June 2011 Archives

The future of reading

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Four things happened in the last few weeks that made me ponder the future of reading:

First, Oprah Winfrey signed off on her talk show on May 25. Whether you liked her show or not, her book club brought a kind of "national book club" level of attention to reading that we haven't ever seen any other individuals (or organizations) even aspire to. Prior to her just going out and doing it, I think I would have been skeptical if I'd heard of a plan for a "media personality" to try to do a monthly book club. Bully for her on that count.

Items 2-4... Several weeks ago, Amazon and Overdrive announced an initiative to allow public libraries to circulate eBooks. Then the Digital Public Library of America started to gain some traction right about the time that Amazon released numbers showing that eBooks are now outselling all other book formats.

So maybe--despite Andy Rooney's thoughts to the contrary--this eBook thing might not be a fad after all.

Librarians have a tough choice here, but it's a choice that needs to be made consciously. Either position is intellectually defensible, but the consequences are too important for us to back into a position or to take the path of least resistance:

  1. We can decide to stick to the medium that has been our métier for all these years, the paper book, in all its beauty, variety, and durability. We can choose to make a stand for our centuries old technology, the technology that has given libraries their reputation for reliability and solid traditionalism.

  2. The alternative is to decide that the traditional paper book was simply the best tool we had in the past to reach our enduring goal, which in the words of the vision of the Columbus Metropolitan Library is "a thriving community in which wisdom prevails." We can decide that we will embrace these new tools that could also help us get to that goal.
The worst of all possible worlds would be one in which libraries take a half-hearted approach to eBooks, buying meager collections, rationing access to what little we have, and focusing the bulk of our resources on paper because that's what we've always done.

The possibilities that eBooks present will help us evangelize reading and learning in ways we could only have dreamed of a few years ago. Enhanced eBooks such as Nixonland bring together a great story, terrific writing, and video archives to make a much more complete picture of the controversial president. Children's materials that engage several senses without sacrificing imagination will help keep kids curious. And the "Twilight" and "Harry Potter" machines show how teens can be hooked for life when multiple media are brought together.

Now that Oprah has left the building, is there anyone else who can take on what she accomplished with her book club? Maybe it's time that librarians reclaim their role as the leading advocates for reading and learning by embracing and celebrating our new options.

[Note: According to this USA Today article, Oprah says she plans to "develop a show for
books and authors" on her cable network. While it may not have the viewership of her daily show, I give her real credit for continuing the efforts. And if she's looking for a host for this show, how about a telegenic part-time vice president from OCLC? ;-)  ]

George Needham
Vice President, Global and Regional Councils
"Moving to Library Cooperation to the Cloud" is more than a vision or a promise: It is a reality that is creating quite a buzz! For the past 10 months, OCLC and LYRASIS have held a series of meetings to get the word out about cloud-computing, OCLC Web-scale Management Services, and how cooperation is, once again, at the heart of how libraries can benefit from working together.

Since October 2010, more than 300 librarians and library staff from more than 200 institutions have met in various cities to be part of this first wave of learning about what these new cloud-computing technologies can accomplish. We've also learned why early adopters made the decision to change how they make their collections discoverable while improving workflow efficiency.

Throughout these sessions, we have learned about each other and about the challenges libraries continually face to manage resources and provide quick and efficient access to materials. We've learned that librarians are often in front of the technological curve - constantly seeking new solutions and new ways to make sure their constituencies are well-served. We've also learned that Web-scale is an actual collection of applications that has already proved its value by allowing members to consolidate resources and rely on the 'cloud' to manage data.

Now with ALA just around the corner, you can be part of this conversation. New Orleans, a city that fully understands the value of cooperation and collaboration, is the right place to talk about how library cooperation and collaboration can take us to new levels of service and efficiency via the cloud. Our next meeting will be held, right in the French Quarter on June 23, 2011, and all are welcome. The event is free, and will offer you the opportunity to talk about the benefits of cloud-computing for your library, what things you should be thinking about doing to take the next step into the cloud, and special presentations on OCLC's new Web-scale Management Services.

To join us at Moving Library Cooperation to Web-Scale in New Orleans, please register here.

Irene Hoffman
Executive Director, OCLC Partner Programs