Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Libraries, Chasing the 1%

WARNING: long ramble that didn't make me feel any better when I finished writing it.

The more I read about libraries, the more fear for their future. I keep reading about how libraries' days are numbered, but this is not why I fear for the future of libraries: it's all the solutions I read for non-existent problems. It's all these "visionary" librarians who reject all the useful things that libraries do and continually, perpetually chase after new things.

They get some idea that the library is in trouble and their first thought is, Well, then, let's do some new stuff!

FUCK YOU. Fuck your new stuff.

Oh, this is a new thing, they say. Everyone drop whatever it is I told you I liked 3 months ago, and do this new thing I just found now. And this new thing is: iPads, phablets, streaming video, downloadable songs, mastering Facebook privacy, on-demand publishing, digital magazines, 3-D genital printing, hacker spaces, book-themed games and social networks, location-based-reader-preference-app-sync-hyphen-something-something, mobile stalking, Google-search-history-scrubbing, reader-bullying, reader-hostility, nude chat, why manipulating metadata is like touching yourself, copywrong & private domain, global thermonuclear war,...


Look, ASSHOLES, nobody knows what libraries do. They still think we have books and only books. Because we do a shitty job marketing our services. So stop thinking that new shit will attract new people BECAUSE THEY WON'T KNOW WE HAVE IT.

So stop buying new shit and do a better job of telling your community what you do for then now. Market your library before you waste money on new shit.

What is marketing? Watch TV: marketing is, hitting the customer over the head with images until they can't avoid buying your product. And that takes money. And time. And money.

So here is a fact: almost every decision you made about your library in the last 5 years was wrong. That is a fact. So stop. Stop making decisions. Your library is probably doing a bunch of really good stuff, right now. So stop changing everything.

How many of you have read that your library patrons don't use the computer catalog? All of you? so I hear all this discussion about getting rid of the catalog. "If people don't like it, get rid of it." You know what AMERICAN BUSINESS would say when someone doesn't like their product: MAKE THEM BUY IT, ANYWAY. Or, Get one of our legislators to pass a law that requires the government to buy it.

But librarians don't like to make people do anything. So they don't like Marketing their libraries. Because marketing is aggressive behavior, and librarians are passive. Until you take their parking spaces.

But if the catalog is your problem, the what should you do? What is the library catalog? It's the way people find books in the library.

 So what other ways can you get that job done?

I guess you could create a software program with voice recognition so people could just speak to a kiosk and get directions. Or an app for a mobile device. But then people would be yelling the software when it didn't work. And all that yelling would be going on in your library.

You could eliminate the public catalog completely and force everyone to ask for the book at the information desk. Which is a great solution if you can afford the staff.

You could shelve all the books in some sort of bookstore order, but I FUCKING HATE THAT. I can never find anything in the book stores. Unless it's an extremely finite area, like manga. Otherwise, I look and look and look. It the book with chapter books, or easy books or by author with the juvenile books? It is a general cookbook or in the Italian cooking section or maybe in the vegetarian cooking? So, yeah, I would fucking hate that.

And it doesn't matter what you choose, someone won't like it. So you need to choose the option that satisfies the most people or doesn't confuse the most people or doesn't get your library burned down by a hostile mob. But you can't just pick some solution that works on an iPad just because iPads are cool. This is the worst solution. But this is what libraries do.

Librarians often chase after the newest coolest things. Things that one percent of their users have. And they justify this on the "potential growth" for that thing. Again, based on that one percent of users. So, of course, they will seem to be right for about a year or two when that one percent grows to six or fourteen percent.

But what about the other 86 percent of your public? Did you abandon them for that new thing? No; you will force them to buy into that new thing. But in a typical passive-aggressive-librarian way. So you'll force your borrowers to buy ereaders, then buy tablets, then get brain implants... because YOU want to be part of that ever-changing 1%.

That's why your library has a published Mission, so that you don't make these stupid decisions.

Regarding ebooks, libraries are driving themselves out of business by paying for them. Instead of providing free ebooks or negotiating contracts with publishers who will allow us to host content and distribute from our own servers, you continue to pay 3X retail for ebooks LEASES and pay hosting services and maintenance to outside companies. You also encourage the big publishers to reduce print production thereby reducing the number of print books you can OWN. So the reduction of print will only reduce the number of physical libraries so that some point in the future, your library will just be someone who pays that Overdrive or Google Books or Amazon bill. Because you won't offer any services that require people.

So if you want to keep your library and your librarians, get back to your MISSION. Offer services that benefit the community and hire the people to provide those services. And build libraries to give the public a place to meet those librarians and receive those services.

And this might not be part of your Mission, but MARKET those services and the people who help your community. So you should probably add that to it: "Promote library services."

There is one fact I have never heard disproved: "more people would use your library, if more people knew about your library."

Try and prove that wrong. Seriously.


  1. Increase awareness. I fucking got it.

  2. You sound in a good mood and we truly do need to hear you again at LISNews. Mission creep does not help contemporary libraries.