Future of libraries, the past

Those who’ve been in the library business for a while have probably already seen something similar to where I’ve been going. After all, the idea has been around since the 1970s. The concept? “Library without walls.”

Do an online search and you’ll see this pushed in a lot of places – often in conjunction with “paperless libraries”.

I’m not on the cutting edge here, not even if I stick to public libraries. All I need to do is look at NYPL or BCL among a few others to see it’s already in the process of happening. Heck, there are companies already in place doing the wrapping I mentioned in the previous post.

So if it’s been going on so long and it’s being done by so many people, why does it seem everyone is ignoring the libraries’ competition to the Netflix/Amazon industry? There are, I suspect, three reasons.

Reason one is that regardless of how large they are, libraries are tiny in comparison to the Big Industries. Netflix worries about Blockbuster, not NYPL. In many ways libraries are taking advantage of the long tail.

Reason two is related, but basically libraries have a very artificial restriction. I, living near Chattanooga TN, cannot be a patron for NYPL. Thus regardless how useful and good the library and its service might be, I cannot use it. I can get Netflix here, though.

The third point is that even though NYPL and BLS are big, they are only a small part of the entire library world. Heck, they’re only a small part of the library world within their respective nations. Sure, there are OTHER big libraries doing it as well, or Overdrive wouldn’t have a market. But the sad fact is that most libraries don’t have the service.

Thinking about it, I’ll add a fourth point. There’s no marketing/demand (a chicken/egg problem). People don’t think of their public library being able to deliver this, so they don’t ask for it. Libraries that have it only discuss it with THEIR patrons. There’s no need to advertise outside their area of control because they can’t take customers from outside areas — good old government issues apply here.

I’ve said numerous times that this exercise was in part a think out loud exercise. I make that statement as I just had a bit of an aha moment. See, I can think of a few ways to change that, mostly through the last point. Though I’m not going to paint full details I’ll give the lead. A service run for public libraries by a state could generate the noise.


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