Tag Archive: model

The future of the library

Author: Seth Godin

What is a public library for?

First, how we got here:

Before Gutenberg, a book cost about as much as a small house. As a result, only kings and bishops could afford to own a book of their own.

This naturally led to the creation of shared books, of libraries where scholars (everyone else was too busy not starving) could come to read books that they didn’t have to own. The library as warehouse for books worth sharing.

Only after that did we invent the librarian.

The librarian isn’t a clerk who happens to work at a library. A librarian is a data hound, a guide, a sherpa and a teacher. The librarian is the interface between reams of data and the untrained but motivated user.

After Gutenberg, books  got a lot cheaper. More individuals built their own collections. At the same time, though, the number of titles exploded, and the demand for libraries did as well. We definitely needed a warehouse to store all this bounty, and more than ever we needed a librarian to help us find what we needed. The library is a house for the librarian.

Industrialists (particularly Andrew Carnegie) funded the modern American library. The idea was that in a pre-electronic media age, the working man needed to be both entertained and slightly educated. Work all day and become a more civilized member of society by reading at night.

And your kids? Your kids need a place with shared encyclopedias and plenty of fun books, hopefully inculcating a lifelong love of reading, because reading makes all of us more thoughtful, better informed and more productive members of a civil society.

Which was all great, until now.

Want to watch a movie? Netflix is a better librarian, with a better library, than any library in the country. The Netflix librarian knows about every movie, knows what you’ve seen and what you’re likely to want to see. If the goal is to connect viewers with movies, Netflix wins.

This goes further than a mere sideline that most librarians resented anyway. Wikipedia and the huge databanks of information have basically eliminated the library as the best resource for anyone doing amateur research (grade school, middle school, even undergrad). Is there any doubt that online resources will get better and cheaper as the years go by? Kids don’t shlep to the library to use an out of date encyclopedia to do a report on FDR. You might want them to, but they won’t unless coerced.

They need a librarian more than ever (to figure out creative ways to find and use data). They need a library not at all.

When kids go to the mall instead of the library, it’s not that the mall won, it’s that the library lost.

And then we need to consider the rise of the Kindle. An ebook costs about $1.60 in 1962 dollars. A thousand ebooks can fit on one device, easily. Easy to store, easy to sort, easy to hand to your neighbor. Five years from now, readers will be as expensive as Gillette razors, and ebooks will cost less than the blades.

Librarians that are arguing and lobbying for clever ebook lending solutions are completely missing the point. They are defending library as warehouse as opposed to fighting for the future, which is librarian as producer, concierge, connector, teacher and impresario.

Post-Gutenberg, books are finally abundant, hardly scarce, hardly expensive, hardly worth warehousing. Post-Gutenberg, the scarce resource is knowledge and insight, not access to data.

The library is no longer a warehouse for dead books. Just in time for the information economy, the library ought to be the local nerve center for information. (Please don’t say I’m anti-book! I think through my actions and career choices, I’ve demonstrated my pro-book chops. I’m not saying I want paper to go away, I’m merely describing what’s inevitably occurring). We all love the vision of the underprivileged kid bootstrapping himself out of poverty with books, but now, (most of the time) the insight and leverage is going to come from being and fast and smart with online resources, not from hiding in the stacks.

The next library is a place, still. A place where people come together to do co-working and coordinate and invent projects worth working on together. Aided by a librarian who understands the Mesh, a librarian who can bring domain knowledge and people knowledge and access to information to bear.

The next library is a house for the librarian with the guts to invite kids in to teach them how to get better grades while doing less grunt work. And to teach them how to use a soldering iron or take apart something with no user servicable parts inside. And even to challenge them to teach classes on their passions, merely because it’s fun. This librarian takes responsibility/blame for any kid who manages to graduate from school without being a first-rate data shark.

The next library is filled with so many web terminals there’s always at least one empty. And the people who run this library don’t view the combination of access to data and connections to peers as a sidelight–it’s the entire point.

Wouldn’t you want to live and work and pay taxes in a town that had a library like that? The vibe of the best Brooklyn coffee shop combined with a passionate raconteur of information? There are one thousands things that could be done in a place like this, all built around one mission: take the world of data, combine it with the people in this community and create value.

We need librarians more than we ever did. What we don’t need are mere clerks who guard dead paper. Librarians are too important to be a dwindling voice in our culture. For the right librarian, this is the chance of a lifetime.

Originally posted on Seth’s blog



Recently I “met” a young boy in the dressing room of the local gym. I know his name, Thomas, because his mother asked a gentleman on his way into the dressing room to tell Thomas to finish up as she is waiting for him. Thomas is probably about 7 years old and was asking questions of the cleaner and anyone close to him, all the while getting dressed.

About 5 minutes later the whole gym met Thomas. His mother, certainly frustrated by a “slow” Thomas stood outside the men’s dressing room and hollered at him repeatedly to come out as she is in a hurry. Thomas proceeded to make his way out of the dressing room just as I did, so I had a front row seat to what happened next.

Thomas’s mother is not a small woman. She is quite tall and broadly build; on the other hand, Thomas is a slip of boy not more than two bricks high (with a friendly disposition as observed in the dressing room). She was waiting for Thomas right outside the entrance and as soon as he stepped out; she bend down, put her finger in his face and at the top of her voice proceeded to give him a dressing down; in front of me, his older sister and younger brother and the rest of the gym. She however didn’t finish the tongue lashing here; Thomas as subjected to another on the way to the exit of the gym and another (if possible louder than the first) at the car.

With a tear-stained Thomas and co loaded into the car, mother started the drive wherever on the phone shouting at the person on the other side how Thomas knowingly conspired against her in the gym.

On a certain level I understand the frustration of the mother. She most probably had an important meeting to attend, children to deliver to a variety of activities throughout the afternoon and she still had to contend with traffic, a bit of shopping and maybe even the bank.

With this said, I cannot comprehend that any parent would treat his/her child with such contempt, in privacy or public especially in public. A number of questions seem to inject itself into the situation which place most, if not all, of the blame squarely on the shoulders of mom.

Did she know how tight her afternoon’s schedule was, and if yes, why in the world take the children to the gym? Did her response to the situation solved the problem or rather did it worsen the problem? I know that if I was Thomas and I faced that type of abuse from my mother, I would have stayed in the dressing room permanently.

It seems to me that in the context of a life that bears down on us as adults we forget that children are only children. We make choices over which our children have no power. The first choice is to engage in sexual behaviour. The purpose might be procreation, but all children are not the result of family planning (sometimes the lack of planning). However with a sex ticket you are entered into the lotto with pregnancy as price. Thus my and your child is the result of our choice.

This is only the first of many choices, how do I actively interact with my children, what I model to my children in response to life, traffic, spouse, conflict etc. The list is indeed endless. Combine this modelling with the development level of a child; the result can be a very frustrating time for the parent.

Children being children is a mix of contradictions, at least in our adult world. The bottom line of children is very, very simple. They want the frequent confirmation that they are accepted, loved and secured. The contradiction is the way in which they seek this confirmation. They want the space to grow and develop (which includes a growing independence), the limits not to go over the edge, the freedom to fall and make mistakes and the care of comfort if they do.

At the same time they make sense of the world through our reaction to it. This is another of our choices that is probably the most surprising; we choose a certain style of reaction to life and when our children act in the same way we let them know in no unclear terms that their behaviour is unacceptable.

Taking all of this into account, it seems to beg the question: “When we confront our children, bend down to them, finger in the face and at the top of our voices; are we confronting them or are we confronted by our own short-comings and we try to hide this with bluster and bullying?”

When confronted with ourselves we have yet another choice, we can learn the lesson, take heart and treat our children with understanding and love.  The result of this might just be what we long for; children who integrate a more positive approach to life amidst their development which will pose some frustrating challenges.

The flip side choice is to go toe-to-toe with our children, measure our “immense” strength against theirs (because we are certain we will win) and try and whip them inline. The result of this choice I think is a life long frustration at the lack of respect and obedience from our children. The challenges their development pose is as a result of this choice compounded by the result of the choice of their parents.

Isn’t it time that we realize how precious our children are, treat them with this knowledge and find positive ways to deal with the implications of our own choices and attitudes to life. Our children are not the source of our personal challenges or problems nor are they a convenient soundboard for our venting. It is time for adults to grow up and realize children are children and that is what they are meant to be!