Friday, February 14, 2014

Library Innovation In The Digital Age

The Wall Street Journal blog recently posted a great article about the need for library innovation in the digital age in order for libraries to remain relevant. It also gives a nice history of The Great Library of Alexandra and an inclusion of recent Pew statistics on the use and trends in libraries.

The whole idea is that if libraries don't innovate in the digital age, they will fall by the wayside. "Barbara K.  Stripling, president of the ALA, contends that libraries and  librarians can reboot for the digital age. She wants ebook prices to come down, but says ebook offerings by libraries are nonetheless going up. She believes that libraries and librarians can use their expertise to become digital guides, helping people to refine their questions, identify authoritative sources, and learn how to find the best answers on their own. Sort of an even more advanced advanced search. 'The constantly changing and disorganized nature of the information explosion can be overwhelming to individuals."

Not only is information disorganized and in need of sorting, so is the vast amount of personal digital data that we create. One suggestion for library innovation is that "perhaps [librarians] should move into advising [the public] on how to wrestle with our personal digital data too, as we become increasingly overwhelmed with unsorted emails and camera phone photos." I like this idea for public libraries where the librarians often organize classes around using social media, etc.... It would be great if they offered sessions on organizing personal digital data.

The innovation in this article goes so far as to imagining drone use for libraries. "Imagine if the holdings of a local library included the holdings of everyone who had a library card for the library who could be reached by a drone." That's a level of innovation that my librarian-mind hadn't even considered, but why not?

The article goes on to say that "[i]n a digital age, we need librarians more than ever to help sort through it all. Libraries of the future shouldn’t be bookless because, like endangered species, the nondigitized physical texts of the past, and the ones that are still being printed, need a protected space. The presence of books reminds of the importance of librarians as curators and custodians, of libraries as connections to the past and future, of libraries as safehouses for nerds and bookworms."

And libraries are also important as community cultural and intellectual centers. "The Pew Research Center found that 90 percent of Americans ages 16 and older said closing their local public library would have an impact on their community. {This is because] people know that their communities need a cultural and intellectual center." And there isn't much else to take a library's place in the community.

Many libraries currently stick to tried and true practices. But, as this article presupposes, if libraries don't innovate, the use of libraries will continue to decline until libraries are irrelevant. The good news is that there is still time, but if we keep dragging our feet, the future will be upon us, and it will be too late.

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