Just came across this fabulous article (thanks Execupundit!) from The Atlantic. It's about what traditional media companies can learn from how the New York Public Library is leveraging digital and social media, but it is rich with tips for other libraries, too...like these (emphasis mine):
- The days when libraries could base their mission and activities on the concept that "Information was not just an idea, but the set of physical objects that contained it" are long gone. "Everywhere you look within the New York Public Library, it's clear that the institution has realized that its mission has changed. It's no longer only a place where people take out books and scholars dig through archives. The library has become a social network with physical and digital nodes."
- Success depends on the energy and enthusiasm of the employees who can do amazing things if supported. "...the NYPL is succeeding online because of desire. The library's employees give a shit about the digital aspects of their institution, and they are supported in that shit giving. I mean this in the most fundamental way possible and as a damning critique for media companies. Second, the library sees its users as collaborators in improving the collections the library already has. While serving them online costs the library some money, they are creating value, too, by opening up conduits into the library for superusers."
- Driving the transformation of libraries isn't just the purview of the Librarians. Biblion, an amazing Ipad app about the 1939-40 World's Fair, was developed by Donna Lee, head of the Communications Department and a former television producer who created it in the face of resistance from what she refers to as the "curators" who ".....had to give up control of the collections to outsiders, outsiders who would put something out in months, not the years that they themselves might spend creating a similar project." - but on the positive side had already created the basis for the app in a 700 page "finding aid". In other words Ms. Lee took a typical "librarian" work product and turned it into what the article calls a internal "hot date"...and now everyone wants "their" collection to get the Biblion treatment.
- Amazing things can be accomplished when we turn let our users play too. "A library is not just a place that collects information and processes information," May said. "We create the tools and structure the information so that others can enhance the collections." Another NYPLer, Doug Reside, Digital Curator of Performing Arts, put it even more simply, "The public library can be used to organize people to organize information....That is to say, the NYPL's collections can become more valuable to all of its users by tapping into the energy and expertise of some of its users. The role of the library is to create the right kinds of conduits for superusers to get involved....When you put information in the hands of people, they come up with all kinds of stuff that people within an institution might not think about."
It's tempting to thing that some of the projects described in the article are possible only in an institution as rich (in content, staff, and community resources as well as dollars) as NYPL, and some of them (like Biblion) surely cost a fair amount. On the other hand, how hard would it be to replicate NYPL Wire, which uses the free Tumblr application to push out "a flow of tiny stories from and about their collections"? Initiative, storytelling ability, and a bit of time.
Lastly, but perhaps most importanty, the physical collections and spaces still matter.
Of course, the thick library buildings will remain rooted in the streets of New York. Many collections, mostly because of copyright issues, will remain locked in basements and available only to pro researchers. But that probably won't be the only use for these beautiful, expensive buildings. Rather, the library would like to see them become hubs of conversation and collection improvement. Some of the Internet-sparked thinking about community building and the value of users is rubbing off on the physical space of the library. The New York Public Library is getting webbier by the day. Institutions famous for wanting people to be quiet now want you to speak up.
"I think we can become places of conversation," the curator Reside said, "Places where information is not only pulled off the shelf, but conversations can also happen around the contents of the library."
Users, even in a library, can no longer be shushed.
Want some inspiration about what is possible for libraries? Read the article!