Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Seth Godin on Librarians

My word. Sometimes Seth Godin gets it so right.

Preaching the value of Librarians, not libraries. Or at least not libraries as archival repositories. And while I admit my personal frustration at this idea: that it overlooks some of the underlying core value of information collections, I've also long felt that great collections aren't a marketable mandate for any library.

Well arranged collections are rarely valued by their intended user community; and moreover, it's a non-starter until you get people through the door. Seth Godin gets this, as do most non-librarians. But Librarians? Oh, we have a lot more to say on the topic. And that's unfortunate, because it's a message that needs simplifying.

As a profession, I think we need to accept that simplified messages surrounding 'public services' librarianship are going to be more palatable. And if we're to resurrect public opinion on topics such as  "Libraries as a publicly funded place", or a greater understanding of "Librarianship as a profession" ... it's going to be a necessity.

One other tidbit... I really liked was Seth had to say about how Libraries help people in communities improve:
"We all love the vision of the underprivileged kid bootstrapping himself out of poverty with books, but now (most of the time), the insight and leverage is going to come from being fast and smart with online resources, not from hiding in the stacks.

The next library is a place, still. A place where people come together to do co-working and coordinate and invent projects worth working on together.
This is a role that never dies - offline or digital. The delivery, however, is in dire need of an overhaul.

Finally, let me end with my one negative. Godin's statement that "clever ebook lending solutions are completely missing the point."; followed by his recommendation that we fight for our futures as "producer, concierge, connector, teacher and impresario."

Sound great? You bet. But it's a glib response to the digital divide. Librarians who can't facilitate e-lending will only serve the roles of "producer, concierge, connector, teacher and impresario" with a certain class of patron. And frankly... those guys already have Kindles and iPads.

Go read the post. It's thought provoking.


Blogger Emma Durand-Wood said...

Not a comment about your post but about Seth's...

I had my own things to say about Seth Godin's view of libraries a while back. I was commenting on an earlier post of his that looks like it was the seeds for the column you're writing about. My problem with Seth is exactly the one you mention towards the end of your post. It's his glibness.

This is what I can't stand about the guy. He makes all these grand pronouncements and because people revere him no one questions whether the issues he writes about might be more nuanced than they seem.

I mean, he's right. We do need to focus on librarians more than libraries. But his obliviousness to the digital divide and also to the purposes of a library beyond information just smack of elitism.

This is a man who can afford Netflix, and as you say, a Kindle to read books on. This is a man who *can afford* to say "Give away your content! Books are just a souvenir of the experience!"

I, personally, can't afford to buy all the books I'd like to read, so am extremely grateful to have a fantastic library close by. And I consider myself a middle-class citizen. Don't people at lower economic levels deserve the offerings of libraries?

He's fixated on the idea that libraries are all about factual information, and conveniently ignores all their other purposes.

When it comes to research, I agree with him... the library as a physical place is quickly becoming irrelevant. But as centres for culture, for community, for recreation? Libraries level the playing field. No matter what your income is, you have to wait your turn to borrow the latest Harry Potter.

I mean, I think I understand what he's getting at. But the way he talks about libraries makes me wonder if he has ever actually used one.

Okay, end rant!

p.s. I take serious exception to the idea that "Netflix is a better librarian, with a better library, than any library in the country." But maybe that's because I'm talking Netflix Canada ;)

8:57 AM  
Blogger Steve Matthews said...

Of course you're right on all accounts, Emma. But I think we need to reduce expectations: for Godin, for the local politician, and for most non-librarians. We have a multi-faceted argument for the value of libraries - and the fact that he's advocating one small 'talking point' of that argument is a step in the right direction.

We could ask for more, and might get it in the future; but small steps need to be appreciated, IMHO.

9:59 AM  

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