Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Library as a Human and Local Destination

An opinion piece in Lawrence, Kansas stated that libraries are inefficient, limited and obsolete. It goes on to state that rather than building a brand new central library (which is being proposed in Lawrence), that the money should be spent providing internet access to the entire community.

To see the library response, see the many links in the post from This Week in LibraryBlogLand.

On a related note, Stephen Abram of SirsiDynix has just released the second part of a three part series about libraries adjusting to Google and its ilk, called Waiting for Your Cat to Bark.

The first part of his series lists all the things Google does well (and poorly). This second part lists all the things that libraries do well (and poorly).

One of the things that libraries do well is a reference interview. Google and other search engines are trying their best to guess what the customer needs. We have the benefit of looking the person in the eye and finding the real need behind a vague question.

As the Reference Highway pointed out, a couple of sites exist for the sole purpose of connecting a caller to a real, human company representative. If people do not like talking to machines, then why does there seem to be a push to replace librarians with search engines? The fact that anyone can walk into one of our libraries and ask an actual human being a question seems to be more fascinating than ever.

Another thing that libraries do well, according to Stephen Abram's article, is "local". We are in our communities. We know our communities and we know what they need. While our Collection Development has a strong history of purchasing materials that suit the community's needs, MPLIC's new First Responders program is taking it a step further and finding ways to push certain parts of our collection (at a moment's notice) in order to respond to a need in the community.

Perhaps we could also learn something from the independent record and book stores. As mentioned in this TechDirt article, these places are adjusting to the fact that anyone can purchase books and music on the Web by offering something more, a destination. Our situations are similar. If I can buy a book on the Web, why do I need a bookstore? If I can find an answer to a question on the Web, why do I need a library? By adjusting and adding emphasis that the library is a destination (a place that offers more than a stack of books), we automatically trump the online world in that aspect.

So, while MPLIC (and libraries in general) need to continue to improve their online presence and offerings, at the same time, we need to focus on our qualities that make us different from the online world. We're human. We're local. And we're real.

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