Sunday, February 3, 2008

Decentralizing Information

(photo by Julie Copenhagen)

Steve Jobs, in an article about the success of Amazon's Kindle, was recently quoted as saying "It doesn't matter how good or bad the product is; the fact is that people don't read anymore." I'm sure Jobs was referring in part to the National Endowment for the Arts 2007 study that outlines the decline of reading in America, but I find his statement sensational at best and false at worst. And I wonder if actually people read as much as they ever did, but not in the ways we've traditionally defined 'reading.' 

Because the picture is complicated by the fact that some people prefer to read books, some people prefer to read newspapers, others read news streamed to their personal devices, others read through web browsers, others read only what their friends send them on Facebook, and others read novels on their cell phones. Added together, this does not spell the end of reading, nor of reading for pleasure. It doesn't even spell the end of books. What it does mean is that an array of media types have to be understood and supported in order to connect to users who are more and more diverse in their reading habits. 

And what does this mean for libraries? Libraries are the ones with the responsibility for understanding and supporting patron habits regarding information. They are charged with supporting the expectations and needs of these users. 

And so far, librarians have been obsessed with the issue of format rather than delivery of services and content. But the only time a user cares about format is when it gets in the way of getting from Point A to Point B. 

What is more relevant to libraries than the alleged death of reading is this: thinking about information only in terms of its format is no longer effective or productive. The library has grown -- from being isolated in a building with a defined collection to having resources and a collection archived on the web in ADDITION to 'traditional' physical material on shelves. 

I really don't have a grand conclusion here -- I'm just trying to figure out how to serve library patrons most effectively. I'm sure I'll add to this thread in the coming weeks.  

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