Seth Godin is always a source of thought-provoking ideas about change and new ideas, but he is not a "library person" (although lots of librarians read his stuff!) which made it a pleasant surprise to come across this post about the future of libraries from his blog last week.
In his words,
"They can't survive as community-funded repositories for books that individuals don't want to own (or for reference books we can't afford to own.) More librarians are telling me (unhappily) that the number one thing they deliver to their patrons is free DVD rentals. That's not a long-term strategy, nor is it particularly an uplifting use of our tax dollars."
His solution? Turn our focus and the use of scarce tax dollars away from books and other content-based "stuff" and become "leaders, sherpas and teachers who will push everyone from kids to seniors to get very aggressive in finding and using information and in connecting with and leading others."
The words are fairly straightforward but the implications are significant - while many librarians already see themselves playing a role in "information literacy" or helping people build the skills they need to find and use information effectively, we still spend much of our time, energy, and money on building and maintaining collections of content and even our information literacy efforts are fairly passive, along the lines of "we make the training available to those who want to access it."
If Seth is right, and there is an opportunity to take a leadership role in pushing people to find and use information, then I can see a need for major changes in our professional culture (as Seth notes we have to become aggressive - not a term usually used in conjunction with "librarian"), the skills of our staff, and even the design of our buildings.
Combine this vision with the one set out by Eric Hellman and summarized in my last post - one of smaller "storefront" libraries combined with mail delivery systems a la Netflix that serve as community nodes where people go to get the books (physical or digital) and other content that they want and I can see the outlines of a vision for the future of libraries...one where the focus is increasingly (even more than it is today) on providing access (broadly defined to include both the means of access and the necessary skills, with a strong element of motivating people to want access) and not so much on acquiring and storing the content itself.
Lots for me to think about....and as always I'd love to hear from you....