Friday, October 15, 2004

Catching Up with Friends, Old and New

Long time, no blog!

Anyway, this month I am fully engaged in doing presentations on the Scan, including three for different groups right here in Ohio. I love doing presentations in any location to which I can drive. Air travel is just such a hassle any more; my flight back from Tampa last Sunday was canceled, and I ended up being six hours late getting back to sweet home Columbus. I fared better than the poor guy who got rebooked the next day, though!

As I mentioned, I was in Tampa last weekend to do a program at the University of South Florida's School of Library and Information Science. I was part of a program with Greg Carlson and Courtney Deines-Jones on the role of futuring in planning library services. We used the Scan as one example of a way to think about what the future might offer (or, I guess, threaten). It was a special pleasure working with the faculty and students at USF. One excellent question came from a student, who noted that we had shown Google and the other search engines as potential replacements for library reference services, and at the same time, OCLC is working with those same outlets to get WorldCat broadcast. I said that I don't know much about martial arts, but the one thing I do know is that when confronted with momentum from an opponent, you don't resist it, but rather use it for your own purpose. Similarly, we can't beat Google; the best we can do is use the momentum the search engines have developed to further our own aims.

By the way, this was the first time I'd worked with Greg and Courtney. Greg said that the futuring program we did at Tampa was a test drive for one they are working on for a possible 2006 ASCLA preconference at the ALA conference. Keep an eye out for that, because Greg and Courtney really did a good job here, and it will only get better!

Today (Friday, October 15) I was at the 26th annual staff development day for the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public Library. (Isn’t amazing that anyone has been doing staff development days for 26 years?)

The director at CH-UH is Steve Wood. Steve and I have been friends for nearly 20 years. He was on the first committee I ever worked with for the Ohio Library Association, and he’s an inspiration in a lot of ways, most notably in that he is constitutionally unable to take himself too seriously. If he were cast as a Hans Christian Anderson character, he would be the one pointing out that the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes.

30 CH-UH staffers attended my program. They represented lots of different areas within the library, and ranged in position from pages to circ desk staff to children's librarians to Steve, who ditched the program he told me he was going to attend so that he could heckle me.

First, I have to say that this group had to have the youngest average age of any library group with which I've discussed the Scan. There were several gamers in the group, and they validated what the Scan pointed out about how online gamers compete, collaborate, and create. CH-UH is going into self-serve circulation in a big way, and we talked a lot about the social interaction that the library must offer. This led us into a discussion of the need of the library (especially the public library?) to continue to offer services that appeal both to their traditional, albeit aging, clientele, and to newer, albeit more fickle, potential clientele. When you have to go to the voters for an operating levy, you can't afford to alienate large blocs of potential supporters, right?

The discussion about how digital rights management will shape what services libraries will be able to offer in the future was quite spirited. I think library staff are gaining a deeper understanding of how the shift from copyright law to contract law in acquiring materials will come back to haunt them.

One of the CH-UH staffers asked a wonderful question about how libraries can know which formats or technologies are going to be dominant in the future. I said if we knew this, we could be investors in, rather than consumers of, these products, and we could all retire early. But it seems to me that the real goal is to do something. If we sit back and wait to see which search engine emerges as the winner, or if the much-rumored Google browser will challenge Internet Explorer's dominance, then we will miss the boat.

Because CH-UH is launching a major construction project shortly and space assignments must be made, Steve asked about the future of various formats. Micro formats continue to appear vulnerable as a widely distributed medium; it's important to have microfilmed versions of journal and newspaper titles, but does every library need to have a full run of, say, The New York Times, or is it more important to know that there are a few copies of this spread out in various collections in case something happens to the online version? There was a lot of discussion about the Open WorldCat program, but Steve pointed up that even though CH-UH gets its records into OCLC though their participation in CLEVNET, their records won't show up in Google or Yahoo until we can expose local data records, too.

The 60 minutes allotted for this program seemed to vanish in a few seconds, but afterwards, Steve and I and one of his staff members (whose name I carelessly mislaid) had a brief but intense (and friendly!) discussion about the future of the book. I think the paper book has a long future, although perhaps in more limited roles than what we have known to date (goodbye reference books, for example). Steve was less sanguine about this than I am, but his staffer was passionate about the long-term viability of dead dinosaurs on dead trees!

Next week, I will be doing a three-hour program with another group of Ohio librarians, this time a mixed group of public, academic, special, and maybe even school librarians brought together by CAMLS, the regional library system in Northeastern Ohio. For this program, I'll do much of the Scan stump speech (with whatever soapboxes I happen to be mounting next week!), but we will also do some work on how we can apply what the Scan suggests to the on-the-ground realities of running a library today. It should be fun. If it is, I'll blog it. If it's not, you won't hear about it from me!

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