the future of libraries

The other day I sat in on the webinar The Future of Libraries hosted by the Metropolitan New York Library Council. It was a talk by Eli Neiburger, Associate Director for IT and Production for the Ann Arbor District Library system. You might be familiar with his 2010 Libraries Are Screwed with a focus on ebooks.

This talk also had a “Libraries Are Screwed” sentiment but with some valuable ideas for transformation. A few things Eli said:

We have all of our marketing value in one format.We are still library as place and that place as a repository for books. Even as we offer other services, our look and brand echoes the book. Eli also mentioned what we like to forget – that reading is not a pastime for the majority.

Librarians have positioned themselves in a service role but we are now in a situation of self-service. Instead of panicking that we must provide access service and reference service, what about becoming content producers? This is the “valued added” element that can sustain libraries. He made the analogy of librarians becoming the next journalists. I understand that point, but also wonder what that might mean. We don’t have journalists anymore because of citizen journalism. We want our users to be content creators. How then do we define our value?

A librarian’s role is knowing what content is valuable. The addresses the wave in library school of turning information professionals into coders. Eli says we don’t need to be IT specialists or web designers. Let the experts do that. What librarians can do is tell IT and web designers what content is good and where to find that content.

Librarians should be super users. Just because our speciality isn’t in coding or design doesn’t mean we shouldn’t know what’s out there and what technologies are coming up next.