Maybe it’s time for another round, and another round is what we seem to be getting.
Blake Carver writes a long, heartfelt essay at LISNews coming down on the “digital side”–with a series of “ten years will fix all that” responses to the questions he’s inclined to raise, an assertion that the young’uns are all deserting print, and the sense that the library’s place will be lost. (That’s a really bad summary of a long piece, which has already had 27 comments. I’ve printed it out–too long to read and think about otherwise–and will probably prepare some sort of commentary later, either here or in C&I. This isn’t it: This is just a preliminary musing. That’s why there’s no link.)
Daniel Chudnov is quoted with a five-year “be there or be square” clarion call, based on everything being all-digital all the time.
Update on the paragraph above: Dan takes exception to being misquoted–although, if you read the paragraph above, I don’t actually quote Dan. I picked it up from a third party. But now that Dan’s done an extended post, well, go read his post. Maybe he doesn’t think it’s a “this time for sure” post, but I certainly do. As to my abilities as a futurist–I’ve always said that I don’t pretend to be a prophet. I don’t remember a conversation about Amazon (I remember Dan pushing me very hard to try to convince RLG to make some money-making software open access). If I was dead wrong about Amazon–well, fine. I’m wrong about lots of things. Possibly including this one…but I don’t think so. Now, back to the post…
I think I’ve seen one or two others, and of course there are those who keep predicting “ten years from now” in the hope that they’ll eventually be right. Somehow, sales of Harry Potter do nothing to discourage the “young’uns don’t read print” meme; somehow, growing use of American public libraries by all ages and classes doesn’t matter (or isn’t real, or they’re all just checking computers, or something); somehow…well, this time, for sure.
I can’t prove otherwise. Nobody can. It has the same feeling as the prevailing wisdom of 1992.
I do know that I got back to my own public library a week ago (Sunday afternoon). It was busy. I’ve never seen it any other way. Sure, three or four people were browsing the surprisingly large DVD collection. Sure, a dozen (maybe 20) people were working on computers. But there were also at least 50 or 60 people in the adult stacks, a fair number over in the children’s areas, solid traffic at the two selfcheck machines, a short but steady line for the human checkout…
And it was all pretty typical. Loads of people taking out books and bringing them back, lots of others taking advantage of other resources, digital and otherwise. I saw kids, teenagers, young adults, and every age from there through retirement.
Maybe it’s time to forget about print, celebrate the all-digital near future, and give up on the services and spaces libraries provide so they can be hip to the future. But maybe, just maybe, things will continue to move along in complex and unpredictable ways–and those 300 million Harry Potter books (along with all the others that make young adult and children’s publishing healthy) aren’t imaginary.
As I say, this is just a preliminary musing. More later, I think.
Second update, Wednesday, 10/12:
No question: Blog “conversations” are a little peculiar in that the blogger gets to nominate the topics–and can warp the conversation by deleting comments, failing to approve them, or, ahem, modifying the original post to make comments look stupid.
I try not to do that last–but do choose in this case to use the blogger’s prerogative of adding to the post itself, not just commenting-on-comments.
My possibly-hasty reading of “the other posts” (setting aside Blake’s extended commentary for the moment) suggested to me that the writers were doing two things that caused a Reaganesque “there they go again” sense:
- Assuming that e-paper/e-ink as a plausible replacement for print was finally Just Around the Corner. Which might be true–heck, I hope it is true–but I’ve been hearing the same thing for considerably more than a decade, and the existence of development kits doesn’t make me a true believer.
- Discussing “digital ubiquity” in a way that seemed to suggest that everything else would be marginalized in a few years–that print collections would be essentially irrelevant, even if still there.
It’s quite possible that I was reading things into the messages. That happens with reading from the screen and posting offhand responses. Although, with at least one or two of the postings, I still get those sense fairly strongly.
If anyone believes I’m arguing that librarians should ignore digital possibilities, they’ve gone way beyond reading into my postings: That’s just wrong, flagrantly so. (If anyone believes that I’m arguing that many–most–innovations don’t work out in the marketplace, that’s absolutely true.) (And if anyone believes that I argue that, for most public librarians, treating print books as secondary is a good way to alienate your users…well, you’re right there as well.)
Want to set me up as an “only books matter” strawman? OK. I don’t know who that Walt Crawford actually is, but straw men are awfully convenient.
I used “and not or” as a summary of my credo for a long time. It still applies.
Sigh. I really do need to work on that fuller response. Maybe later in the blog. Maybe in the December C&I (not the November issue; that’s already starting the editing/paring stages.)