Last week, I addressed a group of librarians about cloud computing trends, web-scale, and how OCLC plans to apply them to library management systems and services. One of the thematic questions before I took the podium was whether libraries are entering a renaissance period. That discussion might have been more interesting had the previous topic not been the very sorry state of library funding.
As I am always inclined, I tried to mix the topics all together. A few folks asked me to reproduce my brief remarks, so I will attempt that here.
Technology applications makes for a boring topic in comparison to state funding, the indispensible nature of libraries, and a pending or impossible library renaissance. But my interest in this space--the very reason I became a systems librarian, for spending the last decade as a "practical advocate" for next-generation library automation--is the opportunity to do the right thing, at the right time, for the right reason.
If "scale" is the theme, then the challenge is to use technology and technological platforms not only to consolidate services and make them more efficient, but also to create the capacity for libraries to concentrate their efforts on first principles and their collaboartive ethic. Put simply, and without implying mutual exclusivity:
- Disciplinary support and collection-building in academic libraries
- Physical space, local touch, education, and reader services in public libraries
- From planting the seeds of reading to the first taste of the fruits of research in school libraries
Could there be more proof that libraries are indispensible? If you're willing to believe Wikipedia (gasp!), then renaissance can mean a rebellion against teaching and learning based on classical sources. Consider thinking less of the output of the time period and what was required to create those outputs. So, yes, I would say we are entering a renaissance.
I hope it does not seem like a non-sequitur to encourage everyone to "get your geek on"
to help libraries into their renaissance. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is supporting this effort to raise community-based awareness and support for libraries.
I think due to the altruistic nature of our profession, we're sometimes a little too good at telling our sob stories and not as good as telling our success stories. Getting our geek on from community-to-community will give libraries a great advocacy opportunity, in a way that, frankly, rebels against classical teaching and learning. I didn't realize it at first, but I geek a good renaissance.