Tools of change for libraries

At this year’s Tools of Change for Publishing (TOC) Frankfurt, Jeff Jarvis spoke to and about the publishing trade, but he could also have spoken about libraries. His keynote was entitled “The end of the parenthesis” and is well worth watching:

We are emerging from 500 years of text-based culture and going through a transition like the one Gutenberg brought. What does this mean for media and our view of the world?

To me the following points are particularly noteworthy and transferrable to the library world:

  • After Gutenberg’s invention, people didn’t know what to make of books, they were scared by them. The current situation is a bit like that – we still try to fit the old (print) into the new (digital environment), we haven’t yet fully arrived at and embraced the possibilites of the digital era. Nobody really knows where it is going to lead us, so invention and innovation is key.
  • Content is everywhere – on Twitter, on blogs, in addition to the traditional content providers. Analyzing Twitter data allows you to make predictions through what people are talking about.
  • Add value – with content everywhere (digitized/born digital, full-text searchable books online), this is no longer the unique selling point (neither for libraries nor for publishers, really). So the question becomes: what kind of value can we add to that content, how can we enhance it, what tools can we offer our users to better organize information, put it into context and glean knowledge?
  • Give users “elegant organization” – libraries can play a role in helping users do what they did before, but better and in a more “elegant” way; what could that mean for the library catalog, for example?
  • Beta – the beta status implies that something is imperfect and unfinished, which, according to Jarvis, is a “statement of humanity and humility”. Why not demonstrate that libraries are human and humble by for example releasing a catalog relaunch as beta and not as a finished product? It could allow users to take part in determining which way it will go, it’s an “invitation to collaboration”.
  • One factor that stands in the way of leveraging the beta status in libraries is “Perfection as standard” – is it still useful to keep up this approach? Of course we want to provide reliable information, but can libraries come up with a new, less static “business model”? I think “perfection as standard” prevents us from doing experimental and innovative things.
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