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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 The headmaster of the school, James Tracy, says, “When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books.’’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.

But.

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.

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  •  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?

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  •  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.

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What, Really? Wow!

I’ve been away from the blog for over a month now. My sincere apologies–I took a little summer break. While I wasshocked gone, there have been several things that I’ve seen and wanted to write about, but I just didn’t. So, here’s a quick little compendium of exciting items that have occurred that deserve more real estate than I’m giving them, but I’m sure enough has been written already without my adding too much hackneyed commentary. So, here goes:

1. Razorfish (which I just discovered today has been sold to Publicis!) has just published a fantastic study on how social media influences purchasing decisions. As far as I know, this is the first of its kind and will likely be discussed by marketers for years to come. Especially marketers looking to understand how social media can be measured. You can access the study by clicking here.

2. On the same tip, AltimeterCharlene Li’s  blog, has recently reported the release of a study that Li co-wrote with Wetpaint. The study shows the correlation between social media engagement and a brand’s financial performance. This is another one for the history books, and another one that marketers can point to when trying to make a case to management for getting involved in this new media space. 

3. Free, by Chris Anderson was released online for the low, low price of…well, guess. Learn more about the book by listening to Anderson discuss it in this podcast.

4. Inmagic, a database software company that has its products in places like libraries and NASA, is poised on the cutting edge of social knowledge management.  After the SLA Conference at the end of June, Inmagic blogged about the different ways the information revolution was being dealt with by SLA and by Enterprise 2.0, and how to bridge the gap. This short and poignant piece is very telling and shows why Inmagic is leading the way in social librarianship.

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5. Last but not least, this story was in the NY Times today, on textbooks of the future. The article says that California and a couple of other states are beginning to experiement with digital textbooks. I am all for the digital revolution, but where do we draw the line? There are pros and cons on both sides of this issue–I’ll just mention one of each that occurred to me. Pro: Easy updating of information that would quickly be outdated in paper textbooks. Con: Easy revising of history, for evil, not good. Plus, where is the permanence? And how can we ensure that the important info will be saved in a format that will be easily accessed later? What about the digital divide? Do kids without computers at home just not get to study? OK, that’s more than one con, that’s several. Still in the early stages, this initiative will need careful consideration. Plus, isn’t California bankrupt? Where are they getting the money for this sort of thing? 

Hoping to be back again in short order. Until then…

Innovation’s Not For Everyone

Like Post Shredded Wheat, who is blatantly shunning innovation, with a campaign that has the tagline, “We Put the ‘No’ in Innovation.”

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Although I recently blogged about this and included a New Yorker  article about how Post lost the cereal wars during the Great Depression, innovation’s not for everyone.

 “There’s been a marked change in American values, with a greater desire for honesty, trustworthiness and security during a time of economic and societal uncertainly,” Kelley Peters, director of integrated insights and strategy for Post Foods, tells Marketing Daily. “Post’s marketing messages underscore that Shredded Wheat has always been a simple, honest brand, and one of the healthiest foods on the grocery shelf.”

Maybe there’s something to this – that in an age of uncertainty, people like to know that there’s some stability out there. You Can Rely on Shredded Wheat. When marketing adopts “Depression Chic” and makes everything all dustbowl and newsboy, what else would you keep in your pantry?

If you have a pantry.

If you have a house in which there is a pantry.

Boy, what a RISK!

Even Social Networks Suffer

In this age of economic uncertainty, volatile markets and job loss, it has been mentioned that some industries might be recession-proof.

For example, ad spend is forecast to be down this year for every single media except for Internet. And so, when we hear about the shake up at MySpace, where the founder and CEO Chris DeWolfe has been replaced by former Facebook exec Owen Van Natta because of declining revenue, you’ve got to wonder whether anything’s safe.

And, according to this article from USA Today, MySpace isn’t the only popular web site dealing with such issues. Other social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter and others are struggling (and have been for some time) to find ways to monetize. Facebook, in fact, is gearing up for an IPO, and Twitter is allegedly being eyed for takeover by Google.

MySpace’s CEO replacement was fueled by a shortfall of revenue, which owner Rupert Murdoch predicted would top $1 billion. MySpace has a 3-year deal ad-sharing deal with Google that is worth $900 million, and, according to estimates from eMarketer, MySpace raked in $585 million in ad revenue – but it still wasn’t enough.

em Social networks are user-generated content, and user generated content is notoriously difficult to monetize.

There is only one certainty – the future is uncertain.