11 answers for libraries in 2011: PART ONE


We love to talk, talk, talk in libraries.

This post was going to be “11 conversations we need to continue in libraries in 2011” in a nod to Dave Lanke’s post The Librarian Militant, The Librarian Triumphant. He posits librarianship as not a building or a collection but “a conversation you are having” – that we must keep fresh and responsive.

Dave also calls for imagination within the profession.  I’m taking up that challenge. Wouldn’t it be great if we had the answers now to some of the hoary issues of 2011, without the talkfest? So – I’m taking a punt and providing answers. Even more, I’m suggesting what we should do if I am right. My answers are based on reading, experience and have an element of tongue in cheek where that approach flounders.

I was aiming to publish the whole lot as one post – but it started to get long, and maybe posting what I have written so far will spur me on to complete the others. I know the other eight issues and the answers, but need to write my explanations. I wonder whether the big issues and discussions I have identified are the same as the ones you would identify??

Wedin, J. (2010). Its the answer, you know.... Retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/38446022@N00/4589969792/

ISSUE ONE: Will libraries, museums, archives, public broadcasters and art galleries converge?



Restricted funding, commonality of purpose and overlap of access methods will mean that strong, converged memory and collecting conglomerates will form from individual institutions within the next two years.

Three projects illustrate this convergence of purpose but there are many more. The British Library is crowdsourcing the recording of English speakers worldwide reading the “Mr Tickle” story to track the evolution of English. The Poetry Archive is a wholly online charitable resource dedicated to recording poets reading their own works . The British Broadcasting Corporation curates and makes available online a series of archival collections of audio, video and documents from writers, poets and historic leaders.


Start the conversation with other collecting and memory institutions now. Apply for joint funding, create joint projects, run the same event across a number of institutions that allows users to appreciate the variety of approaches (for example a history of a newsroom with artifacts at a museum, secondary and descriptive material at a library and historical recordings from the newsroom archives all unified through a single online presence).

ISSUE TWO: How do we force publishers to give us ebook content that includes works that our users want and that they find easy to download to their chosen device?


They will not.

It is not in their commercial interests to do so. They are just not that into us.


We need to lobby publishers and come up with very compelling reasons why library copies of ebooks will be “gateway drugs” resulting in significantly more content sales. We need to prove to our users any claims we make that it is cheaper and easier to use library ebooks than privately-purchased one-click wirelessly delivered content. Or we could save our energy and find untapped sources of content created by our local users and work together to create a single publishing platform and rights-management tool to allow easy creation and access to local content.

ISSUE THREE: Gartner claimed in April 2007 that by the end of 2011, 80% of our users would have avatars in a virtual world.  What happened?


Avatars will come, but not for about three years and not in the form that we expect.

The move will come gradually via changes to the platform of an existing social network like Facebook or Twitter, resulting in established profiles interacting in a 3D-like space. Changes to input devices also may result in a more 3D-like and embodied metaphor for information access – see the nascent Kinect games as an example of how our online interactions can be more related and controlled by what we do in 3D space.

Avatars may also manifest as a metadata layer over real people in real space and time, with augmented reality and smart phones allowing the reading about and interacting with social data about people just by pointing a device at them. The “virtual world” may be one made of data that slips over the “real world”, rather than being accessed on an individual computer. All that tagging of people in images uploaded to Facebook, Picasa and Flickr that hundreds of thousands of us do daily? Just ripe for harvesting to create a facial recognition app that allows you to add a personal data layer over real people in a crowd.

Learn what you can about providing information in an environment where the metaphor for access is no longer a 2D flat printed page, but spatial relationships. Think about the implications of an environment where data and information becomes a platforms for users to clamber about interacting with each other. Think about the implications of an environment where the internet of things has morphed so that “things” includes people…

IN 11 ANSWERS FOR LIBRARIES  IN 2011 PART TWO AND PART THREE: Print, clouds, fish, politics … and more….

6 thoughts on “11 answers for libraries in 2011: PART ONE

  1. Kathryn,
    Issue One: My Answer – NO. In the USA it will turn into turf battles and power struggles, so while it may be logical and even desirable in some cases, and you certainly make a good case for consolidation – it won’t happen in our life time. Keep up the excellent visionary outlook!

  2. Hi Kathryn – great issues & ideas; I look forward to the others! I’ve also thought about the first two …
    ONE: It would be a huge loss to see libraries, museums, archives, public broadcasters and art galleries converge. While there is some commonality in mission and function between these institutions, each delivers unique value that cannot be replicated by the others or by for-profits. As a U.S. taxpayer, I understand the funding crisis well. Despite my high regard for libraries, I will vote NO for increased taxes to support mine. This is not an idealogical stance; it’s much more basic than that. I’m financially tapped.
    I have advocated for an addition to the U.S. library ecosystem via creation of a National Library Corporation modeled after our public broadcasting services, PBS and NPR. This organization would preserve the local autonomy and authenticity of our public libraries while enabling delivery of better services with current funding levels. It would save libraries time and money at the operational level to free them up to focus more on high-end services and provide a platform for many of them. (This
    and one librarian’s response to my proposal is a good entry point to more detail on it.) Properly conceived and managed, the NPL would partner with other institutions to deliver resources, services & products that promote the best each has to offer. The BBC/British Museum project, A
    History of the World in 100 Objects
    , is an example of such outstanding value.

    TWO: In the U.S., library dilemmas around digital content parallel those of library funding: existing supporters (e.g. publishers) no longer have the means to support existing library structures.
    In the digital domain, the very nature of the product and its economies severely diminish the value of libraries having copies to lend. Indeed, the cost of maintaining digital content lending systems would far outweigh the value they could deliver. It would be a mistake, in my view, for libraries to even attempt this for they cannot possibly keep pace with the breadth and depth of technical innovations. Those system(s) would perpetually be seen as low-quality and draw library resources from other things libraries currently do so well. A better strategy, I think,
    would be to foreground the unique, high-value libraries can provide around content. The NPL infrastructure would be a great platform for this. So, what might be the new library value proposition for digital content? I have lots of ideas and have offered this essay and open-ended question to help get the creative juices flowing.

  3. Hello Kathryn
    Excellent thought provoking ideas. Kudos! Here are some specific responses.
    Number One: Let’s answer this by trying it in a few places and seeing how well it works. If we never try it anywhere, we’ll never really know.
    Number Two: The trick to getting publishers to sell us popular downloadable digital material is to devise a pricing formula that makes this profitable. Given access to sufficient data on production costs, that is a high school level math problem. It costs as much to write and market an eBook as it does a TreeBook, but it costs far less per additional copy to distribute it. In fact, the ability to instantaneously “create” and distribute an additional copy of a work at a cost roughly equivalent to sending an email, suggests that the way for publishers to make money through libraries is to sell them one or two copies of lots and lots of titles. With one condition. When a patron goes after an eBook and finds that there is a waiting list, he must have the option to rent or purchase it on the spot. Ongoing cash flow for publishers. Instant gratification for patrons. A piece of the action for libraries, if they want it. The high school math lies in determining the rental and purchase costs and the cost to the library of the ‘teaser’ copies we get.
    Number Three: I have ten World of Warcraft avatars now. I’d be happy to let any of them ‘stand in’ for me in a web conference. Except for the Troll. He needs some orthodontic work.

What do you think? Let us know.