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 Kids don’t schlep to the library to use an out of date encyclopedia to do a report on FDR.
He’s right, they don’t schlep to the library to use an out-of-date encyclopedia.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 (email@example.com). 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.
- The 2011 State of America’s Libraries report from the American Library Association, is full of statistics and fact.
- Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at U.S. Libraries from the Institute of Museum and Library Services
- Informing Communities:Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age This report by the Knight Foundation and the Aspen Institute is not about libraries specifically but addresses the many roles they play. There is a nice 2 page executive summary.