Posts tagged ‘reading’

Hard Questions

I came across this post from Scott McLeod (not to be confused with Scott McCloud) about the future of libraries, books, reading and more. It’s focused on school libraries, but he asks a lot of good questions that are relevant to public libraries, too, particularly questions 5 through 8:

5.  When books, magazines, newspapers, reference materials, music, movies, and other traditional library content all go electronic and online – deliverable on demand – what does that mean for the future of the physical spaces known as “libraries?” Mike Eisenberg said to me that we already should be taking yellow caution tape and blocking off the entire non-fiction and reference sections of our libraries. As content becomes digital and no longer needs to be stored on a shelf, with what do we replace that now-unused floor space: couches, tables, and cozy chairs? computer stations? meeting space? And if we head in these directions, what will distinguish libraries from other institutions such as coffee shops, community centers, and Internet cafes?
6.  Our information landscape is more complex than ever before. We still need people who know how to effectively navigate these intricate electronic environments and who can teach others to do so. But does that mean we still need “librarians” who work in “libraries?” Or will their jobs morph into something else?
7.  How much of a librarian’s current job could be done by someone in a different location (for example, someone in India who answers questions via telephone or synchronous chat) or by computer software and/or an electronic kiosk? I don’t know the answer to this question – and I suspect that it will vary by librarian – but I do know that many individuals in other industries have been quite dismayed to find that large portions of their supposedly-indispensable jobs can be outsourced or replaced by software (which, of course, means that fewer people are needed locally to do whatever work requires the face-to-face presence of a live human being).
8.  Can a librarian recommend books better than online user communities and/or database-driven book recommendation engines? For example, can a librarian’s ability to recommend reading of interest surpass that of a database like Amazon’s that aggregates purchasing behavior or a dedicated user community that is passionate about (and maybe rates/reviews) science fiction books, and then do so for romance, political history, manga, self-help, and every other possible niche of literature too?

These are some of the things that prey upon my thoughts . I suspect that the library world is going to reach a “change or die” crisis point more quickly than many of us would like to believe, and I sometimes wonder if even rapid change will be enough to save libraries as we know them. I think we need to take a hard look at our profession and think about how we need to position ourselves in the short-term if we want to have any hope of long-term viability.

Incidentally, I’ve started playing with Google Wave, and I started a Wave on this topic in order to get some discussion going while learning the features of Google Wave. If you’ve got a Wave account and want to join the discussion, let me know and I can add you.

November 12, 2009 at 4:13 pm

Rise of the ebook

I used to be an ebook skeptic. I’ve been a big believer in the affordances of paper, and as a lifelong reader I thought the emotional appeal of printed books was too strong, that ebooks would never be able to get significant market share because that obstacle was too big. I figured there might be a niche market for textbooks and professional journals – things which are expensive to produce and expensive to buy – but I was convinced that fiction ebooks would not really take hold until we had used up all the trees and exhausted the paper supply.

And then I got an iPhone and had a baby.

One of the hardest transitions of my first few months as a mother was the lack of reading time. Yes, babies sleep, but usually when they do you’re either trying to sleep yourself or frantically trying to accomplish something before the baby wakes up. I found that I had little pockets of time while trying to get the baby to sleep or during the middle of the night when I was trying and failing to get back to sleep myself, but I couldn’t manage a regular book while I was holding the baby. Then I heard about the Kindle app for the iPhone. People, it changed my life.

I can hold the iPhone and navigate the books with one hand, no problem. The screen is bright enough to read by in a dark room, but not bright enough to disturb the baby. Best of all, I always have books with me, wherever I am. I used to choose purses based on their ability to hold at least one book in addition to all my other gear, but now I always have a selection of books on my phone, and can easily download another if needed so I never run out of reading material. I now use two different reading apps – the Kindle app and Stanza. Yes, I pay for new content, but there are also plenty of public domain books that are available for both apps for free. I can bookmark significant passages and go back to them later. I can adjust the text size according to my preference. Sure, it’s easier to flip back and forth between sections in a printed book, but I’m finding that the benefits of the ebook format far outweigh the inconveniences. In short, I’m sold.

In a professional capacity, I’m also very intrigued by some of the collaborative options that are becoming available for online books (CommentPress, BookGlutton) and by new publishing models (Free). The long-term implications for libraries are going to be huge. But ultimately it comes down to the question: “does this work for me?” Surprised as I am, for me the answer is a resounding “yes”!

August 6, 2009 at 3:34 pm 3 comments


"To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong." - Pearce

Archives

Feeds