Calls for libraries to embrace the digital future go hand in hand with heartfelt tales about how visiting a library as a kid opened up a new world, even a new life, for the writer (this writer not excluded). The problem is, libraries are embracing their digital future - providing free wifi, digitising their collections, loaning e-books, training their staff, reaching out through social media - and have been doing so for years. Being told to go suck eggs must get quite tiresome.
A recent blog post by Seth Godin is a case in point. He writes:
Just in time for the information economy, the library ought to be the local nerve center for information. (Please don't say I'm anti-book! I think through my actions and career choices, I've demonstrated my pro-book chops. I'm not saying I want paper to go away, I'm merely describing what's inevitably occurring). 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. Aided by a librarian who understands the Mesh, a librarian who can bring domain knowledge and people knowledge and access to information to bear.
On O'Reilly Radar, Nat Torkington calls bullshit on Godin:
Libraries are already much more than book caves, and already see themselves as navigators to a world of knowledge for people who need that navigation help. They disproportionately serve the under-privileged, they are public spaces, they are brave and constant battlers at the front line of freedom to access information. This kind of patronising "wake up and smell the digital roses!" wank is exactly what gives technologists a bad name in other professions.
And Dan Zambonini joins in:
A couple of days ago Seth Godin wrote about The future of the library. While it is positioned as a love-letter to librarians and the latent potential in a new vision for the library, I see it as a dangerous and (ironically) outdated article.
... My main gripe with Godin’s post, however, is that he seems to be almost blaming libraries for a lack of vision. No, Seth, what they’re lacking is CASH. And pointing out that they’re currently crap does not help their fight against cuts. They’re not rolling in money, but instead are facing reduced budgets every year. And you know what you can do with less? Less.
Libraries do know what they're doing. I was amazed when I was working in library world by just how clear the sector's sense of mission; far clearer, I'd say, than art galleries. Libraries don't need people to tell them what they should be doing - they need people to support them so they can make it happen.
So, how about going to your local library this weekend? Using its services is probably the most helpful thing you can do to ensure it sticks around. You might even be surprised by what you find there.