Category Archives: Library Survival

Social Networking Literacy For Librarians

friendfeedToday, I attended a METRO Science Librarian Special Interest Group lecture hosted by Joe Murphy, a science librarian at Yale University. The subject was Social Network Literacy for Librarians, and there were about 20 (or more) librarians there from public, non-profit and academic libraries.

Joe Murphy is an exceedingly smart young guy, and he’s on the cutting edge. He’s a social media proponent to the nth degree, and he says rather controversial things in a matter-of-fact kind of way. He says things that perhaps we’re too afraid to say, like “Print is dead,” and (as a librarian, no less) “There is no time during my day that I ever come in contact with a book.” He suggested that librarians carry around smart phones and get rid of desk-top computers. He mentioned that he got repremanded at work for fiddling around with his iPhone during meetings, but he was just taking notes. He doesn’t use pen and paper.

The last bit about using his iPhone in meetings is an interesting illustration of how some of the lecture went down – there was resistance to what Murphy had to say. A couple of people brought up the digital divide and said that they’d have trouble implementing social networking, and making assumptions about users’ technological savvy. One mentioned that “undergrads don’t use Twitter.”

Some salient issues that were brought up during this two-hour event that evolved into more of a discussion than a lecture:

  • Librarians need to become early adopters and lead in information technology. The time for meeting users where they are is over.
  • If librarians do not adopt social networking skills, libraries will become less and less relevant–Murphy says that in many ways, they already are irrelevant.
  • Murphy loves the character restrictions of Twitter and expects all of his information to reach him in short, blurb-like bursts. Is this what information-glutted users are also expecting?
  • @val_forrestal, who was in the audience and has given her own Twitter in Libraries lectures, said that Twitter is a great way to show that librarians can use their special skills to be information filterers in this era of information overload. This is a wonderful strength to have these days, and librarians can use this skill in new and innovative ways with social media.  

Important links:

Murphy’s ACRL Paper, on which this lecture was based.

Etherpad notes from today’s meeting

A summary of today’s meeting

Follow Joe Murphy on Twitter: @libraryfuture


Is Google a Threat to Libraries?

Imagine a world where one entity controls all of the information that you see. The one entity can decide that you should be sheltered from certain information, or could surreptitiously alter information. The entity can decide what price you pay for information at will. No, this isn’t a fascist regime or even Orwell’s dystopian paranoia, this is conceivably our digital future, thanks to Google.

Nobody’s saying that this will happen for sure. After all, Google’s motto is “don’t be evil,” but I attended a lecture that suggested that this was a possibility.

Yesterday evening I hied myself up to Columbia University to listen to Robert Darnton speak on Google, Libraries and the Digital Future. Darnton, the Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor and director of the University Library at

Darnton & an analog book from the distant past.

Darnton & an analog book from the distant past.

 Harvard University, gave an impassioned lecture about Google Book Search and what it might portend for the library in the future.

Some of what he spoke about can be found in his February 2009 article from the New York Review of Books entitled “Google and the Future of Books.” Google Book Search, the initiative to digitize and make searchable millions of books from the world’s research libraries, will change the way we read, search for and gather information. Digitizing and making books searchable sounds wonderful–what’s the threat?

It’s not free, and it seems that Google never intended it to be.  

Google has won a settlement (subject to approval from the US District Court for the Southern District of New York) over copyright with authors of some of the books that have been digitized. 

In order for the authors to get paid, Google had to set up a Book Rights Registry, which represents the rights of the authors. Google will sell access to the databank of mostly out-of-print books to libraries, who will have to pay for an institutional license (much like article databases). Consumers can also pay for individual licenses. The copyright holder will get 63% of the revenue, and Google will retain 37%.

Sidestepping for a moment the outrageous effrontery of Google selling libraries’ own books back to them, Darnton’s point is that Google is the only entity with the foresight, power and capital to undertake such a huge project, and because of the nature of this settlement could eventually result in Google having a monopoly on the world’s information. The law suit was a class-action suit, so that it basically covered every author with a work in copyright. Therefore, authors are left in an opt-out situation, without ever seemingly having the choice to opt IN in the first place. If their book is in a library that has agreed to Google Books’ offer to have their collection digitized, it will be digitized, unless the authobigbrotherr expressly opts out. Even more daunting: no other digitizing initiative can get their project off the ground without, as Darnton puts it, “winning their (the authors’) assent one by one.” So this settlement, if approved, basically gives Google the rights to digitize every book covered by copyright in the United States.

What could this do to the library? Libraries would be in thrall to Google, subject to their pricing structures, to enable them to provide their users with, as Darnton puts it, “the world’s largest book business—not a chain of stores but an electronic supply service that could out-Amazon Amazon.” The cynics would ask whether, with Google Book Search, we’ll even need physical libraries anymore. Google Book Search, after all, is a library.

People will be watching to see what happens on October 7, when the settlement goes to court. In the meantime, Google continues to digitize books to create the largest library and the largest book business that have ever existed, possibly scaling totalitarian heights that even Orwell couldn’t imagine.

Books? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Books!

bedoyaI opened my email on Friday morning to find an email from my niece about an unbelievable article in the Boston Globe. My niece, also a librarian, was disturbed by the article and the subject line, “Is this for real!?” exposed her utter confusion. The message said that she felt that she’d woken up in an alternate universe when she opened her paper that morning, and the story left her depressed and speechless.

The article, entitled “Welcome to the Library. Say Goodbye to the Books,” is about a private school, Cushing Academy, near Boston, that got rid of all of their books and replaced them with 18 Kindles and three large flat-screens displaying “data from the Internet.” They replaced the reference desk with a $50,000 coffee shop that includes a $12,000 cappuccino maker. It will no longer be called a library, but will now be referred to as a “learning center.” The headmaster of the school, James Tracy, says, “When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books.’’

I’m sure that Mr. Tracy means well. I’m sure that he didn’t give away their 20,000 volumes frivolously, and I’m sure that he believes that he’s doing his best to prepare his students for a digital future.


I posted the article on my grad school’s listserv and got a flurry of responses. The responses were mostly outraged, but a couple–from a professor, no less–were relatively, though not entirely, supportive of the school’s bookless initiative. Some of the concerns mentioned in the responses were:

  • Loss of the serendipitous find. Remember looking for something specific in a library, and accidentally coming across 2 or 3 more items that would either help you with your research or teach you something new? No longer possible without books–or, not in the way it is with books, I should say. Most of the responders believed that kids would really be missing out without this factor.


  •  Respondents felt that they were going too far, and missing an intermediary step, where books peacefully coexist with technology. They thought that with this type of scenario, students would enjoy the best of both worlds…and this is what modern libraries today strive for, in most cases.
  • Respondents were concerned that the students would be lost when they entered college. Would they know how to do real research without having had the benefit of information literacy, which is not mentioned in the article? Would they be thrown when they don’t find Kindles everywhere?


  •  There was concern that the “library” as a whole might become obsolete if this model were to become the norm. The professor thought that this was the overweening concern of the article, saying that a “library” is an ideological concept and not a physical structure. He believes that the ideology and the structure are becoming increasingly incompatible, and that the physical structure may not be the best “technology” to achieve “library” anymore. He thinks that librarians should get over their book bias.
  • Respondents discussed their experiences with research and talked about the pros and cons of databases vs. print resources. The age of the respondents probably explains a lot about whether they preferred electronic resources over print. But the consensus, generally, is that both are needed at this point.
  • There is also a fear that if other schools see this as an option, they will follow suit. But it remains to be seen if this sort of drastic measure will be successful yet.
  • A respondent was eager to point out that at least they hadn’t gotten rid of any staff, which is good news in an age of lay offs and library closings. It was also mentioned that at least the school was generously funding the new “learning center,” which is also good news for the same reason.

The future is knocking on the door, and perhaps it’s only a matter of time before many libraries go this route. But, in the meantime, should we take such a drastic leap yet? Can we, or should we, take our time, easing people into the digital age? Are we experiencing the “birth pangs” of library 2.0 (apologies to Condi Rice)?

CNN writes about this recently in an article entitled, “The Future of Libraries, With or Without Books.” The article, taking a deep dive into what the library of the future might be like, using examples from today, explains how the role of a librarian might change:

In a world where information is more social and more online, librarians are becoming debate moderators, givers of technical support and community outreach coordinators.

They’re also no longer bound to the physical library, said Greenwalt, of the library in Skokie, Illinois. Librarians must venture into the digital space, where their potential patrons exist, to show them why the physical library is still necessary, he said.


Reasons to Be Cheerful, Part…

Library Journal has an article about being optimistic when the job market is so tight. The article explains that libraries can use crises as learning opportunities, that libraries are more indispensable than ever during rough times, and that the best way to survive is to actually add services even though it may add stress to an already stressed-out staff.


The last half of the article provides advice on how to be more marketable for graduating library students. But this advice is useful for everyone, even currently employed librarians. I’ll add my comments in italics:

  • Make Issues Opportunities. Look at any of the issues impacting libraries right now, for example, the economy, new converged devices, and digital streaming and downloads. Then look at what innovative thinkers have done regarding such issues. Learn to be such change agents. Think about what you can do at your job to cut costs and make permanent changes that will benefit the organization in the long term. Think digitization, collection development budget shifts, streamlining and efficiency.
  • Never Stop Learning. By graduation, our students should have learned, through successes and stumbles, how to address a problem and find solutions via evidence and their own thinking. When one student expressed her excitement at mastering Facebook, I commented, “Now you can take on anything.” The master’s degree is just that, not an end point for librarians’ learning. Think about auditing classes at your alma mater, joining an organization like ALA or SLA and taking advantage of webinars, annual conferences, workshops and networking. Subscribe to magazines to learn about the latest technologies and trends. Join METRO and take classes. 
  • Be Curious. Marketing guru Seth Godin suggests, “To be curious means to explore first.” New grads should emphasize this trait and even add it to their résumés, saying something like, “I’m curious about how libraries and librarians can help change the world, one library user at a time.” I can’t really add anything to this. Great advice.
  • Focus on the Heart. No matter where they find work, new grads should remember they’re human-focused. Consultant and blogger Karen Schneider reminds us that “the User is the Sun.” If we help people achieve the best they can—satisfying information needs, providing entertainment, enabling social connections—we’re reaching the heart. And, as any service-oriented organization knows, good customer service NEVER goes out of style. This is something that people always appreciate, no matter what the economic climate may be. This is a great way to ensure longevity!

Reboot Your Library…or Die

Strategy + Business Magazine, the publication of consultants Booz & Company, has recently published a fantastic article called “The Library Rebooted.” (Free registration is required to view the entire article.)

It reports on the success of several different libraries surviving in a world where doing your own research is becoming easier and easier. In each case, these libraries have redefined what it means to be a library.


When I was in library school (not that long ago, mind you) the prevailing concern was whether or not libraries should put in a cafe to attract patrons. Seeing the popularity of coffee shops at Barnes & Noble, Borders and other well-liked bookstores made libraries want to follow in their footsteps. In fact, there are several things about these bookstores that libraries considered adopting, including the way they organize their collections, their marketing models and inviting patrons to sit, relax and read in comfy chairs. 

In this age of digitization and Googling for research, libraries have to go even further to adapt to patrons’ needs and become a destination. The S+B article looks at this from a business perspective, and outlines these seven imperatives for library leadership

  • Rethink the Operating Model
  • Understand and Respond to User Needs
  • Embrace the Concept of Continuous Innovation
  • Forge a Digital Identity
  • Connect With Stakeholders in Ways Pure Internet Companies Cannot
  • Expand the Metrics
  • Be Courageous

This last point is probably the most important and the most challenging. It’s so much easier not to change at all and to maintain a sort of pride in “being traditional.” The article leaves the last point open-ended, saying that there are many ways to be courageous, and many paths to follow. And it doesn’t really matter which path it is, as long as there is one, and people are willing to take risks.

Some examples from the article of the ways libraries are “rebooting” are:

  • The Bronx Library Center providing shopping baskets, prominently displaying DVDs, CDs and illustrated novels, and providing programs relevant to the community.
  •  The Stanford University Library creating a virtual presence in Second Life.
  • The British Library digitizing some of their most awe-inspiring items using Turning the Pages software, accompanied by the curator’s commentary.

The article ends with sidebars from NYPL’s Paul LeClerc, who explains how NYPL is implementing changes that will help boost foot traffic in their research branches,  and Stephen Schwartzman, who donated millions of dollars to the NYPL so that they could make some of these changes.

Schwartzman ends his commentary thus:

“One of the extraordinary things about the NYPL — about any public library, really — is that it is free. There isn’t much in life that is free, let alone the services of a great institution. All you have to do is walk in the front door — it’s accessible to anyone. That’s a pretty neat thing.”

It IS neat, Stephen.