November 2011 Archives

In a (relatively) recent NYT article about Amazon getting into the book publishing business, Russell Grandinetti, one of Amazon's top executives, said:

"The only really necessary people in the publishing process now are the writer and reader. Everyone who stands between those two has both risk and opportunity."

Is that true? And what does "standing between those two" mean?

  • Does a teacher "stand between" her students and a book she recommends?
  • Does an editor "stand between" a writer and his audience when he makes a book better, the narrative tighter, the characters more consistent?
  • Does a librarian "stand between" the community she serves and the materials she acquires (and doesn't acquire)?

The answer is obviously "yes." In the sense that a teacher has probably read and/or sifted through dozens-if-not-hundreds of other titles before making the recommendation, then sure... she's standing between them and the time it would have taken them to assess their own needs, read all those books, apply her knowledge and experience and make an appropriate recommendation. She's standing between them and a whole lot of effort on their part to duplicate her particular skills. Same for editors and librarians; there is some form of intermediation involved in the process.

But, as Grandinetti says, there's a risk and an opportunity here. Someone standing in front of a door can either block the entrance... or hold the door for you when your hands are full.

The shape of the doors and how many doors there are and when (and whether) they're open... all that is changing, sure. But librarians have always focused on ways to get better information in front of users, faster and cheaper. We reduce friction in the process of learning. We get people to where they want to go. That's not inimical to the whole e-content/Web/Amazon model in any way. What we're struggling with isn't philosophy but technology. We were once the masters of voluntary learning in the ages of paper information technology. We need to think about ways to make that happen all over the Web.

So... ask yourself. What has your library done for self-publishing authors recently? Or at all... Have you offered courses in how to publish your own books? Maybe started a match-up service between authors, editors, illustrators, proofers and reading clubs? Have you made it easy for authors to get a printed copy of a self-published book into your collection? Do you connect local content developers (reporters, teachers, researchers, student organizations) to self-publishing resources? When we focus on the people, rather than the stuff they produce, we take a new perspective on our work.

Take a minute and imagine a library that ONLY had self-published materials in it. How would you manage that environment? Ten years ago, that would have been an interesting thought-experiment. Today... interesting, yes. Not so experimental.