Spock may be half Vulcan and half Human, but he definitely knows what’s up with the Library Computer Access Retrieval System (LCARS) and the Personal Access Display Device (PADD). This was the crux of Michael Porter’s keynote talk — “Libraries, Technology, Evolution, Change and Success” — at last week’s Library Technology Conference at Macalester College. Porter, aka LibraryMan, argued that although librarians love serving our communities, we often do a terrible job with electronic content distribution! He urged us to glean a little inspiration from Star Trek and to actively develop digital strategies for electronic content access.
Referencing Moore’s Law of Technology, Porter emphasized that the speed of technological innovation means that it is kind of ridiculous for librarians to think that we can wait so long to adopt cutting edge technologies. New technologies such as Roku Players, Slingbox, Pico Projectors, Espresso Book Machines, QR Codes, and even Ambient Umbrellas (!) are redefining what it means to be in the business of content provision and access. While many librarians are still entrenched in the cult of the book (and now finally DVDs & CDs), they are completely missing out on the most important aspect of librarianship: that people want to consume media in whatever way is most enjoyable, and that it is the librarian’s job to figure out what this way is and to provide it. That is, if we still want to have jobs.
But why are librarians so resistant to new technologies? Like books, many technologies are simply infrastructure for delivering content. Porter argued that format / genre is secondary to the content itself: a claim that I fully agree with and support. His library mantra, if he had one, would be: “Electronic content must become the major content format people associate with libraries.” So, asks Porter, are we prepared to think about this as an industry? Are we prepared to adopt new technologies for our communities?
Porter asked a question that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately: why are private industries so much more innovative than libraries? Many private industries now outperform librarians in tasks that we’re supposed to be the experts in. So what’s next? Although most libraries don’t have the infrastructure to support today’s preferred means of media consumption, we do have the professionals — the loving, caring, & hardworking library professionals — as well as intimate knowledge about our communities, that will help us rise to the challenge. In our planning strategies, we need to start asking: Can we innovate, project, and strategize? Where do we get the budget? Should we being doing all this ourselves, or should we be paying vendors to do this for us?
And above all, we need to advocate — with flair. It’s scary to be the only librarian in the room pushing to circulate eBook readers. But just throw in a dash of Star Trek, and the others are sure to come around.