Daily Archives: February 19, 2013

You Have Two, Maybe Three Years…

… before libraries become irrelevant.

When I came across the December 14, 2012 article at Publishers Weekly website, the headline – You Have Two, Maybe Three Years… by Peter Brantley – caught my attention.

He was writing about “… a small, invitation-only meeting convened late last month in the Netherlands by the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) … for an exhausting, engrossing three days of debate. But after many hours of discussion and examination … none of us was left feeling that libraries were firmly seizing control of their future.” [Emphasis added.]

The stunning conclusion to his article was what really resounded in my professional core.

The most serious threat facing libraries does not come from publishers, we argued, but from e-book and digital media retailers like Amazon, Apple, and Google. While some IFLA staff protested that libraries are not in the business of competing with such companies, the library representatives stressed that they are. If public libraries can’t be better than Google or Amazon at something, then libraries will lose their relevance. It’s good that the library e-book issue has heated up over the past year, and not just in the U.S. but globally.

But libraries have dithered for far too long – it is now time for action. No matter how glorious the vision of local 3D printing, community gaming, or how critical the literacy training and job assistance libraries offer, reading lies at the heart of the library mission – and as the world goes digital, we cannot let the library become a pile of dusty books. We must make the library the most cool and awesome space it has ever been.

But absent immediate innovation, libraries are going to be increasingly unable to meet the expectations of their patrons, and if such a breakthrough cannot come in the next two or three years, libraries risk losing their central place in the world of literature. That would be a great loss. [Emphasis added.]

This is by no means the first or even a new call to action, but it may be one of the more authoritarian assertions to date pointedly written that time is running out for libraries to find their place in the community they serve. I for one seriously wonder what it will take for library leaders to recognize the future challenges and adopt a vision to overcome them and save the library. Traditional librarianship is a relic of the past century. Creative and innovative thinking with visionary leadership and bold action is the only approach that will save libraries.


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