in these days of dwindling budgets possibly market libraries as “the best place to get stuff.” Because we’re not. The 80,000 books in my library’s collection (including about 60,000 ebooks) is a trivial amount of content. We support about 8,000 students and we do that by trying to leverage free resources, government sources, and the meager collection we have to solve the problems our students bring us. That we are so often successful is NOT a testimony to our collection. If we want this (the next twenty years of library work) to be about collecting and providing access (or as I’ve seen far to often, restricting access)to stuff we can’t win. But if we can make it about our expertise and our knowledge, we can add value to the college experience for our students, and send them out into the world a litle better able to cope.

      Sign me up for the Sherpa classes….

  21. May 18, 2011 at 1:26 am

    Bobbi, on one level I appreciated your analysis of Seth’s post, but I wondered to what end you made these points? To pick at his lack of fact-checking or research? To respond specifically to his ebook comment? To defend the disadvantaged library user?

    Seth is a marketing and social media professional and his comments come from that perspective. More people (seth’s readers) read about and considered libraries today than yesterday. I too saw his post as friendly and advocating for a forward-facing library. His vision of an empty PAC terminal was more powerful than any library mission or vision statement that I’ve read in the last 10 years. He knows marketing. We, as a profession, seem to struggle with it.

    Do we in the biblioblogosphere have his audience? When we gripe at the details of his thinking on libraries, does that help us in any way? I guess I feel a respect for the way you ‘stood up’ to something you thought was wrong or misinformed, but to what end were you doing that? What is the outcome you were hoping to have? Did you just want to register that you don’t agree with everything he said? What’s the point? That libraries need an ebook strategy so that poor people can access digital books? That message will not ‘save’ or ‘help’ the library outside the group of us reading these comments. On the other hand, I think that what Seth said could.

    “I need to have an impact more than I need to be right” is somewhat of a mantra for the outcomes-based leaders of highly impactful non-profits (Leslie Crutchfield, Forces for Good). It’s something that I think librarians need to learn. To my mind, Seth already “gets it” and that’s why he has the audience, and the influence, that he has.

  22. Karl Z
    May 18, 2011 at 2:20 am

    Bobbi,

    Thank you for what you have started here. Very well expressed, and very well responded. I have worked in libraries for over 10 years now, and I have seen the affect that rapidly changing technology has had on the library. As I prepare to leave library school, I am anxious as to whether I am truly prepared for this evolution or will forever be behind the curve trying to catch up. Are we not aware? Much of what I have just spent the past two years studying has been dealing with these issues and the uncertainty that this evolving discipline and its conventional venues are facing … and e-books, DRM, Wikipedia, and online databases are only a drop in that bucket.

    Godin can spin a great line – that’s HIS job; but it is scary what can be expressed when one feels only some of the facts are enough. I appreciate your patience, your self-control, your professional, edifying tone, and your common sense. Please keep it up, along with everyone else out there who is actively aware and engaged in supporting the future of this profession.

  23. May 18, 2011 at 9:22 am

    I unfortunately don’t have time to read all of these posts so forgive me if I am duplicating anothers opinion. First, thanks to librarianbyday for writing a response to Mr. Godin’s blog post. I think it’s wonderful that we are discussing this.

    It’s important to remember the Mr. Godin isn’t a librarian, his insight isn’t going to be the same as ours, but that’s the point. What the “public” sees as the library and how professionals define the library are sometimes very different. Which means our great challenge is to show the public the new face of the library.

    I’m just starting my own blog and just posted on this the other day (www.considerthis-jennifermeyer.blogspot.com) It appears like librarians talk and talk and talk about how we are different but the average person doesn’t see us a different. That means there is a communication gap. No finger pointing, no “but they just don’t…”, no nothing. There is a communcation gap. We need to fix it.

    My question to you is how???

    • MJ
      June 5, 2011 at 12:31 am

      Your post made me chuckle… One way to fix a communication gap is to take the time to read other people’s posts. “Talk talk talk” doesn’t work. We need to listen, listen, listen.

  24. May 18, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    I was happy to see Seth affirming the library as a place. No matter what the medium of the day is, a library is a public gathering place – for reading, viewing, listening – for talking, creating, playing.

    Think of the Athenian Agora, and the Roman Forum. Raphael’s painting “The School of Athens” sums it up.

    Strip away the particular formats on library shelves, and what do we find? Here are three classic definitions of the library brand: Life-Long Learning, Self-Directed Learning, and The Life of the Mind. The contingent medium of the moment, or of the millennium, is not paramount. What’s going on inside a library is an essential human activity.

    Just as we might say a gym is for the life of the body, or a church is for the life of the spirit, so a library is for the life of the mind. Libraries are a necessity for a vibrant community life.

    I used to say “a library is a clicks and bricks theme park whose theme is the life of the mind.” Probably in the years to come the average public library will look less like a warehouse and more like a clubhouse.

    What libraries are is buildings. They are specific physical locations. Locations where people get together in the same physical space will always attract us – because we have physical bodies, and yearn for the advantages of physical proximity with others – even if we’re just sitting in a library reading from our mobile devices while others are doing the same without any verbal interchange.

    What a library provides is a “real” physical place for us to gather in, along with others doing the same thing – living The Life of the Mind. There’s nothing new about this – even without the presence of the ink-on-paper codex.

    People whose homes or offices are noisy or distracting come to the library for a quiet place to read, think, write, and do other creative work. People whose home online devices are being used by other family members come to the library to use the public connection.

    People get together to collaborate and help each other. Literacy tutors help people learn how to read words, interpret images, and develop digital comprehension. Students study together in small groups. Local individuals and groups hold classes, lectures, and meetings. Audiences attend film and video showings. Children go to children’s programs.

    That’s what the “communication age” is all about. Not really about processor chips – really about people. Not really about the internet – really about interaction. And, not really about books – really about brains.

    It’s an exciting time for new ideas. Some people are saying we shouldn’t continue to lend products made by others, but concentrate on publishing things made by people in our own community. We need to hear more new ideas like that. In this time of turmoil, our future is wide open. Carpe diem!

  25. May 19, 2011 at 12:37 pm

    I think that Godin has made his bones as a professional provacateur. His motto is: if you assert it, they will come. I am so happy to see push back here because it is clear that Godin is very like the guy who has been bought out by Google and has been living off the proceeds for awhile. He doesn’t know who comes into libraries, he doesn’t know that they are important community spaces, he doesn’t know what libraries afford to all walks of life. He doesn’t get paid to know that so he doesn’t really bother to find out. And he doesn’t let anyone say as much on his own website. Safe within his bubble, he holds forth like Bill Gates on education–a self-proclaimed, pile of pontification.

    Thank your for the pin prick to this….well, maybe I shouldn’t go there.

  26. May 19, 2011 at 5:58 pm

    Wow. Great post! You were much kinder than I was:

    http://slowpendulums.wordpress.com/2011/05/19/seth-godins-money-colored-glasses/

    I’m so glad a librarian (or should I say information raconteur?) called him out…

  27. Sheryl Owens
    May 26, 2011 at 6:46 pm

    Thanks Bobbi!!!!!

  28. cut library funding now
    June 8, 2011 at 8:11 am

    seth is right on. But he left some things out.

    http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2010/01/the-future-of-the-library.html

    I worked at a public library for 5 years in Maryland… all we offer is FREE CD and DVD rental and FREE internet access, and Spanish books for illegals… paid for by the taxpayer… library services are used by many people that don’t even pay taxes, and may not even be a legal US citizen..

    Seth is right on. Using tax dollars for this is a total waste. And we don’t need librarians for research… we use google and the web now. Hello.

    the ONLY people that would say libraries are needed are librarians, who have cushy government jobs and are overpaid for what little real work they do.

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