Pardon the slightly rude title for this post, but it's a take on an incredibly thought-provoking presentation that Eli Neiburger of the Ann Arbor District Library (a library district that I look to as one of the thought- and service-leaders) gave to a virtual conference called "ebooks: Libraries at the Tipping Point" back in September and shared by Eric Hellman on his always thoughtful Go To Hellman blog. I was not able to participate in the conference, and Eric's post was the first time I was exposed to Eli's presentation.
The presentation can be viewed as two YouTube videos below, and I strongly encourage readers to take twenty minutes to view both parts.
In the first video he compares the technology of what he terms the "codex" (the physically-contained content the collection, organization, and dissemination of which has been the library's core function) to several other outmoded technologies including vinyl records, 8-track tapes, candles, and gaslamps. The analogy to candles was particularly apt given last week's Los Angeles Times article about new forms for the physical book, most of which reminded me of Eli's description of the candle as "perfumed, adorned and most useful when the power goes out".
Eli proposes that the age of the physical codex, and along with it the library's role as a circulator of physical objects, is waning.
I spent part of this morning, prior to viewing these videos, looking at our 2010 library use statistics which show that despite the staff feeling like we were incredibly busy all of the time reflect a a 6.4% decrease in the number of items circulated when compared to 2009, so it really struck home when I heard Eli say that "the peak of physcial circulation has already occurred" and that the tipping point for libraries as the providers of local copies of universally-available physical items "has already done tipped".
At the same time, I think his proposition that we just might not be totally screwed if we can reinvent and reconfigure ourselves as a local "platform for unique experiences and content" offers a glimpse of a more hopeful future. I loved his statement that "The 20th century library brought the world to its community, the 21st century library brings its community to the world".
At PVLD we are already moving in that direction with events such as our annual community art show, which is purposely designed to showcase local artists who might have no other opportunity to exhibit their work; programs like the Malaga Cove Library's local history lecture series, our local history and 40families websites; our online catalog which allows patrons to post and share comments; and librarian Kaitlin Waldron's upcoming project which will involve local teens creating videos about our library.
I'm sure if our talented staff and volunteers put our minds to it we will come up with even more ideas for making the library into the community's central platform for locally created content - the challenge will be letting go of outmoded activities like spending a substantial amount of time maintaining the physical collection so we have the time to build a new model.
But enough from me...watch the presentation (both parts!) and let me know what you think! Remember to double click on the "play" arrow on the screen to get a full screen version)