Semi-random thoughts to prep for Think Tank

Shirley Biladeau's picture

One of my big goals to prepare for the Future’s conference was to try to get a better handle on the present – catch up to 2005. Every once in a while I have a mini-panic attack because I don’t feel like I’m really in touch with what’s happening in the world out there. In fact, I’ll confess that one of the reasons I like living in Idaho is it’s perfectly fine to not be as hip as the gals in N.Y. or L.A. We can pick and choose the latest items we want to try (yeah Netflix) and ignore those that aren’t going to meet our needs (like wearing camisoles to work or listening to pod casts while I’m trying to type). I even made a list of “homework” I was going to do before the big event:

1) buy groceries online and have them delivered
2) download and print my own digital photos instead of looking at last year’s vacation shots in the view-mode of my camera
3) borrow someone’s blackberry and figure out what’s so great about it
4) download music onto the MP3 player that we have, but have never used
5) actually write something for the blog instead of just lurking and thinking of responses that I never put out there for others to read

Well, I am blogging, but most of those items are still on my to do list and I was starting to feel like maybe I should give up my spot at the Think Tank for someone who’s a little more with it. But, I’ve done some of the homework reading and I am still excited about looking into the future and what that might look like for libraries. And it’s been interesting to read this blog and think about my reactions to some of the topics. Here’s what I think about some of them (and yes, I know you’re supposed to respond under each topic in the post section – but obviously if this is the first time I’m blogging I haven’t done that and want to do now – in one sitting) so here it goes:

Gina’s thoughts on Netflix and libraries: I love Netflix and have already developed such brand loyalty that wouldn’t switch to another company who tries to play catch up because it was such a great idea and it works so well.

No fines! That’s brilliant. (My kids and I manage to accumulate enough library fines throughout the year to pay for someone to clean one of Janice’s branch library toilets.)

I don’t have to leave my house! Whoo-hoo! I am not one of those people who is embracing the role of “libraries as community gathering places” or that we’re going to bring the blue and red states together over coffee and a stimulating book discussion. Having just read one of the articles on the future of libraries on this topic, I don’t seem to feel very sad that people build fences around their houses and don’t hang out on their front porches. They build fences because they like fences. I’m sure nice neighbors would be interesting to hang out with, but ours have almost always been on the semi-psychotic side. Nice is nice, but psychotic is just psychotic. Anyway, if I did find some time to hang out in a gathering place, I’d probably call my best friend (whom I haven’t had time to see in a month and a half) and get a cup of coffee or a drink of something stronger far away from my local library. And the idea of talking my spouse into spending an evening hanging out with a bunch of strangers with opposing political views at the library is just delusional. Okay – now that you know my view on that role for libraries — back to Netflix & things libraries could pick up from this brilliant business model. The ability to browse is bliss. Jan worried that some of the technology out there would take away the “wonderful serendipitous finds” but I find the opposite is true with Netflix as I spend a lot more time browsing online than I ever did at any video store (is there anyone out there who enjoys going to a video store?) or my public library (it doesn’t take long to browse through their collection of 30 DVDs). I like seeing what others recommend and searching the categories of titles they have – with the covers (something that more OPACs are moving toward, but we’re not there yet). I also love adding titles to my queue (my ten-year-old even has his own queue so he gets every third DVD and can’t get anything R rated). Recently I’ve started using my library “account” this way more by placing holds this way. But would I pay more to have books from the library mailed to my home? When Boise Public offered this service (for a mere $1 per book through the mail) I never used it. Hmm.

Libraries as big boxes, lack of money, reading rooms & technology for the sake of technology . . . Interesting comments all. Makes me think about Barnes & Noble and Borders, which are basically reading rooms in a big box – same look and feel throughout the nation (although their contents can by customized to the community depending on what sells there — i.e. what people want!) and people seem to like them (or they wouldn’t be in business). Janice said their patrons want “locations in all of the communities, more hours, new materials, sufficient staffing, trained staff, ILL, a user-friendly webpage, etc.” Um, me too (plus the answer to one or two reference questions a year AND LiLI! — I couldn’t get along without full text databases that I can access 24/7). Other than ILL, those seem to be qualities that Barnes and Noble and other bookstore chains cultivate. People are willing to pay for things like that because that’s what they want. No, you won’t find a Barnes & Noble in Potlatch and I don’t know what the future holds for big box book stores, but they do seem to be meeting customers’ needs (without a ton of techie gadgets) and that ties in with Jan’s thoughts on “what do our patrons want from us” and the “idea of acquiring technology even if it is marginally (or not at all) useful?” That doesn’t mean that I don’t think we need to be out on the cutting edge or at least clued in to the tech side of libraries, though — just a lot to think about.

If you’re still reading this, thanks. I still feel a little guilty about ranting on during work time (but it is fun), so I’m out of here. Wish me luck with my online grocery shopping trip!

- Stephanie B-W

    Elaine Watson's picture

    Stephanie’s post makes me

    Stephanie’s post makes me think about how we increasingly want services delivered to us rather than going out to obtain them and how that will impact libraries.

    I love Netflix too. I like that I can cancel my subscription for a few months and my queue will still be there when I sign up again. The Netflix movie experience at home isn’t quite the same as seeing a film on the big screen but it’s so convenient. With our increasingly busy lives, we all want convenience.

    Getting back to how this impacts libraries, those people who want the information/product delivered to them will not be concerned about library as place and will not be concerned if the library strives to be a community meeting place. They are the ones who want delivery to their homes, full-text articles available via their computer, and so on. And yes, I have used Boise Public Library’s home delivery service for books via the postal service and I thought it was worth the cost. I could easily stop at the library on my way home but that would take additional time. For me convenience is more important than waiting a few days.

    Library as place is more important to those who regularly go out to obtain their information or who are already in close proximity to the library. These are the people who go to the library to pick up a book or have small children with whom they go to the library or who are students/faculty on an academic campus.

    So if there are these two main groups of library customers, where do we want to focus our energy? My first thought is that we should be focussing our energy on electronic delivery and services to a person’s desktop or delivery to a person’s home and less on library as place. But what type of society will we end up having if interactions with computers is preferrable to interactions other people? I’m getting a little off-topic so I”ll stop rambling.