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.

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!).



  • At 7:54 AM, Blogger Nathan said…


    I just want to say that I thought this was a great post.

    Well done!


  • At 9:00 AM, Blogger Rebecca said…

    Very interesting! #2 was my first choice as well, but I wasn't sure if it was due to my own bias from what I do.

    How do you think this would play out in what we choose to do? I guess a concrete example right now would be how it would affect the website we're building...


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