Information and the Future

This is the blog of the Information and the Future task force of the Rolfing Library at Trinity International University. The IF task force exists to explore the role of libraries in the future of Christian higher education.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Antiquated technology

Wired's article on 100 Things Your Kids May Never Know About lists a whole host of resources and methods that were common in our generation, our parents generation, or even our grandparents generation, but, hey, times have rapidly changed.

For a good laugh and a trip down memory lane, have a look at this article.

Here are a few things from the list that relate to libraries:

Finding out information from an encyclopedia.
Phone books and Yellow Pages.
Newspapers and magazines made from dead trees.

Actually going down to a Blockbuster store to rent a movie.
Finding books in a card catalog at the library.
Libraries as a place to get books rather than a place to use the internet.
A physical dictionary — either for spelling or definitions.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

How do we explain the value of the library?

In my last post I mentioned that Microsoft, Google, Apple, and Amazon are each taking a different approach towards making money in this online tech economy. Namely:
  1. Microsoft: Software = Money
  2. Google: Services + Ads = Money
  3. Apple: Hardware = Money
  4. Amazon: Content = Money
I think these four options are similar to messages we send about the value of libraries. Libraries are valuable and should continue to be funded and used because...
  1. They create the metadata that facilitates finding and efficiently using information.
  2. They provide bibliographic instruction, reference aids and other user services.
  3. They build academic commons - spaces that encourage conversation and learning.
  4. They collect lots of valuable stuff that users need access too in order to learn.
The easy answer is to say that we do (or should do) all of these things. However as a response to both the general uncertainty about libraries continuing relevance and the competition for funding, I think libraries would do well to identify a core competency and focus our message around it. This does not abandoning the other listed items but it does mean relegating them to secondary status.

So which one to choose? I think the choice needs to be number 2. I believe we need to position ourselves as information experts who can help users understand and use all the information technology tools at their disposal. Of course the presupposes that we actually are information experts who have this knowledge - we may need to start by acquiring it. This will not be an easy position to market when simplicity and un-mediated access is the siren song of technology marketing but I think there is currently and likely will remain a need for educated guides to teach information skills and assist those who are awash in data to make sense of it.

Briefly reviewing the other options:
1. In the world of Google and Wikipedia it is hard to argue that librarians are necessary to find information (even if that is true at a deeper level).
3. Wonderful buildings are nice but seem like a shaky rock to build on as more things move online.
4. Some of us may indeed have collections that are truelly unique and of obvious value but as Google and others make millions of resouces available anywhere I think physical collections becomes a very hard point to sell (but thanks Anthony for trying!).


Thursday, July 09, 2009

Google announces OS plans

Google has announced plans to build an operating system based on it's Chrome web browser. You can read C-Net's coverage here and additional commentary here.

Reportedly the plan is to try to target the netbook market at least initially. One of the questions this raises is would you rather have an OS you pay for like Windows or one that uses advertising to offset at least some of the cost presumably like Google's OS.

I also think it is fascinating to watch MS, Google, Apple, and Amazon among others try to both anticipate the computer marketplace and manipulate it. Although a bit too simplified, I think fundamentally there are 4 different models in play for the future of IT.

Microsoft is a software company, Google is a service/advertising company, Apple is a hardware company, and Amazon is a content company. All are trying to make the case that their speciality is the piece of IT that is truly valuable and worth paying for/investing in.

We in the libraryland are also trying to figure out what is truly valuable (in the eyes of stakeholders) and how to position ourselves. Should we champion our software (Catalogs, Subject Headings, Call Numbers etc.); or our reference and instructional services? What about our "place" as an intellectual commons or do we focus on our collections?

I know the easy answer is to say yes to all of the above but when resources and attention spans are short - which vision do we push? What offering are we willing to stake our future on?

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