Digital Library Branch – The Time is Now

At the Imagine.Create.Innovate conference held at Rochester Public Library, there was a lot of talk about the future of libraries. Where we are now. Where we might be going. What we need to do if we are to move in a direction that helps libraries and, more importantly, helps our communities.

Jamie LaRue was keynote speaker for the first day of the two-day event. The short version of his speech: “The mission of the public library is to gather, organize, and present to the public the intellectual content of our culture.” Wait, that’s big. Let me repeat that.

“The mission of the public library is to gather, organize, and present to the public the intellectual content of our culture.”

This means not only curating and preserving, but also enabling those who create the intellectual content of our culture. Providing free access to it. Publishing it. And of course, sorting it and cataloging it all.

The “threat” of ebooks has many wringing their hands wondering if libraries can remain relevant going forward. Jamie did extensive research before embarking on the creation of a digital library branch for his community. He found that 20% of his readers prefer ebooks. Despite this, his library’s ebooks comprised far less than 20% of the collection. He noted that his collection of ebooks is always checked out. The same is true in Rochester – we just don’t have enough ebooks yet to meet the demand.

The fact is, publishers are making it very difficult for libraries to circulate ebooks. The restrictions are high. The costs are high. And many publishers won’t sell ebooks to libraries at all.

So what is a creative, innovative solution to this problem? If you ask Jamie LaRue, he’ll tell you to spend less time worrying about the Big Six publishers and focus your efforts on independent small press publishers and self-publishing authors.

He set up an Adobe Content Server for ebooks that his library would purchase. He set up a second server at for items in the public domain. He dug up Creative Commons content. And then he set up agreements with publishers.

The result of all this is a ebook catalog that pulls together all econtent to one place. Adobe Content Server attaches DRM, and regulates the check out to Adobe-enabled devices in order to restrict the use to one user at a time, and to disable the content at the end of a due date.

Take a look at Douglas County Library’s digital branch. They have set a precedent with this, which is useful to all of us.

Library 2020

The New York State Library’s Regional Development Council is currently conducting a survey on the future of libraries. I’ve been blogging, on and off, about the future of libraries here at LibraryTechie for years — my first blog post was August 30, 2006, so I’m coming up on five years here.

I’ve posted my thoughts at Mouth2Ear specifically on the library of 2020 and on the topic of ereaders vs smartphones, and their implications for future library service. I truly believe that libraries will remain relevant. I don’t think we’ll see books completely disappear from the shelves, to be replaced by electronic-only access (at least not by 2020.) Especially not in public libraries where much reading for pleasure occurs.

However, the way we interact with information, as well as reading, is changing. This will affect the services people will expect from their local library. The current public library model is about books and information, first and foremost. The public library of the near future will be less about books, more about information, and also about user generated content, social space, and technology training. Ereaders will come and go, and people will be more likely to use their smartphone as their primary device for content of all kinds. The web as we know it will still exist, but it will be enhanced by an immersive model. Augmented reality will be ubiquitous; virtual reality will be gaining a foothold among mainstream users.

It’s good that the State Library folks are asking questions now. The dismal state of funding, combined with the shift in technology, is causing all libraries to evaluate who they are and who they will be. Libraries are important. Taking a “wait and see” attitude toward change is what will make libraries irrelevant, not ebooks. This is a case where those who are ahead of the curve will ensure their survival.

Please spend a few minutes on this survey while truly thinking about the near future:

The Library of the Future

Take a look at this video:

It’s a fascinating look at “user as co-creator” of future library space. While I’m fairly certain that my public library will not resemble this anytime soon, I’m sure there is a lot here that is worth discussing and incorporating into the way we do business. I’d love some feedback on this.

Also, here’s a link to the report, in English:

And here’s one in which children aged 6-14 created models, pictures and stories with new ideas and visions for libraries of the future:

Technology is changing the way we interact with information. If libraries are going to continue to be vital resources, the way we provide information and allow our users to interact with it will have to grow to include some of the ideas presented here.